“Jacobins” at Princeton: Student riots, religious revivalism, and the decline of Enlightenment

Charles Bradford Bow (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This essay considers how American Enlightenment moralists and Evangelical religious revivalists responded to “Jacobinism” at the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University, from 1800 through 1817. At this time, disruptive student activities exemplified alleged American “Jacobin” conspiracies against civil society. The American response to “Jacobins” brought out tensions between two different competing intellectual currents at the College of New Jersey: a revival of Christian religious principles led by Princeton trustee Reverend Ashbel Green and, in contrast, the expansion of Samuel Stanhope Smith's system of moral education during his tenure as college president from 1795 through 1812. As a moralist, Smith appealed to Scottish Common Sense philosophy in teaching the instinctive “rules of duty” as a way to correct unrestrained “passions” and moderate “Jacobin” radicalism. In doing so, Smith developed a moral quasi-relativism as an original feature of his moral philosophy and contribution to American Enlightenment intellectual culture. Green and like-minded religious revivalists saw Princeton student uprisings as Smith's failure to properly address irreligion. This essay shows the ways in which “Jacobinism” and then the emerging age of religious revivalism, known as the Second Great Awakening, arrived at the cost of Smith's “Didactic Enlightenment” at Princeton. COPYRIGHT: © Cambridge University Press 2015

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-122
Number of pages32
JournalModern Intellectual History
Volume13
Issue number1
Early online date17 Apr 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

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