John Dickinson was the principal author of our first Constitution, the Articles of Confederation. That document governed our confederation of states for twelve years, from 1777 to 1789. Most secularist historians, and historians in general, ignore Dickinson's contribution to our country, but not this blog. Until the end of the Revolution, he was the most important, prestigious man in the colonies, more respected than Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, or George Washington. He was our most prolific writer, joining the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 where he drafted the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress (Olive Branch Petition).
Dickinson's fame came with his justification for rebellion against Great Britain. He was the most responsible for educating America on the legal justification for the Revolution. Once the legal justification was met, there was no stopping the Colonists.
Widely published, Dickinson's letters had momentous impact. English politicians studied every sentence and waited with nervous anticipation for each of the 12 epistles to appear in order to gauge the mood of the colonies. It was clear that the Americans were not accepting the taxes with aplomb. "My Lord," wrote Massachusetts Governor Bernard to the English authorities, "this is not a fictitious argument, but a real one." As eloquently as any, Dickinson had provided more intellectual and moral ammunition for liberty.
It was also during this time he wrote an important series of essays, Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer, regarding the nonimportation and nonexportation agreements against Great. Britain. These essays were published in London in 1768 by Benjamin Franklin, and later translated to French and published in Paris. In 1774 he attended the first Continental Congress and wrote an Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec. There also, in 1775, and in combination with Jefferson, he wrote a Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms.
Dickinson, however, was not for separation from Great Britain, but wanted reconciliation. This was the reason why he was not choosen to help draft the Declaration of Independence. His prestige found him elected President of the 1786 Annapolis convention, and made him America's first hometown hero. Dickinson was the only man to ever be governor of two different states; Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Along with assisting with the Delaware Constitution of 1792, he signed the Constitution, not quite as prominent in the formation of the latter. With a firm reliance on Divine Providence, Dickinson was not a product of the Enlightenment, but was a Christian, understanding Natural Law (Rights) came from Jesus Christ and the Bible:
"Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness... We claim them from a higher source -- from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives." [bold face mine]
-John Dickinson, An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, 1766.
Dickinson is remembered as a consummate gentleman and Christian.
"Rendering thanks to my Creator for my existence and station among His works, for my birth in a country enlightened by the Gospel and enjoying freedom, and for all His other kindnesses, to Him I resign myself, humbly confiding in His goodness and in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity."
-From the Last Will & Testament of John Dickinson, attested March 25, 1808.