President Thomas Jefferson recognized John Dickinson as being, "Among the first of the advocates for the rights of his country when assailed by Great Britain," whose "name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution."
John Dickinson (November 15, 1732 [November 4 (old style)] – February 14, 1808) was an American solicitor and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. He was a militia officer during the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of Delaware and President of Pennsylvania. Among the wealthiest men in the British American colonies, he is known as the "Penman of the Revolution" for his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania; upon receiving news of his death, President Thomas Jefferson recognized him as being "among the first of the advocates for the rights of his country when assailed by Great Britain," whose "name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution."
Together with his wife Mary Norris Dickinson he is the namesake of Dickinson College, Penn State University's Dickinson School of Law, and University of Delaware's Dickinson Complex.
John, son of Samuel, great grandson of William, was born at Croisadore, his family's tobacco plantation near the village of Trappe in Talbot County, Maryland. He was the great grandson of Walter Dickinson who emigrated from England to Virginia in 1654 and, having joined the Society of Friends, came with several co-religionists to Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in 1659.
He married Mary (Polly) Norris, daughter of Isaac Norris and Sarah (Logan) Norris on 19 July 1770.
John died in Wilmington, Delaware and was buried at the Friends Meeting House Burial Ground, Wilmington, Delaware. HIs memorial has a picture of John, and links to those of family members.
Born: November 13 or 15, 1732 [November 2 or 4 in Julian calendar]
Died: February 14, 1808.
Born: November 13 or 15, 1732 (November 2 or 4, respectively, in the "old style" Julian calendar used at time) Talbot County, Province of Maryland
Died: February 14, 1808 (aged 75), Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.
Spouse: Mary (Polly) Norris
Residences: Kent County, Delaware; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware
Religion: Quaker (associated)
Political Affiliations: Democratic-Republican
Together with his wife, Mary Norris Dickinson, he is the namesake of Dickinson College (originally John and Mary's College), and is the namesake of the Dickinson School of Law of Pennsylvania State University and the University of Delaware's Dickinson Complex.
John Dickinson' was a Founding Father of the United States; a solicitor and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware known as the "Penman of the Revolution" for his twelve Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, published individually in 1767 and 1768. As a member of the First Continental Congress, he was a signee to the Continental Association.
Dickinson drafted most of the 1774 Petition to the King, and then as a member of the Second Continental Congress wrote the 1775 Olive Branch Petition, two attempts to negotiate with the King of England. When these failed, he reworked Thomas Jefferson's language and wrote the final draft of the 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. When Congress decided to seek Independence, Dickinson served on the committee which wrote the Model Treaty, and then wrote the first draft of the 1776-1777 Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.
Dickinson later served as President of the 1786 Annapolis Convention which called for the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which Dickinson then attended as a delegate from Delaware.
He also wrote "The Liberty Song" in 1768, was a militia officer during the American Revolution, was President of Delaware, President of Pennsylvania, and was among the wealthiest men in the British American colonies.
John Dickinson's Offices
Fifth President of Pennsylvania: In office November 13, 1782 – October 18, 1785
President of Delaware: In office November 13, 1781 – January 12, 1783
Continental Congressman from Delaware: In office January 18, 1779 – February 10, 1781
Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania: In office August 2, 1774 – November 7, 1776
Dickinson was born at Crosiadore, his family's tobacco plantation near the village of Trappe in Talbot County, Maryland. He was the great grandson of Walter Dickinson who emigrated from England to Virginia in 1654 and, having joined the Society of Friends (Quakers), came with several co-religionists to Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in 1659. There, with 400 acres (1.6 km2) on the banks of the Choptank River where Walter began a plantation, Crosiadore, meaning cross of gold.Walter also bought 800 acres (3.2 km2) on St. Jones Neck in what became Kent County, Delaware.
