John Dickinson Absents Himself From Independence
John Dickinson was one of the most important, if forgotten Founders.
However, he was decidedly against independence. This is the story of his life in those first few days of July 1776.
I wrote a three part series on Dickinson last year, you can read part one here.
July 1, 1776
By July 1, 1776, John Dickinson had established himself as one of the truest Patriots of the American Revolution.
His Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, in addition to dozens of other publications, had stirred the seeds of discontent throughout the American Colonies. John had become a leader in the rebellion, served in the First and Second Continental Congresses, authored the Olive Branch Petition and signed the Continental Association.
Furthermore, he had by this point written the Articles of Confederation.
However, on this day, Dickinson took the floor of Congress and listed the reasons why the Delegates should NOT declare independence.
Dickinson’s objections were many and included the long-held belief (by all men present) that the British Constitution was the best in the world. In fact, most of the rebels had turned against their government because they were fighting for their ‘rights as Englishmen.’
This led to his second objection: if the colonists were to throw off their government, they would need a new one. John believed that the Articles of Confederation should be ratified before independence was declared. This was the best way to prevent further turmoil should the Americans win the war.
Additionally, Dickinson thought that if his colleagues really desired independence, they would need to secure a treaty with France. This would both help win the war and validate them as a country.
After Dickinson’s speech, John Adams rose to rebut his statements.
Adams and Dickinson, though they had much respect for each other, had become rivals over the previous two years. While Dickinson was generally the voice of reason, Adams had taken over the role of ‘most radical’ from his cousin Samuel.
In hindsight, we know whose argument won. What is often overlooked is how Dickinson acknowledged the outcome and assisted in securing independence…he stayed home sick.
The following day, July 2, 1776, John Dickinson did not appear in the Pennsylvania State House.
He knew that if independence was to happen, the best thing for the Union would be unanimous consent. Therefore, he claimed illness and absented himself. John was a man of honor and could not support something he did not believe in his heart.
This move allowed Pennsylvania to vote in favor of separation. This move allowed the United States to become a nation.
Now, before you make any judgments on John Dickinson, let us briefly look at what he did next.
Dickinson left the Continental Congress (like everyone against independence, he had to) and led thousands of troops in the Pennsylvania Militia to New Jersey, though his popularity had taken such a hit he soon left that position.
John then moved to Delaware and was elected President of the States. Soon, he went back to Pennsylvania and was elected President of that State. Actually, he was President of BOTH STATES AT THE SAME TIME!
Dickinson later attended the Constitutional Convention, where he was an influential player in creating the Government the United States still has today.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like to learn about the other Pennsylvanian Founder who voted against independence.
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Every patriotic American should learn about Dickinson’s extraordinary life.
'The Cost of Liberty’ is a fascinating look into the life of this underappreciated Founder.
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