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John Witherspoon

1723-1794. President of Princeton University. Born at Gifford, East Lothian, a lineal descendant of John Knox, he graduated at Edinburgh in arts and divinity and was successively minister of the parishes of Beith (1745) and Paisley (1757). His Ecclesiastical Characteristics (1753) and Serious Apology (1764) attacked abuses and satirized the Moderates* as “paganized Christian divines.” After refusing calls to Dublin and Rotterdam and the presidency of Princeton, he accepted the latter post (1768) and held it for twenty-five years. He improved finances, natural sciences, and languages, and himself lectured in divinity, moral philosophy, and eloquence. In American Presbyterianism he worked for union with Congregationalists and Dutch Reformed, favored a general assembly, and influenced Scots and Irish Presbyterians to support the Whigs. A member of several political assemblies and the Continental Congress (1776-79; 1780-83), he encouraged the Declaration of Independence and was the only cleric and educator to sign it.