Crosiadore passed through Walter's son, William, to his grandson, 'Samuel, the father of John Dickinson. Each generation increased the landholdings, so that Samuel inherited 2,500 acres (1,000 ha) on five farms in three Maryland counties and over his lifetime increased that to 9,000 acres (3,600 ha). He also bought the Kent County property from his cousin and expanded it to about 3,000 acres (1,200 ha), stretching along the St. Jones River from Dover to the Delaware Bay. There he began another plantation and called it Poplar Hall. These plantations were large, profitable agricultural enterprises worked by slave labor, until 1777 when John Dickinson freed the enslaved of Poplar Hall.
Samuel Dickinson first married Judith Troth (1689–1729) on April 11, 1710.
Samuel and Judith had nine children:
1. William Dickinson
2. Walter Dickinson
3. Samuel Dickinson
4. Elizabeth Dickinson
5. 'Henry Dickinson
6. Elizabeth (Betsy) Dickinson
7. Rebecca Dickinson
8. Rachel Dickinson
The three eldest sons died of smallpox while in London seeking their education.
Widowed and with two young children (Henry and Betsy) Samuel married Mary Cadwalader in 1731. She was the daughter of Martha Jones (granddaughter of Dr. Thomas Wynne) and the prominent Quaker, John Cadwalader, who was also grandfather of General John Cadwalader of Philadelphia. Their sons, John, Thomas and Philemon were born in the next few years.
For three generations, the Dickinson family had been members of the Third Haven Friends Meeting in Talbot County and the Cadwaladers were members of the Meeting in Philadelphia. But in 1739, John Dickinson's half-sister, Betsy, was married in an Anglican Church to Charles Goldsborough, in what was called a disorderly marriage by the Meeting. The couple would be the grandparents of Maryland Governor Charles Goldsborough.
Leaving Crosiadore to elder son Henry Dickinson, Samuel moved to Poplar Hall, where he had already taken a leading role in the community as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Kent County. The move also placed Mary nearer her Philadelphia relations.
Poplar Hall was situated on a now-straightened bend of the St. Jones River. There was plenty of activity delivering the necessities, and shipping the agricultural products produced. Much of this product was wheat that along with other wheat from the region, was milled into a superfine flour . Most people at this plantation were servants and slaves of the Dickinsons.
Early Life and Family
Dickinson was educated at home, by his parents and by recent immigrants employed for that purpose. Included among them was the Presbyterian minister Francis Alison, who later established New London Academy in Chester County, Pennsylvania . Most important was his tutor, William Killen, who became a lifelong friend and who later became Delaware’s first Chief Justice and Chancellor. Dickinson was precocious and energetic, and in spite of his love of Poplar Hall and his family, was drawn to Philadelphia.
At 18 he began studying the law under John Moland in Philadelphia. There he made friends with fellow students George Read and Samuel Wharton, among others. By 1753, John went to London for three years of study at the Middle Temple. He spent those years studying the works of Edward Coke and Francis Bacon at the Inns of Court, following in the footsteps of his lifelong friend, Pennsylvania Attorney General Benjamin Chew, and in 1757 was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar beginning his career as barrister and solicitor.
On July 19, 1770, Dickinson' married Mary Norris, known as Polly, a prominent and well educated thirty-year-old woman in Philadelphia with a substantial holding of real estate and personal property (including a 1500 volume library, one of the largest in the colonies at the time), who had been operating her family's estate, Fair Hill, for a number of years by herself or with her sister. She was the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker, and Speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Isaac Norris and Sarah Logan, the daughter of James Logan, both deceased. She was also cousin to the Quaker poet Hannah Griffits. Dickinson and Norris had five children, but only two survived to adulthood: Sarah Norris "Sally" Dickinson and Maria Mary Dickinson.
Dickinson never formally joined the Quaker Meeting, because, as he explained, he believed in the lawfulness of defensive war. He and Norris were married in a civil ceremony.
