Discussions regarding the founding of a college in the Province of New York began as early as 1704, when Colonel Lewis Morris wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the missionary arm of the Church of England, persuading the society that New York City was an ideal community in which to establish a college;however, not until the founding of Princeton University across the Hudson River in New Jersey did the City of New York seriously consider founding a college.
Classes were initially held in July 17, 1754 and were presided over by the college's first president, Dr. Samuel Johnson. Dr. Johnson was the only instructor of the college's first class, which consisted of a mere eight students. Instruction was held in a new schoolhouse adjoining Trinity Church, located on what is now lower Broadway in Manhattan. The college was officially founded on October 31, 1754, as King's College by royal charter of King George II, making it the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States.
The Gothic Revival Law School building on the Madison Avenue campus. After the Revolution, the college turned to the State of New York in order to restore its vitality, promising to make whatever changes to the schools charter the state might demand. The Legislature agreed to assist the college, and on May 1, 1784, it passed "an Act for granting certain privileges to the College heretofore called King's College." The Act created a Board of Regents to oversee the resuscitation of King's College, and, in an effort to demonstrate its support for the new Republic, the Legislature stipulated that "the College within the City of New York heretofore called King's College be forever hereafter called and known by the name of Columbia College." The name Columbia is derived from "the land of Columbus", and is the historical and poetic name used for the United States of America and is also the name of its female personification. The Regents finally became aware of the college's defective constitution in February 1787 and appointed a revision committee, which was headed by John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. In April of that same year, a new charter was adopted for the college, still in use today, granting power to a private board of 24 Trustees.