“Jacobins” at Princeton: Student riots, religious revivalism, and the decline of Enlightenment, 1800–1817

Charles Bradford Bow* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-122
Number of pages30
JournalModern Intellectual History
Issue number1
Early online date17 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank Thomas Ahnert, Michael Ratnapalan, Robert Beachy, Martin Wagner, Paul Tonks, the journal's anonymous reviewers, and the journal's coeditor Charles Capper for their thoughtful and generous comments in preparation of this article.


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