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November/December 2004 · Historically Speaking3 1 The Colonial Colleges: Forging an American Political Culture J. David Hoeveler Nine colleges existed in the British colonies ofNorth America when the thirteen declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776. In New England, Puritans established Harvard in 1636 and Yale in 1701. The two others from that region, Rhode Island College (Brown) and Dartmouth College, sprangfrom the GreatAwakening in 1765 and 1769, respectively. In the Middle Atlantic colonies, Presbyterians founded the College ofNewJersey (Princeton ) in 1746 andAnglicans established King's College (later Columbia) in 1754. Of the nine, only the College ofPhiladelphia (University of Pennsylvania), 1755, had nonsectarian origins. A group from the Dutch Reformed Church started Queen's College (Rutgers) in 1766. Anglican William and Mary, founded in 1693, alone represented the southern colonies. All were established by Christians with religious intentions (the exception, Philadelphia , came quicklyunderAnglican and Presbyterian domination), and all were Protestant . All led their students though a curriculum heavily concentrated in the ancient languages and history, with philosophy , science, and rhetoric also prominent. Closerinspection, however, finds that the colleges reflected the diversitywithin American colonial religion and the factional politics it produced. The colleges were born "political ," and their earlyintellectual histories both reflected and reinforced the religious politics of colonial America. Six of these institutions had Calvinist beginnings. Harvard was the school of the Massachusetts BayPuritans, operatingwithin a decade of their arrival to New England in 1630. But bythe end ofthe centuryHarvard had come under liberal religious influence, much ofitAnglican, and, to the great disaffection ofthe orthodox Mathers and others, had selected John Leverett as president in 1707. By that time, in Connecticut, a party from the orthodox group had established Yale, located firstin Saybrook, in 1701. It did so with Increase Mather's blessing. But little was certain in the early collegiate history of this country. In 1722 a shocked New England learned that a group ofYale people, led by SamuelJohnson, had announced its intention to seek ordination in the hated Church ofEngland.Johnson's education inAnglicanism had proceeded from his reading of books—English religious writings, science, and literature—that had arrived at Yale in 1714. Establishing Princeton was the achievement of Calvinist Presbyterians. The College ofNewJerseywas the firstto come from the religious movement known as the Great Awakening. That movement, in fact, served as a kind ofpolitical fault-line for all the colonial colleges. Harvard and Yale had both given the awakeners a rude reception, so now they sought a college oftheir own. Factionalism in the Dutch Reformed Church during the GreatAwakening also led to the founding of Queen's College in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Earlier, news of the new Presbyterian school at Princeton had spurred the New York legislature, with New York City and powerful Anglicans in the lead, to look for a college establishment of their own. King's College resulted, butonlyafterawar ofwords betweenAnglicans and their rivals in the city. The legislation that established King's did not make it anAnglican college, so partisans had to work quickly to give it that identity. They did so when the socially influential Trinity Church bequeathed land to the new school. The trustees then named Samuel Johnson, bynow colonial Anglicanism's foremost apologist, as its first president. The Awakening would eventually yield four colonial colleges. In addition to Princeton and Queen's, Calvinists founded Rhode Island College and Dartmouth. That superficial identity, however, belies an intense and ongoingreligious politics. Manyofthe awakeners in NewEngland became Baptists, having concluded, as did Isaac Backus, for example , that infant baptism had no scriptural foundations. The antipaedobaptists founded newchurches, all thewhile facing discriminatorylaws inMassachusetts and Connecticut. Baptists secured their collegiate footholdwith the establishment of Rhode Island College. Separatist Congregationalists, who recognized no ecclesiastical establishment and looked backto the alleged purityofthe independent churches in early New England, founded Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The early institutional histories reflect the connections between college and state. The colleges owed their legal standing to their respective colonial governments or to the British Crown, which granted them their charters. Those connections surfaced more than occasionallyin the earlyrecords ofthese schools. Thus the Massachusetts General Court in 1699 approved a new charterwith a residency law designed to remove...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 31-34
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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