As Philadelphia was the seed-plot of Dickinson College, it is proper to mention, in this connection, that the accredited leadership to Boston in matters intellectual, is probably due more to the persistence of the claimants than to the validity of the claim. Ben Franklin would certainly not have migrated from the city of his birth to the City of Brotherly Love if he had not believed that it afforded a more favorable field for the realization of the many projects that jostled one another in his teeming brain. Not only was Philadelphia at an early period the home of a large number of scientists and scholars; it was also the first American city in which at least two men essayed to gain a livelihood by literature, and measurably succeeded, Brockden Brown and Joseph Denny, the one a native, the other a self-transplanted exile. Brown is still somewhat kindly remembered and faintly praised by historians of American and English literature. Denny, who died in 1812, was host to "Tom" Moore when he visited "The States," and it was in his company that he passed "the only agreeable moments which my tour afforded me." Francis Hopkinson was also a native of Philadelphia. His lyric is better known than his name or his native city. "Hail Columbia" was set to music by a German teacher of the art, and almost instantly bounded into popularity, a circumstance which does not speak very highly for the musical taste of the city. John Woolman was born in Burlington county, New Jersey, in 1720, and died in 1772; Charles Lamb recommended to everybody to learn his prose by heart. Of Franklin it has been written, that if a collection could be made of the gazettes of Europe for the latter half of the eighteenth century, a greater number of panegyrical paragraphs upon "le grand Franklin" would be found than upon any other man that ever lived. A German student once remarked to the writer as lately as 1870: "You Americans have had only one great man; that was Franklin."
The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Philadelphia, where the promoters of the cause suffered some persecution and considerable loss of property. The fact that the Quakers had taken a stand against the institution more than a hundred years earlier left a permanent influence. The most widely known American bookseller in the eighteenth century was John Bell. He republished a number of high-class works, and traveled from Boston to Charleston holding book-auctions. The works of Macchiavelli in the original, in four volumes bound in two, were issued in Philadelphia in 1818. Paine was brought to the city by Franklin for the reason that he believed his radical opinions, when promulgated through the press, would find more readers in that vicinity than they would farther east or farther south. It was hardly a happy thought when the entire situation is taken into consideration. Philip Freneau had marked talents both as a writer of prose and of verse. West and Rembrandt Peale narrowly missed being born within the limits of Philadelphia. Alexander Wilson was by birth a Scotchman, but a Philadelphian by residence, and the author of a work whose value to science is imperishable. William Bartram was no mean ornithologist, besides being a botanist of high rank. The foundations of Audubon's great work were laid within sight of Philadelphia. The "Log College" always mentioned in the history of early education in Pennsylvania and even in that of the United States, was put into operation in Bucks county, at last finding an abiding resting- place less than two-score miles from the city of Penn. John Witherspoon, the only clergyman who signed the Declaration of Independence, was elected president of the College of New Jersey in 1768, and spent much of his time in Philadelphia. He was mainly instrumental in the choice of Dr. Nisbet for the principalship of Dickinson College, as he knew both the man and the position he was expected to fill. Witherspoon was a fighter with both carnal and spiritual weapons. He took part in the battle of Falmouth and was made prisoner, but was soon released. He received his degree from the University of Edinburg in 1742; was called to the presidency of the College of New Jersey twenty-six years later, and occupied the post until 1794. Dr. Nisbet's large and valuable library, judged by the standard of his day, passed into the hands of the trustees of Princeton Theological Seminary, evidence of the friendly relations that existed between the New Jersey and Pennsylvania institutions. John Dickinson was for a long time a resident of Philadelphia.
In 1790 the county of Philadelphia had a population of 54,000, which, by the end of the century had more than doubled. New York, on the other hand, did not reach an enrollment of 60,000 until after 1807; while Boston, as late as 1822 contained only 47,000 inhabitants. William Smith, a recent graduate of Aberdeen, was the first president of the University. Although brought up in the Presbyterian faith, he returned to England for the purpose of taking orders in the Anglican church. This could not be done in America at that time. Dr. Smith soon gained such a reputation abroad that he not only received the honorary degree of D.D. from his alma mater, but also from Dublin and Oxford. It has, however, been surmised that other influences besides scholarship were responsible for these academic honors. He was named provost of the college in Philadelphia in 1754, which is usually regarded as the year of the founding of the University of Pennsylvania. Although planned on a large scale, it never gained the prestige of Harvard and Yale. At the present time it has about ten thousand students which is as many as both those institutions combined, with Princeton added, have enrolled. It probably labored under the disadvantage of being regarded as a purely secular institution. Such an opinion was a handicap, because in advance of the time. General Wayne, although almost a Philadelphian, sent his only son to Dickinson College, where he was graduated with the class of 1792.
Not only was Philadelphia the center of literary activity in the Colonies, it also took the lead in the anti-slavery movement. The legislature passed a general emancipation act in 1780, although this was not the first sign of public hostility to the institution. As early as 1775 an anti-slavery society was formed in Philadelphia, the first in the Union. It is claimed for the Mennonites of Germantown that they were the first people in America to suggest the abolition of slavery. There is reason to believe that no "Friend" ever owned a slave. Although the society organized in 1775 at once began propaganda for the liberation of the slaves in the colony, it accomplished little, because of the upheaval produced by the revolutionary war. But in 1888, the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed and at once began active operations. The first medical school in the country was established in Philadelphia in 1765, in connection with the University of Pennsylvania. The first law school dates from 1790, its first professor being James Wilson, whose career has been briefly outlined in this sketch.
James Logan, who has been mentioned on a previous page, was a Scotchman by birth, and came to America with William Penn on his last voyage. He died in 1751 on his estate near Germantown, at the age of seventy-seven years. He bequeathed his library, which he had been fifty years in collecting, to the city of Philadelphia. He was not only an indefatigable collector of books; he was also a scholar of no mean rank. He made a version of Cicero de Senectute, which was published by Ben Franklin. It was republished in London and in Glasgow. This library was the largest donation of the kind made in America until far in the nineteenth century. In Morse's American Gazetteer, published in 1804, we may read: "The catalogue of books for sale in this city (Philadelphia) contains upwards of three hundred sets of local editions, besides a greater variety of maps and charts than is to be found anywhere else in America."