Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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John Witherspoon


   On the occurrence of the American war, the college was broken up, as has already been noticed, and the officers and students were dispersed. Dr. Witherspoon now appeared in a new attitude before the American public. Although a foreigner, he had laid aside his prejudices on becoming a citizen of the country, and now warmly espoused the cause of the Americans against the English ministry. His distinguished abilities pointed him out to the citizens of New-Jersey, as one of the most proper delegates to that convention which formed their republican constitution. In this respectable assembly he appeared, to the astonishment of all the professors of the law, as profound a civilian as he had before been known to be a philosopher and divine.
   Early in the year 1776, be was elected a representative to the general congress, by the people of New-Jersey. He took his seat a few days previously to the fourth of July, and assisted in the deliberations on the momentous question of a declaration of independence. Of this measure he was an advocate. It was a happy reply which be made to a gentleman who, in opposing the measure, declared that the country was not yet ripe for a declaration of independence. "Sir," said he, " in my judgment the country is not only ripe, but rotting."
   For the space of seven years, Dr. Witherspoon continued to represent the people of New-Jersey in the general congress. He was seldom absent from his seat, and never allowed personal considerations to prevent his attention to official duties. Few men acted with more energy and promptitude; few appeared to be enriched with greater political wisdom; few enjoyed a greater share of public confidence; few accomplished more for the country, than he did, in the sphere in which he was called to act. In the most gloomy and formidable aspect of public affairs, he was always firm, discovering the greatest reach and presence of mind, in the most embarrassing situations.
   It is impossible here to particularize all, or even a small part of the important services which he rendered his country, during his continuance in the grand legislative council. He served on numerous committees, where his judgment and experience were of eminent importance. He seldom took part in the discussions of public measures, until, by reason and reflection, he had settled his ideas on the subject. He would then come forward with great clearness and power, and seldom did he fail to impart light to a subject, and cause even his opponents to hesitate. His speeches were usually composed in closet, and committed to memory. His memory was unusually tenacious. He could repeat verbatim a sermon, or a speech, composed by himself, by reading it three times.

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Last modified December 31, 2003