An Animated Son of Liberty

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J. Walter McGinty
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About The Author

After a brief career in accountancy, the author, J. Walter McGinty, repared for the ministry of the Church of Scotland at the University of Glasgow, when spent thirty-five years as a Parish Minister. A 'late-developer', he went on to acquire a B.A. in History, at the Open University, in 1975, and a Ph.D. at the University of Strathclyde, in 1995.

In 2003, his Robert Burns and Religion, was published by Ashgate. It was during a twelve year stint as a lay-governor at the University of Paisley (now the University of the West of Scotland), that he became more aware of the significance of John Witherspoon, and began the research that led to this book. Research both in Scotland and at Princeton revealed the huge contribution of Witherspoon to education, politics and the church.

This book examines in detail his lectures on Eloquence (Rhetoric), Divinity, and Moral Philosophy at the College of New Jersey, considers his work as an Educationalist, and as a Congressman, and also looks at the contribution he made to encouraging emigration from Scotland to America. It analyses the pamphlets, speeches, sermons, newspaper articles and personal papers that reveal much about this man. It shows how Witherspoon helped create the ecclesiastical structures for the Presbyterian Church in America, and most importantly, how he helped lay the political foundations for the young Republic as it made its way towards Independence.

About The Book

This is an account of a leading 18th century Scottish churchman, the Reverend John Witherspoon. His already colourful and eventful life took an unusual turn when in 1768, as a Minister of the Church of Scotland in a Paisley parish, he was persuaded to accept the office of President of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. Within a year of taking up this academic post, he became involved in the Colonies' struggle for Independence. He was elected to Congress in 1775 and in 1776 was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence.

During his time of office as a Congressman, he served on over one hundred and twenty Congressional Committees and occupied key positions on both the Board of War and the Foreign Affairs Committee. He had a hand in drafting two of the foundation documents of the thirteen United States: the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence. Later, he was to provide the Instructions to the United States Delegates at the Paris Peace Conference in 1783.

He was only prevented from participating in the Constitutional Convention which resulted in the production of the Constitution of the United States of America in 1789, because he had been already commissioned by the Presbyterian Church in America to Chair the Committee that was to produce its Confession of Faith and Books of Church Order and Discipline.

Witherspoon transformed the College of New Jersey by broadening its curriculum to offer courses that would provide a substantial education for any one preparing for any of the Professions, or to engage in public life. He was a colleague of the first four Presidents of the USA: Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison (teaching Madison for four years and also Aaron Burr, who became a Vice-President). He was branded as a traitor by Britain, but won huge respect in America. This is a long-awaited biography giving a unique insight to interesting aspects of an important age.