The 1st president of Union College
Smith came to Union as an experienced 39-year-old teacher and administrator, and doubtless did what was expected of him in an institution where the trustees bore much of the responsibility later delegated to presidents. His inaugural address, delivered in Latin on May 1, 1796, eloquently proclaims the value of higher education to the country, passes along conventional advice about study and teaching, and argues the merits of a curriculum adopted before his arrival.
The College John Blair Smith headed in its first four years was a very small one, housed in the former Schenectady Academy building. During the first two years, Smith and a colleague taught all the classes.
While at Union, Smith remained active in the Presbyterian Church, serving as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1798. He advanced the view that the Presbyterians and Congregationalists were so similar that it was wasteful for them to found competing churches on the sparsely settled frontier.