reminds us of the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. The two giants of the eighteenth century worked together in establishing the academy that would eventually become the University of Pennsylvania. Here is a taste:
One of the most fascinating exchanges between them came in 1750, when
Whitefield replied to Franklin’s plans for the Philadelphia Academy,
the forerunner to the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin and the
academy trustees had recently acquired the “New Building,” a spacious
venue which Whitefield’s supporters had originally erected for the
itinerant’s preaching. Now Franklin sent Whitefield a copy of his Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania
(1749), which made a powerful case for liberal arts education in a time
when the colonies still only had four colleges (Harvard, Yale, the
College of New Jersey, and William and Mary), and Philadelphia had none.
Whitefield was delighted with the plan, and happy to have the New
Building put to such a use (especially if it remained available for
The main problem Whitefield had with Franklin’s
proposals – a problem that reflected the fundamental spiritual divide
between the men – was that Christianity seemed to be an afterthought.
Franklin did note that students would receive instruction in the value
of public and private religion, “and the excellency of the CHRISTIAN
RELIGION above all others.” But this brief reference came only on page
22 of a 32 page document, and to Whitefield, this was not enough. In the
excerpts below from the itinerant’s lengthy letter to Franklin in
February 1750, Whitefield cast his own vision for Christian liberal arts
education. But Franklin was more concerned with nonsectarianism than
evangelicalism, and his vision ultimately won out, making Penn America’s
first university with no denominational commitment.
In addition to their work together on the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin and Whitefield also envisioned the establishment of a colony in Ohio Territory.
I am looking forward to Kidd's forthcoming biography of George Whitefield.