Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jonathan Belcher, Calvinist Strategist Of American Independence

Jonathan Belcher, who suggested the name 'Nassau Hall', was a Calvinist congregationalist:

'While it (Nassau Hall) was still under construction, the place came perilously close to being named Belcher Hall. In 1747, Jonathan Belcher, a devout Massachusetts Congregationalist, was chosen royal governor of New Jersey, and he immediately made a pet project of supporting the fledgling College of New Jersey, then located in Elizabeth. Belcher was shocked at the degraded spiritual condition of Harvard and Yale - where, he said, he had reason to believe that "Arminianism, Arianism and even Socinianism, in destruction of the doctrines of free grace are daily propagated" - and he saw the New Jersey seminary as a potential bulwark of the Lord. Seven years later, when work began on the college's new building in Princeton, the trustees tried to honor the governor for his support by naming it after him. ("And when your Excellency is translated into a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens," the trustees entreated him, "let Belcher Hall proclaim your beneficent acts.") Belcher graciously declined, and suggested instead the name Nassau Hall, dedicated "to the immortal memory of the glorious King William III, who was a branch of the illustrious house of Nassau." Thus, thanks to Belcher's modesty, began the tradition that in later decades would lead to the composing of "Old Nassau" - imagine a school song entitled "Old Belcher" - as well as to the adoption of orange and black as Princeton's official colors.'
He served simultaneously for over a decade as colonial governor of the British colonies of New Hampshire (1729–1741) and Massachusetts (1730–1741) and later for ten years as governor of New Jersey (1747–1757). Born into a wealthy Massachusetts merchant family, Belcher attended Harvard College and then entered into the family business and local politics. He was instrumental in promoting Samuel Shute as governor of Massachusetts in 1715.

Paradoxically, as governor of Massachusets and New Hampshire, "by trying to keep on good terms with the province and the administration" he lost the respect of both colonial politicians and the colonial administration in London.

It was his tax exemption for Quakers in Massachusets that brought him a potent support base in that community in London. When he lost the Governorship of Massachusets and New Hampshire he went to London for three or four years:
'When he arrived in London he joined the social circles of the Congregationalist and Quaker communities (the latter including among its influential members his brother-in-law Richard Partridge), and called on colonial administrators in the hopes of acquiring a new posting.[84] There he remained for three years, until in 1746 word arrived that the governor of New Jersey, Lewis Morris, had died. Since New Jersey had a strong Quaker political establishment, Belcher immediately began mobilizing supporters in the London Quaker community to assist in securing the post. Due to this alacrity he was able to get the posting before agents for Morris' son Robert Hunter Morris had time to organize their effort.'
New Jersey was also a rural patchwork quilt of different cultures and religions, unlike predominantly English and Congregationalist New England:
'Elizabethtown, near New York, was heavily populated by evangelical Christians, among them Reverend Aaron Burr, and Belcher found himself welcome there.[90] He regularly attended services there, and was particularly influenced by preachers including George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, leaders of the Great Awakening with whom he corresponded '
Jonathan Edwards was married to Sarah Pierpont, daughter of congregationalist and Yale founder James Pierpont. An observation that might shed some light on what the Princeton project was about:
'These observations reflected a topic of common interest that Jonathan Edwards and his friend, Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) had at that time: refuting the tenets of religious secularism, which held to a shallow, impersonal view of the "Great Architect of the Universe" (a view then known as deism or natural religion).'
'The Unitarian controversy' has some background on this too. Ian Frederick Finseth makes some great observations on the history of the 18th century, Calvinism and the great awakening:
'THE EMERGENCE OFthe Transcendentalists as an identifiable movement took place during the late 1820s and 1830s, but the roots of their religious philosophy extended much farther back into American religious history. Transcendentalism and evangelical Protestantism followed separate evolutionary branches from American Puritanism, taking as their common ancestor the Calvinism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.'

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