Saturday, December 19, 2009
How John Dickinson Changed American History
19th century historians call Founding Father John Dickinson, the "Penman of the Revolution" for he publicly presented the people with the legal justification to separate from Great Britain. He produced our first paper on nationalism in the Stamp Act Congress called, "Declaration of Rights." His 19th century biographer, Paul Leicester Ford, explains, "Letters of a Farmer" ran through the colonies like wildfire, furnishing a common fighting ground to all and so leading the way to union." Dickinson's "Liberty Song" led to the first Congress, and they designated him only to draw up "Petition to the King" and "The Address to Inhabitants of Quebec."
Ford explains, "In the Continental Congress he drew the "Second Petition to the King," offering for the last time the olive branch; while at the same time writing the "Declaration upon taking up Arms." Yet, for all his great work, he paused to declare independence, most likely due to his Quaker beliefs of peaceful resistance, thereby, changing history by opening the door to national prominence for another man, who in turn, befriended another who rose to the same station.
The two men I speak of are: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the third and fourth President's of the United States. Jefferson gained National prominence from Dickinson's in-action to become the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. History supports if Dickinson had not wavered for independence, he, not Jefferson, would have been the principal author of the Declaration. Not only that, but Benjamin Franklin may not have been on the DOI drafting committee; Dickinson, with many other Framers, didn't like him much. Dickinson, publicly wrote against Franklin, and demanded his recall from service to the King giving seven reasons. Here is the fourth reason:
"Because the Proposal of the Person mentioned, is so extremely disagreeable to a very great Number of the most serious and reputable Inhabitants of this Province of all Denominations and Societies (one Proof of which is, his having been rejected, both by this City and County at the last Election, though he had represented the former in Assembly for 14 years) that we are convinced no Measure this House can adopt, will tend so much to inflame the Resentments and imbitter the Divisions of the good People of this province, as his Appointment to be our Agent--And we cannot but sincerely lament, that the Peace and Happiness of Pennsylvania should be sacrificed for the Promotion of a Man, who cannot be advanced but by the Convulsions of his country." [bold face mine]
-John Dickinson, A Protest Against The Appointment of Benjamin Franklin As Agent For The Colony of Pennsylvania. October 26, 1764.
Jefferson was an unknown compared to the most famous man in the colonies. After 1776, Dickinson was still the best writer in the land by preparing the original draft of The Articles of Confederation; our first Constitution. It is only speculation, however, had Dickinson come around sooner, after all, he was a Pennsylvania Brigadier General from 1775-1777, he could have been elected President, displacing either George Washington or John Adams; most likely Adams. To my somewhat surprise, Dickinson was a Republican, and Jefferson greatly admired him.
Adams did not lose his re-election bid because he wrote an Orthodox Christian Fast Proclamation. As Ross Perot did to Bob Dole, so Alexander Hamilton did to John Adams. Hamilton's followers, called "Hamiltonians" were largely affluent attorneys, who split the party, crushing Adams' re-election. At that time, Adams had many adversaries, including: Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin. His "Presbyterian" fast of 1798 did not hurt him at all, rather, he gained more votes from the Orthodox.
Both Jefferson, and Madison, may have Dickinson to thank for his wavering in-action. Madison became President riding on the coat-tails of Jefferson, who may not have been President.
Ironically, Washington was only eight months older than Dickinson. Would Dickinson have been elected over Washington, or nominated his Vice President over Adams? An interesting what if.