In Philadelphia, he lived at his wife's property, Fair Hill, near Germantown, which they modernized through their combined wealth. Meanwhile he built an elegant mansion on Chestnut Street, but never lived there as it was confiscated and turned into a hospital during his 1776-77 absence in Delaware . It then became the residence of the French Ambassador and still later the home of his brother, Philemon Dickinson. Fair Hill was burned by the British during the Battle of Germantown. While in Philadelphia as State President, he lived at the confiscated mansion of Joseph Galloway at Sixth and Market Streets, now established as the State Presidential Mansion.
Dickinson lived at Poplar Hall, for extended periods only in 1776-77 and 1781-82. In August 1781 it was sacked by Loyalists and was badly burned in 1804. This home is now owned by the State of Delaware and is open to the public . After his service as President of Pennsylvania, he returned to live in Wilmington, Delaware in 1785, and built a mansion at the northwest corner of 8th and Market Streets.
Dickinson was one of Pennsylvania's delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775 and 1776. In support of the cause, he continued to contribute declarations in the name of the Congress. Dickinson wrote the Olive Branch Petition as the Second Continental Congress' last attempt for peace with Britain (King George III did not even read the petition). But through it all, agreeing with New Castle County'sGeorge Read and many others in Philadelphia and the Lower Counties, Dickinson's object was reconciliation, not independence and revolution. He was a proud devotee of the British Constitution and felt the dispute was with Parliament only .
When the Continental Congress began the debate on the Declaration of Independence on July 1, 1776, Dickinson reiterated his opposition to declaring independence at that time. Dickinson believed Congress should complete the Articles of Confederation and secure a foreign alliance before issuing a declaration. Dickinson also objected to violence as a means for resolving the dispute. He abstained or absented himself from the votes on July 2 that declared independence and absented himself again from voting on the wording of the formal Declaration on July 4. Dickinson understood the implications of his refusal to vote stating, "My conduct this day, I expect will give the finishing blow to my once too great and, my integrity considered, now too diminished popularity" . Dickinson refused to sign the Declaration and since a proposal had been brought forth and carried that stated, for our mutual security and protection, no man could remain in Congress without signing. Dickinson voluntarily left and joined the Pennsylvania Militia.
Following the Declaration of Independence, Dickinson was given the rank of Brigadier General in the Pennsylvania Militia, known as the Associators. He led 10,000 soldiers to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to protect that area against British attack from Staten Island. But because of his unpopular opinion on independence, two junior officers were promoted above him .
Return to Poplar Hall
Dickinson resigned his commission in December 1776 and went to stay at Poplar Hall in Kent County. While there he learned that his home on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia had been confiscated and converted into a hospital. He stayed at Poplar Hall for more than two years. The Delaware General Assembly tried to appoint him as their delegate to the Continental Congress in 1777, but he refused. In August 1777 he served as a private with the Kent County Militia at Middletown, Delaware under General Caesar Rodney to help delay General William Howe's march to Philadelphia. In October 1777, Dickinson's friend, Thomas McKean, appointed him Brigadier General of the Delaware Militia, but again Dickinson declined the appointment. Shortly afterwards, he learned that the British had burned down his and his wife's Fairhill property during the Battle of Germantown .
Political & Ethical Achievements
Dickinson was the only founding father to free his slaves in the period between 1776 and 1786.
Drafting of the Articles of Confederation
Dickinson prepared the first draft of the Articles of Confederation in 1776, after others had ratified the Declaration of Independence over his objection it would lead to violence. He followed through on his view that the colonies would need a governing document to survive war against them.
At the time he chaired the committee charged with drafting the Articles, Dickinson was serving in the Continental Congress as a delegate from Pennsylvania. The Articles of Confederation he drafted are based around a concept of "person", not "man" as was used in the Declaration of Independence, although they do refer to "men" in the context of armies.
President of Delaware
President of Delaware.
On January 18, 1779, Dickinson was appointed to be a delegate for Delaware to the Continental Congress. During this term he signed the Articles of Confederation.
