Dr. Witherspoon received the most votes as the important Clergyman of the founding period. Although it was a small sample, and a close race, I was suprised Jonathan Mayhew received the votes he did, as he passed away years before the Revolution. Jonathon Edwards and Joseph Priestley came in 2nd, and 3rd respectively. Witherspoon was the favorite at the outset.
Witherspoon was no doubt one of our greatest Founding Fathers, having participated in over one-hundred committees in the Continental Congress; among his layman graduates was James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, and Vice-President Aaron Burr. Of his students, ten became cabinet officers and sixty served in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives in Congress. Twelve became Governors of States and fifty-six members of State Legislative bodies and three Justices of the Supreme Court of the U.S. Of the twenty-five College graduates at the Continental Congress, nine were from Princeton University, among which six had Witherspoon's signature on their College diplomas.
He was a staunch Calvinist, teaching its precepts at Presbyterian, Princeton College. Witherspoon disagreed with rationalists of the enlightenment, including, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, who understood reason was superior to revelation:
"In the deistical controversy, what commonly leads the way, is the necessity of revelation in general...The first infidel writers in Europe, were chiefly employed in shewing the sufficiency of reason as a guide to man in his conduct, of whom Lord Herbert, of Cherburg, was one of the most early, and one of the most eminent. Their way of arguing is very fallacious; for they avail themselves of that very improvement of reason, which they owe to revelation, in order to shew revelation to be unnecessary...Infidels do not now plead for Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Apollo, but for the suffciency of human reason." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.
Witherspoon understood, as did John Calvin, that reason supports revelation, and is a vital part of Christian Theology, however, he never aligned with the rationalists, but derided their theology:
"Very plain, that such is our blindness and ignorance in the things of God, that we know very little about them, till they are made known by God himself; and if we were to make our own reason the previous standard of what was admissible or not in quality of revelation, it would make mad work indeed." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.
He believed, as did all Christians before him, that reason is perfectly agreeable to The Gospel of Jesus Christ:
"I shall care very little what men of vain and carnal minds say of my sentiments; but I have been many years of opinion, that as revelation was necessary, and revelation is given us, we act the most wise and truly rational part, if we take all our theological opinions immediately, and without challenge, from the oracles of truth. I confess it is agreeable to me to shew, that the truths of the everlasting gospel are agreeable to sound reason, and founded upon the state of human nature ; and I have made it my business through my whole life to illustrate this remark. Yet to begin by making the suggession of our own reason the standard of what is to be heard or examined as a matter of revelation, I look upon to be highly dangerous, manifestly unjust, and inconsistent with the foundation-stone of all revealed religion, viz. that reason, without it, is insufficient to bring us to the knowledge of God and our duty; and therefore as Socrates said to Al.cibiades, It is reasonable to think that God will come down into the world, to teach us his will." I am not insensible how far it would be just to carry the principle on which our adversaries ground their sentiments. Any new principles or doctrines, seemingly absurd in themselves, and unholy in their effects, would not, with judicious persons, be rashly or suddenly admitted ; and the more supicious the principles are in themselves, no doubt we will examine the pretensions to miracles the more carefully.—This is the part of prudence ; but to carry it further, and say, we will receive no evidence that God hasn't taught any thing different from what we ourselves think reasonahle, is just weakening the truth before admitted,' that revelation immediately from himself is evidently new?"It will now be time to consider a little, the objections against the Christian religion...That reason is a sufficient guide to truth and happiness and therefore revelation is unnecessary; and that miracles are impossible, and incredible. Those I pass with what has been laid on them above.""that things may be above reason, and yet not contradictory to it. By this expression above reason, may be understood two things—beyond the power of reason to discover, and above the reach of reason to comprehend."Therefore though we say that the trinity in unity is incomprehensible, or above reason, we say nothing that is absurd or contrary to reason; so far from it, I may say rather it is consistent to reason and the analogy of nature that there should be many things in the divine nature that we cannot fully comprehend. There are many such things in his providence, and surely much more in his essence." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.
The Sovereignty of God is a firm Calvinist belief that all Christians should adhere to. There are many parts of scripture beyond our comprehension to understand, yet God is Sovereign, and has preserved His Words for His Creation.