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The year is 1812. Napoleon authorizes the adoption of the metric system of measurement in Europe and marches his troops all the way to Moscow. Canada repels several attempts at invasion by United States troops following the outbreak of a second war between the U.S. and Great Britain. In Germany the first volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales appears. Louisiana becomes the 18th state in the Union and Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry invents “gerrymandering.” The very first Kentucky bourbon distillery is established along Glenn’s Creek in Woodford County, Kentucky. In the old First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, after several years of discussion and debate, finally prays a special prayer for a divine blessing on the Board of Directors and the first Professor it has chosen for the new Presbyterian seminary, which will begin its first sessions on August 12 of that year in Princeton, New Jersey.

From its earliest days in North America, the Presbyterian Church had placed a strong emphasis on an educated ministry. Francis Makemie, who helped organized the Presbyterian Church on the North American continent, traveled back to Ireland to find educated ministers to join in the work. Jonathan Dickinson gathered young men at his manse in Elizabethtown and trained them for the ministry after the fashion in which he had been trained at Yale. William Tennent with his “Log College” at Neshaminy, and theological educators such as Samuel Blair and Francis Alison, set up “Academies” which became the forerunners of modern theological seminaries. Later it became the practice for candidates for the ministry to pursue a basic classical education and then spend time studying independently with some senior minister to complete their studies in preparation for ordination by their presbytery. However, as the new United States of America began to expand westward and as interest in foreign missions grew, this individual system of preparing ministers was not meeting the need.

Already in the General Assembly of 1800 the respected Presbyterian layman, Elias Boudinot, who had presided over the Continental Congress in 1782, had proposed gathering funds, choosing professors, and setting up a suitable library for the better training of ministerial candidates. This cause was taken up others, especially Ashbel Green from Philadelphia and Samuel Miller from New York. In 1774 the Dutch Reformed had set up a seminary for their ministerial candidates, and in 1808 the Congregationalists of New England had set up a separate seminary at Andover. At the 1808 General Assembly Archibald Alexander, a pastor in Philadelphia and former president of Hampden-Sidney College, preached a sermon that called on the church to establish seminaries to ensure a regular and sufficient supply of well-qualified ministers. At the next several General Assemblies the issue of how best to strengthen ministerial preparation was regularly discussed and eventually, after a series of committee meetings, reports, and responses from the various presbyteries, a “Plan of a Theological Seminary” was adopted at the General Assembly of 1812. It was decided that Archibald Alexander would be the first professor and that the Seminary would (at least temporarily) be located in Princeton.

The Preamble to the Plan read in part that the purpose of the Seminary was

to unite in those who shall sustain the ministerial office, religion and literature; that piety of the heart, which is the fruit only of the renewing and sanctifying grace of God, with solid learning; believing that religion without learning, or learning without religion, in the ministers of the gospel, must ultimately prove injurious to the church.

Two hundred years after its humble beginnings in 1812, Princeton Theological Seminary continues to carry on a tradition that combines rigorous theological training with a focus on spirituality and piety of the heart. For two hundred years, the Seminary has been a community of faithful scholars preparing students for ministry in the name of Jesus Christ, and in service to the church and the world.