While at Poplar Hill in October 1781, Dickinson was elected to represent Kent County in the State Senate, and shortly afterwards the Delaware General Assembly elected him the President of Delaware.
On November 7, 1782 a joint ballot by the Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly elected him as president of the Council and thereby President of Pennsylvania.
John and Mary's College
In 1784, Dickinson and Mary Norris Dickinson bequeathed much of their combined library to John and Mary's College, named in their honor by its founder Benjamin Rush and later renamed Dickinson College. The Dickinsons also donated 500 acres (2 km²) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, land originally inherited and managed by Mary Norris, to the new college.
The Signing of the Constitution of the United States
After his service in Pennsylvania, Dickinson returned to Delaware, and lived in Wilmington. He was quickly appointed to represent Delaware at the Annapolis Convention, where he served as its President. In 1787, Delaware sent him as one of its delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, along with Gunning Bedford, Jr., Richard Bassett, George Read, and Jacob Broom. There, he supported the effort to create a strong central government but only after the Great Compromise assured that each state, regardless of size, would have an equal vote in the future United States Senate. As he had done with the Articles, he also carefully drafted it with the term Person rather than Man as was used in the Declaration of Independence. He prepared initial drafts of the First Amendment. Following the Convention he promoted the resulting Constitution in a series of nine essays, written under the pen name Fabius.
In 1791, Delaware convened a convention to revise its existing Constitution, which had been hastily drafted in 1776. Dickinson was elected president of this convention, and although he resigned the chair after most of the work was complete, he remained highly influential in the content of the final document. Major changes included the establishment of a separate Chancery Court and the expansion of the franchise to include all taxpayers, except blacks and women . Dickinson remained neutral in an attempt to include a prohibition of slavery in the document, believing the General Assembly was the proper place to decide that issue. The new Constitution was approved June 12, 1792. Dickinson himself had freed his slaves conditionally in 1776 and fully by 1787.
Once more Dickinson was returned to the State Senate for the 1793 session, but served for just one year before resigning due to his declining health. In his final years, he worked to further the abolition movement, and donated a considerable amount of his wealth to the relief of the unhappy. In 1801, Dickinson published two volumes of his collected works on politics.
John Dickinson died at Wilmington, Delaware and was buried in the Friends Burial Ground. In an original copy of a letter discovered November 2009 from Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Bringhurst, caretaker of Dickinson in his later years, Jefferson responded to news of Dickinson's death:
"A more estimable man, or truer patriot, could not have left us. Among the first of the advocates for the rights of his country when assailed by Great Britain, he continued to the last the orthodox advocate of the true principles of our new government and his name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution" (Thomas Jefferson).
He shares with Thomas McKean the distinction of serving as Chief Executive of both Delaware and Pennsylvania after the Declaration of Independence. Dickinson College and Dickinson School of Law (now of the Pennsylvania State University), separate institutions each operating a campus located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on land inherited and managed by his wife Mary Norris, were named for them. Dickinson College was originally named "John and Mary's College" but was renamed to avoid an implication of royalty by confusion with "William and Mary." And along with his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, Dickinson also authored The Liberty Song.
Delaware elections were held October 1 and members of the General Assembly took office on October 20 or the following weekday. The State Legislative Council was created in 1776 and its Legislative Councilmen had a three-year term. Beginning in 1792 it was renamed the State Senate. State Assemblymen had a one-year term. The whole General Assembly chose the State President for a three-year term.
Pennsylvania elections were held in October as well. Assemblymen had a one-year term. The Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council was created in 1776, and counselors were popularly elected for three-year terms. A joint ballot of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Council chose the President from among the twelve Councillors for a one-year term. Both Assemblies chose the Continental Congressmen for a one-year term as well as the delegates to the U.S. Constitution Convention.
