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Page 4

John Witherspoon

1722-1794


   Dr. Witherspoon, it must be admitted, was a sagacious politician. He indeed adopted views which, in some respects, differed from those of his brethren in congress; yet his principles have been justified by the result. A few examples may be mentioned. He constantly opposed the expensive mode of supplying the army by commission. For several years this was the mode adopted. A certain commission percent on the money that the commissioners expended, was allowed them, as a compensation. A strong temptation was thus presented to purchase at extravagant prices, since the commissioners correspondingly increased their compensation.
   In consequence of this mode of supplying the army, the expenses of the country became alarmingly great. Much dissatisfaction, from time to time, existed in reference to the management of the commissary general's department, and a reform was loudly demanded by many judicious men in the country. Among those who loudly complained on this subject, and who deemed a change essential to the salvation of the country Dr. Witherspoon was one. This change, so useful and economical, was at length agreed to, July l0th, 1781. The superintendent of finance was authorized to procure all necessary supplies for the army and navy of the United States by contract, i.e. by allowing a certain sum to the purchaser for every ration furnished.
   Another point on which Dr. Witherspoon differed from many of his brethren in congress, was the emission of a paper currency. After the first or second emission, he strongly opposed the system, predicting the wound which would be ultimately given to public credit, and the private distress which must necessarily follow. Instead of emissions of an unfunded paper beyond a certain quantum, Dr. Witherspoon urged the propriety of making loans and establishing funds for the payment of the interest. Happy had it been for the country, had this better policy been adopted. At a subsequent date, at the instance of some of the very gentlemen who opposed him in congress, he published his ideas on the nature, value, and uses of money, in one of the most clear and judicious essays that perhaps was ever written on the subject.
   At the close of the year 1779, Dr. Witherspoon voluntarily retired from congress, desirous of spending the remainder of his life, as he said, in "otio cum dignitate." Accordingly, he resigned his house in the vicinity of the college to his son-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Smith, to whom was committed the care and instruction of the students, who now began to return from their dispersion. Dr. Witherspoon retired to a country seat, at the distance of about one mile from Princeton. His name, however, continued to add celebrity to the institution, which not long after recovered its former reputation.
   But he was not long allowed the repose which he so much desired. In 1781, be was again elected a representative to congress. But at the close of the following year, be retired from political life. In the year 1783, he was induced, through his attachment to the institution over which he had so long presided, to cross the ocean to promote its benefit. He was now in his sixtieth year, and strong must have been his regard for the interests of learning, to induce him, at this advanced age, to brave the dangers of the ocean. Much success could scarcely be expected in an undertaking of this kind, considering the hostility which still subsisted between England and America. The pecuniary assistance which he obtained exceeded only, by a little, his necessary expenses, although he was not wanting in enterprise and zeal in relation to the object of his voyage.
 
 

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