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American Enlightenment

The Scottish Intellect Episode 3 of 7

Billy Kay visits Princeton University in New Jersey which began life as a Presbyterian seminary supported by the Kirk and developed into one of the top three Ivy League Colleges of the United States. Through the influence of its President John Witherspoon, it was also the principle conduit through which the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment percolated down in to American society. Witherspoon was a minister from Paisley who was regarded as an evangelical traditionalist in Scotland, famous for satirising the Moderates in the kirk and the society...yet when he came to America he made sure that the brilliant men he had criticised back home like the agnostic David Hume became part of the curriculum at Princeton. He modelled Princeton on the education he himself had received at the University of Edinburgh and it became a magnet for the American elite. He went on to become a signatory of the Declaration of Independence...a document whose ideals of "...Life, , Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" are seen by many as an expression of the Scottish Enlightenment. Princeton influenced many American colleges, while the College of William & Mary in Virginia had direct Scottish input through William Small from Aberdeen, who profoundly influenced the development of Thomas Jefferson.

Billy explores the on-going Scottish and Presbyterian ethos in Princeton, speaking to Iain Torrance, President of Princeton Theological Seminary and to Will Storrar, Director of the Centre of Theological Enquiry - both men are Church of Scotland ministers and feel at home in a campus which has a statue of a Church of Scotland minister, John Witherspoon, at its core. Incidentally, that statue has a twin which stands outside the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley, the work of Sandy Stoddart. Another contemporary echo of Witherspoon's legacy lies in the films of the actress Reese Witherspoon, one of his descendants. The Scottish intellectual legacy at Princeton lasted till the end of the 19th century when another charismatic Scot, the minister and philosopher James McCosh became President and wrote his book A History of Scottish Philosophy there. He also introduced innovations which became part of American college life such as direct appeals to alumni and American football matches between colleges which marked the beginning of the original ivy league!

The pride of Scots in America regarding their outstanding contribution there, is perfectly expressed in the memoirs of the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who recalled being interviewed for a job as a young man in Pittsburgh back in 1870. The boss asked him, "Are you native born?"

Carnegie answered, "No, Sir, I am a Scotchman". When he recalled the incident in later life he said that it made him "feel as proud as ever Roman did when it was their boast to say, "I am a Roman citizen".

Among others taking part in the programme: At Princeton: Lionel Gossman, John Murran and Bob Durkee, Vice President of Princeton University. Professor Andrew Hook of Glasgow University, Gordon Graham of Princeton Theological Seminary, Professor Cairns Craig of Aberdeen University.

An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.

Release date:

30 minutes

Last on

Sun 2 Oct 2011 06:03