Dickinson In Popular Culture
Dickinson is a prominent character in the musical drama 1776, billed third after the parts of Adams and Franklin. He was originally portrayed on stage by Paul Hecht, and in the 1972 film adaptation by Donald Madden. Michael Cumpsty portrayed him in the 1997 revival.
In Part II of the 2008 HBO series John Adams, based on the book by David McCullough, the part of Dickinson is played by Zeljko Ivanek.
Source: U.S. Constitution, slavery debate in Convention, Executive Debates Notes
Source: "UD Library discovers Thomas Jefferson letter". University of Delaware. December 3, 2009. Retrieved December 5, 2009.
Source: Various sources indicate a birth date of November 69, November 12 or November 13, but his most recent biographer, Flower, offers November 2 without dispute.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration: America's Founding Fathers: Delegates to the Constitutional Convention."
Source: The Duke of York Record 1646-1679. Printed by order of the General Assembly of the State of Delaware, 1899.
Source: John Dickinson: timeline. Historyhome.co.uk. January 5, 2011. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
Source: Stillé, Charles Janeway.The Life and Times of John Dickinson, 1732-1808 (Philadelphia, 1891).
Source: Flower, Milton Embick (1983). John Dickinson: Conservative Revolutionary. University of Virginia Press. p. 301. ISBN 978-0-8139-0966-0.
Source: "Journals of the Continental Congress - Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union; July 12, 1776". The Avalon Project of Yale Law School. Retrieved February 7, 2013.
Source: Bushman, Claudia L.; Hancock, Harold Bell; Homsey, Elizabeth Moyne (1988). Proceedings of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State, 1781-1792, and of the Constitutional Convention of 1792. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-87413-309-7. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
Source: McKenney, Janice E. (2012). Women of the Constitution: Wives of the Signers. Publisher: Scarecrow Press; 1 edition (November 15, 2012) ISBN-13: 978-0810884984 ISBN-10:0810884984 Edition: 1st .
Source: "The Books of Isaac Norris at Dickinson College". The Dickinson Electronic Initiative in the Liberal Arts. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
Source: Butterfield, L.H. (1948). Benjamin Rush and the Beginning of John and Mary's College Over the Susquehanna. Oxford Journals: Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. p. 427.
Source: Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 217. ISBN 0-19-503186-5
Source: John Dickinson at Find a Grave
Source: "Student finds letter 'a link to Jefferson' - CNN.com". CNN. December 8, 2009. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
Source: "Odd Wisconsin Archives". Wisconsinhistory.org. March 29, 2006. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
Source: Calvert, Jane E. (July 2007). "Liberty Without Tumult: Understanding the Politics of John Dickinson". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania). CXXXI (3): 233–262.
Source: Calvert, Jane E. (2008). Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson. Cambridge, England, and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Source: Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company.
Source: Flower, Milton E. (1983). John Dickinson - Conservative Revolutionary. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0-8139-0966-X.
Source: Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 1-892142-23-6.
Source: Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press.
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Source: Munroe, John A. (2004). Philadelawareans. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-872-8.
Source: Munroe, John A. (1954). Federalist Delaware 1775-1815. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University.
Source: Racino, John W. (1980). Biographical Directory of American and Revolutionary Governors 1607-1789. Westport, CT: Meckler Books. ISBN 0-930466-00-4.
Source: Rodney, Richard S. (1975). Collected Essays on Early Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Delaware.
Source: Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co.
Source: Stillé, Charles J. (1891). The life and times of John Dickinson.
Source: Ward, Christopher L. (1941). Delaware Continentals, 1776-1783. Wilmington, DE: Historical Society of Delaware. ISBN 0-924117-21-4.
Source: Bushman, Claudia L.; Hancock, Harold Bell; Homsey, Elizabeth Moyne (1988). Proceedings of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State, 1781-1792, and of the Constitutional Convention of 1792. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 978-0-87413-309-7. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
Source: Wilmington Quaker Meeting House (burial site); 401 North West Street, Wilmington, Delaware; (302) 652-4491.