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Ashbel Green


Ashbel Green, valedictorian of the Class of 1783 (the year George Washington and members of the Continental Congress attended the Commencement ceremony) was the second alumnus to serve as president of Princeton. Green was a prominent clergyman, serving as minister of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and chaplain to the United States Congress.

As a trustee of the College, he represented the conservative “Old Side” and took a leading role in opposing the liberal drift in the faculty and curriculum. He became president in 1812 after helping engineer the removal of his predecessor. That same year, believing that Princeton was no longer serving the church as it should, he helped establish a theological seminary next door.

Green approached his presidential duties as a stern but kindly pastor. He introduced vigorous disciplinary rules and imposed a heavy religious tone on the College. From his raised dais, he took a lordly view, often saying, “I consider every member of the faculty a younger brother, and every pupil a child.”

“My first address to the students,” he later wrote, “produced a considerable impression, insomuch that some of them shed tears. This greatly encouraged me; but the appearance was delusive or fugitive. Notwithstanding all the arrangements I had made, and all the pains I had taken to convince them that their own good and the best interests of the institution were my only aim, I had the mortification to find that the majority of them seemed bent on mischief.”

Ashbel Green (1762–1848), Class of 1783.
Unknown American artist. Oil on canvas, 76.5 x 64.1 cm. (30 1/8 x 25 1/4 in.). Princeton University, gift of Mr. Stockton Green. Photo: Bruce M. White