John Dickinson

by Janelle Pavao

John Dickinson was possibly one of the most influential of the founding fathers, and certainly one of the most active. However, due to his unenthusiastic attitude toward independence, he is not quite as popular among historians as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or others of the founding fathers that are well-known today. However, John Dickinson was a great man, who gave great service to this country.

Early Life

John Dickinson was born on November 13, 1732 in Talbot County, Maryland. Dickinson was born to a moderately wealthy family; his father was the first judge of the court of pleas in Maryland. As a young man, John studied law at the Temple in London.

Political Life

John DickinsonJohn Dickinson
Public domain image.

In 1764, he started off his political career as a member of the Pennsylvania assembly. In 1765, he joined the Stamp Act Congress. There, he drafted the document "Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress."

Also during his time there, he wrote a series of essays called "Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer." They were about the non-importation and non-exportation agreements against England. These letter came to be one of his most famous accomplishments, and they were published by Benjamin Franklin during his time in London. Later, "Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer" were translated and published in France as well.

John Dickinson was a member of the First Continental Congress, in 1774. While there, he wrote another one of his famous addresses; "Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec."

In 1775, he and Thomas Jefferson wrote a Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms. This document, however, was not an early Declaration of Independence.

John Dickinson was very opposed to fighting against Britain, and was very careful with the wording of this document, in order to avoid being too upsetting. He also worked excessively to try and mellow the actions of the congress against Britain, in the hope of keeping the possibility of reconciliation.

When it came time to vote on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Dickinson had to abstain, because he did not feel it morally right. Later, however, as a sort of cruel joke, Thomas McKean (current president of Delaware) selected John as a general in the Continental Army. His military career was very short lived.

In 1779, Dickinson was again elected to the Continental Congress. Soon after, in 1780, he was elected to the Delaware Assembly. In 1782 he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania, a post which he held for five years. He joined the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, and while he was there wrote nine consecutive essays promoting the Constitution. He continued writing political essays like this until he retired ten year later. He died in his home at Wilmington on February 14, 1808.

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