John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic

Jeffry H. Morrison


Jeffry H. Morrison offers readers the first comprehensive look at the political thought and career of John Witherspoon—a Scottish Presbyterian minister and one of America’s most influential and overlooked founding fathers. Witherspoon was an active member of the Continental Congress, was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, and ratified the federal Constitution. During his tenure as president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, Witherspoon became a mentor to James Madison and influenced many leaders and thinkers of the founding period. He was uniquely positioned at the crossroads of politics, religion, and education during the crucial decades of the founding of the new republic.

Morrison locates Witherspoon in the context of early American political thought and charts the various influences on his thinking. This impressive work of scholarship offers a broad treatment of Witherspoon’s constitutionalism, including his contributions to the mediating institutions of religion and education, and to political institutions from the colonial through the early federal periods.

“I have been waiting a long time for such a book on John Witherspoon. This book is not only well-researched, but well-written. The story Morrison tells is quite wonderful.” —Michael Novak, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

“Professor Morrison’s book fills a gap in American political history. It is especially revealing of eighteenth-century views on the interrelationships between education, religion, and society. Morrison presents new insights into the early American understanding of balancing faith, government, and society. It will change our conceptions of this period and provide fresh perspectives on contemporary problems. Everyone interested in the American Founding era is indebted to Morrison for this illuminating book.” —Garrett Ward Sheldon, University of Virginia’s College at Wise

JEFFRY H. MORRISON is Associate Professor of Government at Regent University and a faculty member at the federal government’s James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation in Washington, D.C. He is co-editor of The Founders on God and Government .


“In this valuable intellectual biography, Jeffry Morrison seeks to elevate the reputation of John Witherspoon, the president of the College of New Jersey, Presbyterian pastor, and a forgotten founder.” — Journal of Church and State

“Jeffry Morrison’s brief, excellent new book, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, both testifies to and partly redresses the neglect Witherspoon has suffered. Witherspoon was a formidable intellectual and political leader whose role in the affairs of colonial and early republican America deserves wider recognition.” — The New Criterion

“[E]ngaging and enthusiastic study of John Witherspoon. . . . Morrison deserves much commendation for his efforts.” — Perspectives on Politics

“Jeffrey Morrison’s fine intellectual biography of the man—and the first extended study of Witherspoon’s political thought ever written. . . . Morrison focuses his attention upon Witherspoon’s thinking, especially his political thought, so much of it rooted in his Presbyterian convictions. . . . Morrison makes a strong, and entirely convincing, case for Witherspoon’s neglected importance. . . .” — The Weekly Standard

“It is strange but true that scholars have had to wait so long for an adequate study of John Witherspoon’s place in the American founding, especially given the breadth of his involvement and his excellent reputation among the more famous statesmen of the period. Jeffry H. Morrison’s book remedies this deficit and is likely to become the standard work on Witherspoon’s political thought and career.” — History: Journal of the Historical Association

“Morrison’s study goes a long way toward remedying the lack of attention paid to Witherspoon. His book is not a biography, although it does contain much biographical information, as much as a study of Witherspoon’s thought, particularly his political thought.” — American Historical Review

“This welcome monograph goes a long way toward reestablishing John Witherspoon to his rightful place among the prominent founding fathers.” — Review of Metaphysics

“Morrison’s very useful analysis of Witherspoon’s political thought is a significant start towards a better understanding of his impact on Revolutionary America.” — The Historian