Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Founding Fathers and Liberal Education - Part II

Founding Fathers and Liberal Education - Part II

Like Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin was a man of immense intellectual breadth. He founded the College of Philadelphia in 1749. Franklin was also the co-founder of the American Philosophical Society with John Bartram. Early members included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Rush, and the lesser-known Michael Hillegas who edited the Declaration of Independence and served as our nation’s first Treasurer. Despite its appearance as a pantheon of early political and military leaders of an upstart nation, the APS was, and continues to be, an elite assembly of the leading thinkers of the day.

Ours is a nation conceived in intellectual idealism. The visionary leaders who conceived this republic were deep thinkers who embodied the best citizenship that is at the heart of liberal learning. They were avid scientists, political theorists, natural historians, and moral philosophers. Theirs was, however, an idealism deeply rooted in practical wisdom. Among the many articles in the first volume of the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society published in 1771 were the Society’s observations of the Transit of Venus in 1769, an essay on grape cultivation and wine making, and designs for an automated bilge pump. The preface of that initial volume began:

Knowledge is of little use, when confined to mere speculation: But when speculative truths are reduced to practice, when theories, grounded upon experiments are applied to the common purposes of life; and when, by these, agriculture is improved, trade enlarged, the arts of living made more easy and comfortable, and of course, the increase and happiness of mankind promoted; knowledge then becomes really useful. That this Society, therefore, may, in some degree, answer the ends of its institution, the members propose to confine their disquisitions, principally, to such subjects as tend to the improvement of their country, and advancement of its interest and prosperity. — “Preface,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, volume 1.

The establishment of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is another notable example of the integration of these goals as addressed in their founding document:

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the end and design of the institution of the said Academy is to promote and encourage the knowledge of the antiquities and the natural history of America; to determine the uses to which the various natural productions of the country may be applied; to promote and encourage medical discoveries, mathematical disquisitions, philosophical enquiries and experiments, astronomical, meteorological and geographical observations, and improvements in agriculture, arts, manufactures and commerce; and, in fine, to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people. — Charter of the Incorporation of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 4 May 1780.

The charter members of the AAAS were alumni and faculty of Harvard, but they immediately began to induct new members from outside that circle and beyond the nation. Many of these new members were already affiliated with the APS, and nearly all of the early members played leading roles in the revolution and the establishment of the Republic (Tables of the early members of AAAS and APS and be found below).

The same spirit of scientific thinking and a flourishing of the enlightenment that fueled the APS and AAAS provided the spark that created our new republic and led to the rise of liberal arts colleges throughout the new nation. These institutions prepared the next generation of leaders, and they have continued to produce a disproportionately high percentage of leaders in science, letters, business, and government. Liberal arts colleges represent only 3% of American college students, yet “a third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees,”[1] and yet the value of what we do in liberal education is questioned in the media daily.

One of the greatest ironies of our time is the celebration of anti-intellectualism as self-proclaimed patriotism. Nothing could be farther from the truth; America’s greatest hope for the future is to celebrate the intellectual ideals of its founders, and the best stewards of these ideals remain our liberal-arts colleges.

American Philosophical Society Early Members:

John Adams                     2nd U.S. President, 1st V.P., Continental Congress, Declaration of Independence, Sons of Liberty, founder of AAAS
William Alexander          Major General in the Continental Army
John Bartram                   Botanist and explorer
Nicholas Biddle               Naval captain in the Revolutionary War
Owen Biddle                   Member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, Colonel in the Continental Army, also a member of AAAS
Benjamin Franklin          Great American polymath, U.S. Minister to Sweden and France, 1st U.S. Postmaster General, founder of the University of Pennsylvania, also a member of AAAS
Benjamin Gale                 Physician, member of the General Assembly of Connecticut, also a member of AAAS
Alexander Hamilton       First Secretary of the Treasury, trustee of Kirkland College, which would be named Hamilton College upon his death
Michael Hillegas             Editor of the Declaration of Independence, first Treasurer of the United States
Francis Hopkinson          U.S. District Court Judge, Continental Congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, composer
Thomas Jefferson            3rd U.S. President, 2nd V.P., 1st Secretary of State, Minister to France, Declaration of Independence, Continental Congress, founder of the University of Virginia
James Madison                4th U.S. President, 5th Secretary of State, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Constitution
John Marshall                  Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
James McHenry              Signer of the Constitution, delegate to the Continental Congress, and Secretary of War
Thomas Paine                  Political activist and theorist
David Rittenhouse          First director of the U.S. Mint, also a member of AAAS
Benjamin Rush                Signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the Continental Congress, Surgeon General in the Continental Army, Sons of Liberty, and founder of Dickinson College
Ezra Stiles                        President of Yale, also a member of AAAS
George Washington        1st U.S. President, Continental Congress
Benjamin West                Artist, also a member of AAAS

Early international members included:

Tadeusz Kosciusko         Polish military officer who rose to Brigadier General in the Continental Army, led a Polish uprising against Russia, his will assigned his American assets to support the freedom and education of slaves in the Unites States
Marquis de Lafayette     French aristocrat who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War and a significant figure in the French Revolution
Baron von Steuben         Prussian military officer who served as Major General of the Continental Army

Charter Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences:

John Adams                     President, V.P., Continental Congress, Declaration of Independence, Sons of Liberty
Samuel Adams                Continental Congress, Sons of Liberty
John Bacon                      House of Representatives
James Bowdoin                Drafted Massachusetts Constitution, Governor of Massachusetts
Charles Chauncy            Influential clergyman whose writings sparked Unitarianism
John Clarke                      Clergyman
David Cobb                     Continental Army, U.S. House of Representatives, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
Samuel Cooper                Declined the presidency of Harvard
Nathan Cushing              Justice of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Thomas Cushing             Continental Congress, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
William Cushing             Associate Justice of U.S. Supreme Court
Tristram Dalton              U.S. Senator
Francis Dana                   Continental Congress, Massachusetts Supreme Court, grandfather of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Samuel Deane                 V.P. Bowdoin College
Peres Fobes                     Professor at the College of Rhode Island
Caleb Gannett                 Tutor and Steward at Harvard, Itinerant preacher during Revolutionary War
Henry Gardner               Treasurer and Receiver-General of Massachusetts
Benjamin Guild               Bookseller
John Hancock                  Signer of the Declaration of Independence, President of Second Continental Congress, Governor of Massachusetts, Sons of Liberty
Joseph Hawley                Massachusetts legislator and proponent of the Declaration of Independence
Edward A. Holyoke         President of AAAS, founder of Massachusetts Medical Society
Ebenezer Hunt               Physician
Jonathan Jackson            Continental Congress, Treasurer of Massachusetts
Charles Jarvis                  Massachusetts Ratifying Convention of U.S. Constitution
Samuel Langdon             President of Harvard, clergyman
Levi Lincoln, Sr.              U.S. House of Representatives, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Attorney General
Daniel Little                     Clergyman
Elijah Lothrup                 Clergyman
John Lowell                      Congress of Confederation
Samuel Mather               Clergyman
Samuel Moody                Clergyman, First headmaster of Dummer Academy, now Governor’s Academy
Andrew Oliver                Lieutenant Governor Province of Massachusetts Bay
Joseph Orne                    Physician
Robert Treat Paine         Signer of the Declaration of Independence, First Attorney General Massachusetts, Massachusetts Associate Justice Supreme Court
Theodore Parsons           Physician and artist
George Partridge            Continental Congress, U.S. House of Representatives
Phillips Payson                Clergyman
Samuel Phillips, Jr.          Lieutenant Governor Massachusetts, President Massachusetts Senate, founder Phillips Academy
John Pickering                 Elected to Constitutional Convention, but did not serve, Chief Justice of the N.H. Court of Judicature, Fist federal official removed from office for impeachment,
Oliver Prescott                Physician, Trustee and benefactor of Groton Academy
Zedekiah Sanger             Clergyman
Nathaniel P. Sargent      Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Chief Justice of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Micaiah Sawyer              Physician, Massachusetts Medical Society
Thomas Sedgwick           Continental Congress, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
William Sever                  Massachusetts constitutional Convention
David Sewall                    U.S. District Court, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Stephen Sewall                Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages
John Sprague                   Chief Justice Court of Common Pleas, Massachusetts constitutional Convention
Ebenezer Storer              Treasurer of Harvard?
Caleb Strong                    Helped shape U.S. Constitution, Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Senator
James Sullivan                 Governor of Massachusetts, Attorney General of Massachusetts
John Bernard Sweat       Physician
Nathaniel Tracy              Merchant and privateer
Cotton Tufts                    Original member Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Senate
James Warren                 Paymaster General of the Continental Army, Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Sons of Liberty
Samuel West                   Clergyman
Edward Wigglesworth   Hollis Chair at Harvard Divinity School
Joseph Willard                President of Harvard
Abraham Williams          Clergyman
Nehemiah Williams        Clergyman
Samuel Williams             Professor and Clergyman
James Winthrop              Librarian of Harvard, Bequeathed his library to Allegheny College

Other early members of AAAS:

Jeremy Belknap               Clergyman, published a History of New Hampshire
Owen Biddle                   Member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, Colonel in the Continental Army, and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, also a member of APS
Joseph Brown                  Professor at College of Providence, now Brown University
Benjamin Franklin          Great American polymath, U.S. Minister to Sweden and France, 1st U.S. Postmaster General, founder of the University of Pennsylvania, also a member of APS
Benjamin Gale                 Physician, member of the General Assembly of Connecticut, also a member of APS
Samuel Hale                    Loyalist and cousin of Nathan Hale, may have revealed the latter’s identity
Ebenezer Hazard           3rd U.S. Postmaster General
Samuel Langdon             Clergyman
Arthur Lee                       Diplomat to France and England, younger brother of Richard Henry, Francis Lightfoot, and William
William Livingston          Continental Congress, signer of the U.S. Constitution, Governor of New Jersey, father-in-law of John Jay
David Rittenhouse          First director of the U.S. Mint, also a member of APS
John Sparhawk                Clergyman, father of John Jr. who was Speaker of the House of Representatives of Connecticut, his brother-in-law was Samuel Sewall
Ezra Stiles                        President of Yale, also a member of APS
Jonathan Trumbull         Governor of Connecticut before and after the revolution, father of John Trumbull, the painter
George Washington        1st U.S. President, Continental Congress, also a member of APS
Benjamin West                Artist, also a member of APS





