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Picture of John Witherspoon


Signer of the Declaration of Independence (New Jersey)

Biographical Data
Religious Views
References, Links, & Further Reading

Education: Edinburgh University, University of St. Andrews

Occupation: clergyman, college president

Political Affiliation:

Religious Affiliation: Presbyterian minister

Summary of Religious Views:

Rev. Witherspoon wrote a number of religious pamphlets, some espousing a philosophy of "common sense". He was deeply involved in organizing the national Presbyterian Church, and was moderator of the first General Assembly of the church.

Views on Religion & Politics:

Despite his own political activities, Witherspoon generally had qualms about clergymen becoming involved in politics.


"While we give praise to God, the supreme Disposer of all events, for his interposition in our behalf, let us guard against the dangerous error of trusting in, or boasting of an arm of flesh. I could earnestly wish, that while our arms are crowned with success, we might content ourselves with a modest ascription of it to the power of the Highest. It has given me great uneasiness to read some ostentatious, vaunting expressions in our newspapers, though happily, I think, much restrained of late. Let us not return to them again. If I am not mistaken, not only the Holy Scriptures in general, and the truths of the glorious gospel in particular, but the whole course of providence, seem intended to abase the pride of man, and lay the vain-glorious in the dust.
"From what has been said you may learn what encouragement you have to put your trust in God, and hope for his assistance in the present important conflict. He is the Lord of hosts, great in might, and strong in battle. Whoever hath his countenance and approbation, shall have the best at last. I do not mean to speak prophetically, but agreeably to the analogy of faith, and the principles of God's moral government. I leave this as a matter rather of conjecture than certainty, but observe, that if your conduct is prudent, you need not fear the multitude of opposing hosts.
"If your cause is just, you may look with confidence to the Lord, and intreat him to plead it as his own. You are all my witnesses, that this is the first time of my introducing any political subject into the pulpit. At this season, however, it is not only lawful but necessary, and I willingly embrace the opportunity of declaring my opinion without any hesitation, that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty, and of human nature. So far as we have hitherto proceeded, I am satisfied that the confederacy of the colonies has not been the effect of pride, resentment, or sedition, but of a deep and general conviction that our civil and religious liberties, and consequently in a great measure the temporal and eternal happiness of us and our posterity, depended on the issue. The knowledge of God and his truths have from the beginning of the world been chiefly, if not entirely confined to those parts of the earth where some degree of liberty and political justice were to be seen, and great were the difficulties with which they had to struggle, from the imperfection of human society, and the unjust decisions of usurped authority. There is not a single instance in history, in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage." -- The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men (sermon), May 1776

References, Links, & Further Reading: Books, Articles, Links


Works by John Witherspoon

ed: by Thomas Miller, The Selected Writings of John Witherspoon (Landmarks in Rhetoric and Public Address), Southern Illinois University, Press, 1990
ed. by John Rodgers, The Works of Rev. John Witherspoon, 4 vols., William W. Woodard, 1800-1802; Vol. I Vol. II Vol. III Vol. IV
ed. by Varnum Lansing Collins, Lectures on Moral Philosophy, Princeton Univ. Press, 1912; reprint, Lectures on moral philosophy, (Early American philosophers, [1])
ed. by Jack Scott, An Annotated Edition of Lectures on Moral Philosophy, Univ. of Delaware Press, 1981
The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon, W.W. Woodward, 1803; reprint The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon


ed. by Lyman H. Butterfield, John Witherspoon comes to America;: A documentary account based largely on new materials, Princeton Univ. Press, 1953
Varnum Lansing Collins, President Witherspoon, A Biography, 2 vols., Princeton Univ., 1925; reprint, Ayer, 1969
Jeffrey H. Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2005
Martha Lou Lemmon Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot, The Westminster Press, 1976
L. Gordon Tait, The Piety of John Witherspoon: Pew, Pulpit, and Public Forum, Geneva Press, 2001


Robert G. Bearce, "John Witherspoon: Disciple of Freedom," The Freeman, May , 1977, Vol. 27, No. 5
John Eidsmoe, "Framer of the framers: John Witherspoon was not only a Founding Father, but in his roles as preacher and professor he taught and influenced many of the great men of the Founding era", The New American, 19 January 2009, Vol. 25, Iss. 2, pp. 34-35
Robert A. Peterson, "John Witherspoon: 'Animated Son of Liberty'," The Freeman, December 1985, Vol. 35, No. 12
Moses Coit Tyler, "President Witherspoon in the American Revolution," American Historical Review, 1, 1896, pp. 671-679

Religious Views

Andrew L. Drummond, "Witherspoon of Gifford and American Presbyterianism," Records of the Scottish Church History Society, 12, 1958, pp. 185-201.
James Hastings Nichols, "John Witherspoon on Church and State," in Calvinism and the political Order, Ed. by George Hunt, 1965
"Witherspoon's Theology," The Princeton Review, vol. 35, iss. 4, Oct 1863, pp. 596-610


Works by John Witherspoon

The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men -- sermon, May, 1776

Biographical Sites

WITHERSPOON, John, 1723-1794 (Biographical Directory of the US Congress)
John Witherspoon (ushistory.org: Signers of the Declaration of Independence)
Witherspoon, John (A Princeton Companion)
Significant Scots: Dr. John Witherspoon (electricscotland.com)
American Philosophy -- John Witherspoon from The Scottish Philosophy, by James McCosh 1875 (see Ch. XXIII, pp. 168-176)
John Witherspoon (Colonial Hall)
John Witherspoon (Signers of the Declaration of Independence -- National Park Service)

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