The Value of the College at Princeton

From A General Account of the Rise and State of the College, Lately Established in the Province of New Jersey
(1754)

by
Samuel Davies and Gilbert Tennent

NOTHING has a more direct tendency to advance the happiness and glory of a community than the founding of public schools and seminaries of learning for education of youth, and adorning their minds with useful knowledge and virtue. Hereby, the rude and ignorant are civilized and rendered human ; persons who would otherwise be useless member of society are qualified to sustain with honor the offices they may be invested with for the public service reverence of the Deity, filial piety, and obedience to the laws are inculcated and promoted. The sciences have nowhere flourished with more success than in our mother country. The universities and seminaries of Learning in England and Scotland a annually sending abroad into the Kingdom proficients in all kinds of literature; men of refined sentiments, solid judgments, and noble principles, who spread (if the expression may be allowed) a kind of literary glory over the British nation.

America remained, during a long period, in the thickest darkness of ignorance and barbarism, till Christianity, at the introduction of the Europeans, enlightened her hemisphere with the salutary beams of life and immortality.  Science, her constant attendant, soon raised her depressed head, and the arts began to flourish.  New England first felt her nigh influences, whose sons she inspired with a generous emulation of erecting schools and colleges for the 'instruction of their youth, and instilling into the tender mind the principles of pie and I learning. The southwestward colonies, except Virginia, continued a considerable number of years without any public institutions for the cultivation of the sciences.At length, several gentlemen residing in and near the province of New Jersey, who were well-wishers to the felicity of their count and real friends of religion and I learning, having observed the vast increase of those colonies, with the denseness and ignorance of their inhabitants for want of the necessary means of improvement, first projected the scheme of a collegiate education in that province. The immediate motives to this generous design were: the great number of Christian societies then lately formed in various parts of the country, where many thousands of the inhabitants, ardently desirous of the administration of religious ordinances, were entirely destitute of the necessary means of instruction and incapable of being relieved; the urgent applications that were annually made by those vacant congregations to the clergy in their collective bodies; complaining in the most moving manner of their unhappy circumstances in being deprived of the ordinary means of salvation and left to grope after happiness, almost in the obscurity of paganism, though the light of revelation shone on their surrounding neighbors; the great scarcity of candidates for the ministerial function to comply with these pious and Christian demands; the colleges of New England educating hardly a competent number for the service of its own churches - these considerations were the most urgent arguments for the immediate prosecution of the above mentioned scheme of education.

Accordingly, in the year 1747, a petition was presented to His Excellency Jonathan Belcher, Esq., governor of that province (a gentleman who has long signalized himself as a patron of religion and learning), praying His Majesty's grant of a charter for the establishment of a public seminary of literature in New Jersey. His Excellency, with the approbation of the council and attorney general of the said province, was pleased to comply with their request; and ordered a charter to pass the seals, incorporating sundry gentlemen, to the number of twenty-three, by the name of the Trustees of e College of New Jersey [Princeton]; and appointing the governor of New Jersey, for the time being, who is His Majesty's representative, to act as their president when convened. This charter places the society upon the most catholic foundation - all Protestants of every denomination who are loyal subjects to Our Most Gracious Sovereign (the happy effects of whose mild and equal administration the remotest colonies of the British empire sensibly experience and gratefully acknowledge) are admitted to the enjoyment of all its privileges and allowed the unlimited exercise of their religion.

