Since Harvard’s birth in 1636, American colleges and universities have exerted a spiritual influence on the country. Harvard was patterned after Emmanuel College, Cambridge, which has been described as the most Puritan of the Cambridge colleges. Yale was patterned after Harvard, Princeton was a duplicate of Yale founded by Yale graduates, and Yale and Princeton were models for practically all the early Midwestern colleges. Even the early state-supported institutions had a concern for the perpetuation of what might be termed religious culture.

After the Revolutionary War, deism permeated the campuses. Lyman Beecher, a student at Yale in 1795, described the religious conditions in the college:

In 1801, only four or five students were members of the college church. At Princeton, noted for its evangelistic fervor a generation before, only two students professed themselves Christians in 1782. The spiritual impact of the American campus was practically nil.

The Revival of 1800 reached to the college campuses. Yale President Timothy Dwight’s sermon, “You Must Take Your Side,” stirred his college community. By 1802, over half of the student body (which then numbered 160) had united with the church.

The same spirit spread to other campuses. The foreign missionary movement received its earliest inspiration at Williams College when five undergraduates decided to dedicate their lives to winning the heathen for Christ. They were later influential in creating the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the mission agency of the Congregational churches.

By the 1830s, the Christian title was running strong in America. There was a concerted effort to win the frontier for Christ, and denominational colleges were destined to play ...

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