As the coals are heating up under your Fourth of July grill, lend a thought to the contribution and sacrifice of our Founding Fathers — Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Dickinson. Dickinson?
John Dickinson was a Philadelphia lawyer turned revolutionary who campaigned ceaselessly for American rights. As a Congressional delegate, from Pennsylvania and later Delaware, he was a part of the Stamp Act Congress in1765, First Continental Congress in 1774, The Second Congress in 1775, the post-revolution Congress and the Constitutional Convention. Not only was he an active participant, he was the principal writer for every document produced by these groups except for that little thing Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The Declaration of …” something or other.
If Dickinson was that involved in the struggle for liberty, how come only a handful of us have ever heard of him? Because during the 1776 debate over the Declaration of Independence, he stood up and argued against the declaration! Well, perhaps just the timing of it. Since we don’t have the space for his entire speech, allow me to summarize: What do we plan to do next? It would do little good to break from England only to be gobbled up whole or piecemeal by France, Spain or the Dutch. Wasn’t there still time to solve this problem with England peacefully?
What was he doing? Everybody’s jumping off the bridge and he’s asking if there’s water down there! How dare he dissent!
His argument made and rejected, Dickinson abstained from the vote so Pennsylvania could approve the Declaration and make it unanimous. Then, having by his own admission committed political suicide, he gave up his seat in Congress. Within a couple of weeks, he was leading his militia regiment in the Continental forces.
He was returned to Congress in 1779, and, with Jefferson serving as governor of Virginia, Dickinson became the principle author of the 1781 Articles of Confederation, outlining the first government for the United States. In 1786, realizing the Articles were fatally flawed, Congress called for a meeting in Annapolis for the purpose of “improving” the Articles. But things between the States had deteriorated to the point that only a handful even bothered to send delegates.
As the presiding officer for this Annapolis Convention, Dickinson and pair of young congressmen, James Madison and Alex Hamilton (sure, you’ve heard of them), apparently agreed that the Articles had no chance of rehabilitation, so they engineered a stalemate that raised enough dust to lead to a fully attended meeting the next year at Philadelphia. When the 1787 Constitutional Convention decided to start over, there was our friend Dickinson, leading the Delaware contingent.
Dickinson also served as Governor of Delaware, and donated a piece of land in Pennsylvania for a college that still bears his name.
John Dickinson is a shining example of the best of the American spirit, a man not afraid to dissent, but willing to fight for his country anyway.