Jonathan Dickinson

1688-1747. Presbyterian theologian, educator, and revivalist. Born in Hatfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Yale (1706-7) and became pastor of Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church, New Jersey (1708-47). Said to have been “the most powerful mind in his generation of American divines,” he was a reconciling influence in the controversy over subscription to the Westminster Confession,* and authored the 1729 Adopting Act which brought about a compromise. With Francis Makemie, Dickinson led the opposition to Anglican establishment attempts in the middle and southern colonies, stressing in numerous pamphlets “the unalienable rights of mankind” and preparing an increasing revolutionary mood, although his intent was not political but strictly theological. In 1739 the Great Awakening* divided Dissenters; the Presbyterians split in 1741. At first Dickinson kept a mediating position, but seeing that the “Old Side” (antirevivalists) were bent on schism, he abandoned reconciliation efforts in 1741 and joined George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent's* “New Side,” providing theological works to curb excesses and align revivalism with moderate Calvinism. One of the institutional embodiments of the Great Awakening was Dickinson's leadership in founding the College of New Jersey (1746), for men preparing for the New Side ministry. Dickinson served as first president until his death. A prolific and profound theologian, he was regarded as the most efficient champion of Calvinism in the colonies, with the exception of Jonathan Edwards.*