• College Of Pennsylvania Provost William Smith Invites Founding Father Thomas Mifflin To Commencement

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    2 pp, 6 1/4 x 8, DS, July 15th, 1790, being a manuscript invitation to the College of Philadelphia’s commencement, signed twice by WILLIAM SMITH and addressed to “his Excellency the President and Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Excellency President,” who would have been THOMAS MIFFLIN.  Two historic and very important figures in Pennsylvania whose lives impacted the charting of the new nation, including those involving Benjamin Franklin, military forces, the infamous Stamp Act and the Revolutionary War.

    The invitation reads, “The Trustees and Faculty of the College of Philadelphia request to be honoured with the Company of his Excellency the President and supreme Executive Council at a Commencement to be held in the College Hall on Saturday Morning next at 9 o’clock. William Smith, Provost”  Smith has signed again on the verso as “Doctor William Smith Provost of the College of Philad”  The verso also contains the address leaf “To his Excellency the President and Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Excellency President.”

    SMITH was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. He received a degree in Scotland to teach and then in 1751 in the home of Josiah Martin on Long Island, NY. His 1753 essay A General Idea of the College of Mirania impressed Benjamin Franklin and the Rev. Richard Peters, leading to Smith’s appointment to teach natural philosophy and logic at the Academy of Philadelphia.  Franklin was president of the Board of Trustees. Smith was ordained as a Church of England clergyman immediately before his 1754 election as a professor at the Academy. In 1755, the Academy was chartered as the College of Philadelphia and Smith was approved as the first provost, a position he held until 1779 when the college became the University of the State of Pennsylvania. In 1791, a merger resulted in the University of Pennsylvania.

    Franklin supported Smith’s reorganization of the school. The provost was the equivalent of the modern-day college president. Smith and Franklin didn’t always agree.  They were at odds about whether the provincial military forces should be controlled popularly (by Franklin’s party) or by the proprietary Penn family.  The dispute led to a power shift in 1756 with Penn’s board of directors and the replacement of Franklin as president.  In 1758, Smith was jailed briefly by the provincial assembly for his printed attacks on the assembly’s military policy. During his imprisonment, Smith actually taught classes from jail.

    During the Stamp Act crisis and the early years of the American Revolution, Smith favored the broadening of colonial liberties, but decried the tendency to turbulence and upheaval. His printed essays called for caution grounded in colonial self-interest. Because Pennsylvania patriots suspected Smith of Loyalist sympathies, the new state government did not name him either as a trustee or the head of the University of the State of Pennsylvania when they created this institution. Instead this new institution was headed by John Ewing.

    During the 1780s, Smith moved to Maryland, where he founded Washington College as a nondenominational college with a curriculum similar to the courses he had instituted at the College of Philadelphia. Long involved in ecclesiastical disputes, especially the controversy over whether or not to appoint an American bishop, Smith presided over the 1780 convention that created the new diocese of Maryland. He was elected, but never consecrated as Maryland’s first bishop.

    MIFFLIN (1744 – 1800) was an American merchant, soldier and politician from Philadelphia who served in a number of roles during and after the American Revolution, resulting in him being considered a Founding Father. He was the first governor of Pennsylvania and the last president succeeding Benjamin Franklin, serving from 1788 to 1790. During the Revolutionary War, he was an aide to George Washington, rising to the rank of Major General. Having been in the Continental Congress, Mifflin returned in 1782 and was elected president of the Continental Congress in 1783. He served as speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1785 to 1787, then as president of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council from 1788 to 1790.  He was a delegate to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention and signed the United States Constitution.  He presided over the committee that wrote Pennsylvania’s own constitution.

    Folds, expected toning and a few identifying pencil markings placed by a later collector.  Very readable and a great addition to any early Pennsylvania collection.

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