John Dickinson was called “The Penman of the American Revolution.” During the 1760s and 1770s, he authored numerous important essays in defense of American rights, including The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies, the resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress, the Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, the “Petition to the King,” and the Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms. His Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania had a circulation greater than any Revolutionary pamphlet with the exception of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. He wrote the lyrics to the first American patriotic song, “The Liberty Song.” Dickinson also drafted the Articles of Confederation, the country’s first frame of government. Some say that he came up with the name, “United States of America,” the words that open that document. His reputation as a writer was almost unparalleled among his contemporaries.
Dickinson was a reluctant revolutionary who absented himself from the Continental Congress on the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted. A cautious conservative, he opposed independence as a dangerous break with the past. One prominent historian has labeled Dickinson “an American Burke.” Like the British critic of the French Revolution, Dickinson was a defender of tradition against innovation. This explains not only his opposition to independence but also his resistance to altering the form of Pennsylvania’s colonial government, his initial reluctance to go to war with the British in the 1770s, and his moderate stance at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Dickinson’s innate prudence made him one of the wisest and most important of the Founders.
“Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.” – 1787