The Establishment of the Seminary at Princeton

A Historical Tour of Princeton Theological Seminary
By Michael J. Paulus, Jr.

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Contents

  1. Princeton, the College of New Jersey, and the Revolution
  2. The Establishment of the Seminary at Princeton
  3. The Expansion of the Seminary in the Nineteenth Century
  4. The Evolution of the Seminary in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

The Establishment of the Seminary at Princeton

The period following the Revolution was one of great uncertainty. As the new republic began to establish a workable system of government, stabilize its economy, expand westward, and form its identity, church leaders began reevaluating the manner in which ministerial candidates were being educated. Ministers of the gospel, they hoped, would be instrumental in shaping the new nation. This would not happen unless they were well-trained.

Ashbel Green
Ashbel Green  
Samuel Miller
Samuel Miller

Throughout the eighteenth century, Protestant theological education was included as part of the undergraduate curriculum in colleges and universities. But as the national demand and need for pastors increased, colleges such as the College of New Jersey became less concerned with producing ministerial candidates and were not graduating enough of them.

Archibald Alexander
Archibald Alexander

In the early 1800s, two Presbyterian ministers, Ashbel Green from Philadelphia and Samuel Miller from New York City, began discussing the establishment of a Presbyterian school that would be dedicated solely to theeducation of ministers. Green and Miller were unhappy with the administration of the College of New Jersey, which would have been the logical place to locate their theological school, so they decided to establish a separate school. They also decided that the curriculum of this new school would supplement rather than replace a classical college education. This plan meant that Presbyterian ministers would be among the most educated in the country.

The Plan
The Plan  

Two events in 1808 propelled forward the Presbyterian movement for a theological school. In 1805, a Unitarian had been appointed to the chair of divinity at Harvard. A group of New England Congregationalists responded to this event by opening in 1808 the first formal, post-graduate “theological seminary” at Andover, Massachusetts. That same year, at the 1808 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Archibald Alexander, a pastor in Philadelphia and former president of Hampden-Sydney College, preached a sermon that called on the church to establish seminaries to ensure a regular and sufficient supply of qualified ministers.

In 1811, following a series of overtures and committee reports, a plan for a theological seminary was approved by the General Assembly. The guiding principle of the plan was to form a theological seminary that would be “a nursery of vital piety, as well as of sound theological learning.” The church did not only want educated ministers with “solid learning”; it needed transformed ministers who had experienced “the renewing and sanctifying grace of God.”

Alexander Hall
Alexander Hall

The General Assembly of 1812 elected a board of directors for the Seminary and Archibald Alexander as the Seminary’s first professor. After reaching an agreement with the trustees of the College of New Jersey that defined a cooperative rather than competitive relationship between the two schools, the General Assembly resolved to locate its new seminary in Princeton. In August, 1812, Alexander was inaugurated and began teaching the Seminary’s first three students in his temporary home in Princeton.

Hodge House
Hodge House  

More students came to study at Princeton Seminary, and in 1813 Samuel Miller was appointed the Seminary’s second professor. By then, the Seminary was operating out of Nassau Hall and was ready for a building of its own. In 1815, the cornerstone was laid for the Seminary’s first building, Alexander Hall, which was in use by 1817. Initially referred to as Old Seminary, Alexander Hall had dormitory rooms for about 100 students; a refectory and kitchen; a large oratory, which was used for lectures, chapel services, and student meetings; and, by 1820, it accommodated the Seminary’s growing library.

Charles Hodge
Charles Hodge

As work was concluding on Alexander Hall in 1819, the Seminary built a house next to it for Alexander. A house for the Seminary’s third professor, Charles Hodge, was completed in 1825 on the opposite side of Alexander Hall. Hodge graduated from the Seminary in 1819, joined the faculty as an instructor in 1820, and was appointed the Seminary’s third professor in 1822. The plan for the Seminary called for at least three professors, each specializing in a different area. With the addition of Hodge to the faculty, by its tenth anniversary the Seminary’s plan was fully implemented.

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