The trustees, thus authorized with ample powers for the execution of this laudable design, in conformity to the plan of their charter, applied themselves with the utmost deliberation to form and enact such rules and orders for the regulation of the methods of instruction and conduct of the students as might tend to prevent the entrance of vice into the society, and the introduction of idleness, vanity, and extravagant expenses among its members. It would be repugnant to the design of a general narrative, as well as impertinent to the reader, to enter into a minute detail of these several private regulations. It will suffice to say that the two principal objects the trustees had in view were science and religion. Their first concern was to cultivate the minds of the pupils in all those branches of erudition which are generally taught in the universities abroad; and, to perfect their design,their next care was to rectify the heart byinculcating the great precep of Christianity order to make them good. Upon the views this society was founded. Providence so far smiled upon the undertaking, in the first instance, as to point out a gentleman, possesssed of every requisite endowment, to be placed at the head of such an academy. The Rev. Mr. Aaron Burr has been long known in these parts of America for his piety, affability, universal acquaintance with the arts and sciences, his easy, familiar methods of instruction. Under his immediate tuition and government, this society has flourished far beyond the most raised and sanguine expectations. The number of students has increased, in the short space of five years, from eight or ten, to about sixty; besides near forty in the grammar school. As no human institutions in a world of imperfection and error are so completely modeled to exclude the possibility of further emendation, it may be said, without any intention of disparagement to other learned seminaries, that the governors of this college have endeavored to improve upon the commonly conceived plans of education. They proceed not so much in the method of a dogmatic institution, by prolix discourses on the different branches of the sciences, by burdening the memory and imposing heavy and disagreeable tasks, as in the Socratic way of free dialogue between teacher and pupil, or between the students themselves under the inspection of their tutors.  In this manner, the attention is engaged, the mind entertained, and the scholar animated in the pursuit of knowledge.  In fine, the arts and sciences are conveyed into the minds of youth in a method, the most easy, natural, and familiar.

But as religion ought to be the end of all instruction and gives it the last degree of perfection; as one of the primary views of this foundation was to educate young gentlemen for the sacred office of the ministry and fit them for the discharge of so noble an employment; divinity, the mistress the sciences, engages the peculiar attention of the governors of this society. Stated times are set apart for the study of the Holy Scriptures in the original languages, and stated hours daily consecrated to the service of religion. The utmost care is taken to discountenance vice and to encourage the practice of virtue and a manly, rational, and Christian behavior in the students.  Enthusiasm, on the one hand, and profaneness, on the other, are equally guarded against and meet with the severest checks.

Under such management, this seminary, from the smallest beginnings, quickly drew the public attention, enlarged the number of her pupils, raised her reputation; and now on in her most rivals her ancient sisters upon the Continent. Daily observation evindences that in porportion as learning makes its progress in a country, it softens the natural roughness, eradicates the prejudices, and transforms the genius and disposition of its inhabitants. New Jersey and the adjacent provinces already feel the happy effects of this useful institution. A general desire of knowledge seems to be spreading among the people.  Parents are inspired with emulation of cultivating the minds of their offspring; public stations are honorably filled by gentlemen who have received their education here; and, from hence, many Christian assemblies are furnished with men of distinguished talents for the discharge of the pastotal office.......

From the above representation of the ends for which this corporation was founded, the happy effects of its institution, and its present necessitous circumstances, it is hoped that the pious and benevolent in Great Britain, into who hands these papers may fall, will extend their generous aids in the prosecution and completion of so excellent and useful a design. A Design! upon the success of which the happiness of multitudes in sundry colonies, and their numerous posterity, in the present and future ages far distant, in a great measure depends. A Design! which not only tends to promote the weal of the British inhabitants but also of the German emigrants; and to spread the gospel of salvation among the benighted Indian tribes and attach them to His Majesty's government. A Design! which is not calculated to promote the low purposes of a party, but in its views and consequences affects the Protestant interest in general, and Great Britain in particular, both in religious and civil respects; since, by this, the filial duty of her descendants will be inculcated, their manners reformed, and her trade increased; which is the basis of her empire, glory, and felicity.

The inhabitants of the infant colonies, dependent upon this seminary, unable to relieve themselves, are constrained to solicit and implore the assistance of others.  And to whom shall they look but to their tender and powerful parent? To move her compassion, they plead their relation as children, as fellow subjects, as Christian and Protestant brethren with her sons that still enjoy the advantages of residing in their native country. They plead the deplorable circumstances of the church, and the exigencies of the state, for want of such an institution brought to maturity. And they beg leave modestly to intimate their importance to their mother country, as they enlarge the British dominions upon a vast continent, whither the industrious Poor may transplant themselves and find a comfortable subsistence, as they are a check upon the growth of the French power in America; engage the Indian natives to the British interest; furnish various assistances in time of war against the common enemy; and carry on sundry branches of trade advantageous to Great Britain, which will undoubtedly flourish more in proportion to their improvements in the liberal arts and sciences - for history and observation assure us that learning and trade mutually promote each other.
 

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