John Witherspoon

One man who signed the Declaration of Independence had more Spiritual influence on the direction taken with that document and on the writing of the Constitution than possibly any other member of the Continental Congress.

Described by John Eidsmoe (the well-known Constitutional lawyer and writer) as, “the man who shaped the men who shaped America” John Witherspoon was pastor, teacher, and mentor to more of the founding leaders of the United States than most of us were ever taught.

A Scottish pastor and Theologian (and a descendant of John Knox), Witherspoon’s primary philosophy was that “the law of God is written on man’s conscience, and that while born with natural sin tendencies, remains a responsible moral agent, capable of civic duty if his sinful nature is properly restrained by God’s laws.” This is from his essay collection, Covenanting in America, written concurrently while serving in the Continental Congress of 1776-1782.

Witherspoon was called to America when Jonathan Edwards passed away and a new President for the College of New Jersey (today’s Princeton) was sought. He took the post in 1768 and served until 1794, through the forming of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution, the writing of the Constitution, and the first Presidency of the newly formed United States. While serving as the President of the College, head of the School of Divinity, and pastor of the Campus ministry, he mentored 13 future Governors, 3 Supreme Court Justices including the first Chief Justice John Jay (who also became a President of the American Bible Society), 20 future U. S. Senators and 33 Congressmen, Vice President Aaron Burr, First Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, and Presidents John Adams and James Madison. It was Madison, studying for the ministry at the college, who formed many ideas for his later depth in Constitutional contributions from Witherspoon and the biblical concepts he taught. John Adams continued to attend Witherspoon’s church throughout his years and wrote numerous letters to his wife Abigail about the “clear, sensible preacher” he admired. Oh yes, during those years Witherspoon also placed 114 new ministers in local churches. What a legacy for this man of God.