Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Montgomery County
President of both Pennsylvania and Delaware, John Dickinson wrote Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, an important early definition of the American character.
Born in 1732, John Dickinson became a well-known American politician and writer. He always lived as a wealthy man and owned homes in both Pennsylvania and Delaware. Dickinson was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He then served as a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania in 1779 and Delaware from 1781 to 1782. Additional credits to his name include membership at the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of Delaware, and President of Pennsylvania. His most important literary work remains a response to the British colonies entitled Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania. Dickinson died in 1808.
John Dickinson, born in Talbot County, Maryland, on November 8, 1732, lived as a statesman and political pamphleteer. His wealthy family owned extensive land in both Delaware and Maryland. John Dickinson spent his childhood home-schooled until the age of 18 when he began to study law. At the age of 21, Dickinson went to London for four years to complete his legal training. He then returned to Philadelphia and opened up a law office where he earned an excellent reputation. Dickinson began his public career in 1759 when he was elected to the Delaware Assembly and eventually became speaker. In 1762, Dickinson won election to the Pennsylvania Assembly, where his conservative viewpoints clashed with Benjamin Franklin's beliefs. The two became involved in a pamphlet war, which led to Franklin's removal from the Assembly while Dickinson remained. John Dickinson continued his public career in the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. He was given the task of drafting the Declaration of Rights and Grievances. Dickinson served as a large player in the American Revolution by inciting the citizens of America to disregard such laws as the Stamp Act. In 1765, John Dickinson published a pamphlet entitled The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies. In this pamphlet, Dickinson argued that the colonies, as well as Britain, would be greatly affected by the trade regulations. He further incited the people with this proclamation stating that America should become independent in its trade. Next, Dickinson wrote an Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, where he accused the group of ignoring human rights.Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, remains Dickinson's most famous work. It was first printed on December 2, 1767 in response to threatening acts of Parliament following the Stamp Act. The Letters received positive feedback and therefore were reprinted in nineteen other newspapers throughout the colonies. Additionally, they were widely circulated in Paris and London and thus brought Americans grievances onto the international stage. The Letters specifically addressed the Quartering Act of 1765, the Restraining Act of 1766, and the Townshend Duties of 1767. Dickinson claimed that these acts serve as a threat to liberty in the colonies. The acts were not immediately appealed, yet the Letters did an excellent job in instigating the people of America to revolt. John Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania consists of 12 letters. The first letter introduces an ideal American of the time: a gentleman farmer. This man remains frugal and rational, yet possesses industrial qualities. The farmer warns his countrymen of forthcoming danger. Letters two through four examine the relationship between colonies and the mother country. The grievances of the colonies are then brought forth in letters five through eight. The last four letters reflect on the subjects previously discussed and finally urge for the unity of the colonies. In 1770, John Dickinson was married to Mary Norris of Philadelphia and had five children, three of which died in infancy. Dickinson continued to work on the Pennsylvania assembly and did not stop writing against British taxes. He tried to remain subtle in regards to colonial use of force or violence, yet such actions as the Boston Tea Party may have been slightly affected by Dickinson's writings. John Dickinson joined the First Continental Congress in October 1774 and played a large role in drafting the Declaration of Rights and Grievances. He also played an active role in the Second Continental Congress in May 1775. In June 1775, Dickinson prepared the final draft of the Congress's "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms." Dickinson however remained a conservative and tried to stay in opposition to extreme action by the colonies. He opposed the Declaration of Independence and actually voted against it in 1776, which caused his popularity to begin to decline. He became disgruntled with the leadership in Pennsylvania and retired from the Pennsylvania Assembly. John Dickinson moved his family to Delaware and became a representative for Congress from that state in February 1779. He became President of Delaware in November 1781, despite voting against himself for the position. He resigned from this position in December 1782 with his election as President of Pennsylvania. Dickinson received much opposition with his return to Pennsylvania because of his conservative views. He served three years as President of the state, which were plagued with economic problems and political disputes. In October 1785, John Dickinson and his family returned to Wilmington, Delaware to carry out the rest of their life. Dickinson continued his political career as a representative to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Here he attempted to protect the representation of small states while still favoring a strong central government. This event became his last in public office as his health began to decline. He died on February 14, 1808 in Wilmington, Delaware, and was laid to rest in the Wilmington Friends Meetinghouse Burial Ground.
The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies. 1765.
Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados. 1766.
Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania. 1767.
A Caution; or, Reflections on the Present Contest Between France and Great Britain. 1798.
Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. New York: The Outlook Company, 1903.
Ginsberg, Elaine K. "John Dickinson." American National Biography Online. Feb. 2000. 10 Dec. 2005.
For More Information:
Flower, Milton Embick. John Dickinson: Conservative Revolutionary. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1983.
Still??, Charles J. The Life and Times of John Dickinson, 1732-1808. New York: B. Franklin, 1969.