[1] Ray, Edward J.: “The Value of a Liberal Arts Education in Today’s Marketplace,” Huffington Post, 24 July 2013.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Founding Fathers and Liberal Education - Part I

The Founding Fathers and Liberal Education - Part I

In recent years the public debate over the value of a liberal arts education has included arguments citing high returns on investment due to a greater likelihood of achieving positions of leadership, higher financial earnings, and even statistics confirming greater job satisfaction and increased happiness. Meanwhile, against tremendous positive data, there remains a steady stream of arguments about the relevance of a broad-based liberal education in a society evermore obsessed with entry-level skills, impatience, and quick, but shallow rewards.

Naysayers could do themselves a favor and take one of those history courses they undervalue to appreciate how the founding of our nation and the creation of American liberal education are inextricably linked. The Founding Fathers were progressive intellectuals whose collective experiment was one of the great byproducts of the Enlightenment.

William Smith was named Provost of the College of Philadelphia (forebear of the University of Pennsylvania) in 1755. He introduced the first systematic course of study and degree program in the colonies. It is fitting that he would serve as the inaugural President of the first college founded in the new United States. It is even more fitting that this institution, Washington College, would be established under the aegis of its namesake. George Washington was a member of the board during the College’s early years, stepping down when he accepted the U.S. presidency.

George Washington’s belief in the critical role education would play in our national development continued throughout his career of public service. The draft of his first inaugural address embraces the foundation of liberal education:

Whenever the opportunity shall be furnished to you as public or as private men, I trust you will not fail to use your best endeavors to improve the education and manners of a people; to accelerate the progress of arts & sciences; to patronize works of genius; to confer rewards for invention of utility; and to cherish institutions favourable to humanity. — G. Washington, Draft of the First Inaugural Address, c. January 1789

In his final annual address to Congress, Washington outlined his dreams for a new nation, calling for the formation of a national university and a national military college:

I have heretofore proposed to the consideration of Congress the expediency of establishing a national university and also a military academy. The desirableness of both these institutions has so constantly increased with every new view I have taken of the subject that I can not omit the opportunity of once for all recalling your attention to them.

The assembly to which I address myself is too enlightened not to be fully sensible how much a flourishing state of the arts and sciences contributes to national prosperity and reputation.

True it is that our country, much to its honor, contains many seminaries of learning highly repeatable and useful; but the funds upon which they rest are too narrow to command the ablest professors in the different departments of liberal knowledge for the institution contemplated, though they would be excellent auxiliaries.

Amongst the motives to such an institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions, and manners of our country-men by the common education of a portion of our youth from every quarter well deserves attention. The more homogenous our citizens can be made in these particulars the greater will be our prospect of permanent union; and a primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country? G. Washington, Eighth Annual Address, 7 December 1796

Washington was not alone in his patronage of the intellectual future of the republic. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was established in 1780. Its founders were John Adams, John Hancock, and James Bowdoin. Among the members inducted the following year were Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

The five authors of the Declaration of Independence were public intellectuals of the highest order. Robert Livingston was a distinguished man of letters who amassed a personal library of over 4000 volumes. John Adams, as noted above, was a founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Roger Sherman was a member of the Yale University faculty and served as the University’s treasurer. Benjamin Franklin provided the leadership to create the College of Philadelphia, which became the University of Pennsylvania. Of all his accomplishments, Thomas Jefferson took his greatest pride in having established the University of Virginia.

George Wythe, the first of the seven Virginians to sign the Declaration of Independence was our nation’s first law professor. At the College of William and Mary he provided instruction and mentorship to Jefferson, James Monroe, John Marshall, and Henry Clay. It is hard to overestimate his role in preparing a generation of leaders to bring forth our nation. In a letter to John Banister, Jr., Jefferson wrote:

When college education is done with, and a young man is to prepare himself for public life, he must cast his eyes (for America) either on Law or Physic. For the former, where can he apply so advantageously as to Mr. Wythe? — T. Jefferson, Paris, 15 October 1785.


Other Virginia patriots provided important educational leadership. James Madison and James Monroe were charter members of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, and Madison succeeded Jefferson as Rector of the University. Patrick Henry helped to establish the charter of Hampden-Sydney College in January of 1776, making it the last college founded in the colonies. On 5 December of that same year, Phi Beta Kappa was founded at William and Mary.

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