Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Meeting Notes: September 18, 2019

"Delaware's John Dickinson: The Constant Watchman of Liberty," John Sweeney 

Pre-Guest Speaker Notes:
ARRT-R’s next meeting is scheduled for 11/20/19 at Heilman Dining Center at the University of Richmond – dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. – the speaking program begins at 6:30 p.m.

Guest Speaker – John Sweeney – Editor – Delaware’s John Dickinson: The Constant Watchman of Liberty
This book is a collection of essays and lectures published by the Delaware Heritage Commission. It explores the life and career of John Dickinson, whose influential role as a colonial patriot and statesman of the early Republic earned him the nickname “Penman of the Revolution”.

The publication features contributions from former Delaware governors J. Caleb Boggs, Charles L. Terry Jr. and Russell W. Peterson; former Delaware Supreme Court justices Randy J. Holland, Richard S. Rodney and James M. Tunnell, Jr.; historians Jane E. Calvert, Milton E. Flower, John A. Munroe, J.H. Powell, Frederick B. Tolles and Edwin Wolf II; Harold L. Rubendall, former president of Dickinson College; and Gloria Henry and Vertie Lee of the John Dickinson Plantation.

The book was commissioned by the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion, a nonprofit, charitable organization dedicated to the extension of knowledge about Dickinson and the preservation of his historic home, now a state museum. The book was produced as a joint effort of the Friends, the Delaware Department of State and the Delaware Heritage Commission.

“John Dickinson – The Most Important Founder You Have Never Heard Of”

After several years of legal training in London, Dickinson returned to the colonies. In 1760, he was elected to the Delaware legislature. Over the next fifteen years he would serve in both the Delaware and Pennsylvania legislatures. The fact that he owed property in both colonies allowed him to serve in both at the same time. 

Dickinson was appointed to represent the Pennsylvania colony at the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. He defended the proposition that reconciliation was possible if the King and parliament could be brought to see colonial opposition as an expression of the time–honored English principles of political liberty. His arguments were encapsulated in his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, a series of essays that gained him recognition as a man of principle and reason.

Dickinson served as a representative to both the First and Second Continental Congresses.
Dickinson’s continuing belief in reconciliation led to a terrible relationship with John Adams. Adams attempted to minimize Dickinson’s role in the Continental Congress. In fact, Dickinson's belief in reconciliation led him to refuse to sign the Declaration of Independence.

However, once the revolution began, Dickinson served as both an officer and enlisted soldier in the American Army. In addition, during the Revolution, Dickinson served as governor of both Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Dickinson was an early foe of slavery. He was born into a slave-owning family but became 
an abolitionist. Dickinson freed all of his slaves at the time of the Revolution, and in 1785 sponsored a bill in the Delaware Legislature abolishing slavery in the state. That bill failed, but the Legislature did encourage slave owners in the state to free them. In addition to freeing all of his slaves, Dickinson also provided for their education, shelter, and food, and gave them paying jobs on the plantation. It took another eighty years and a Civil War before Delaware’s Legislature joined the nation in freeing all slaves.

Dickinson Notes:

Dickinson married Mary Norris. Norris was the daughter of a successful politician. She was 
highly educated and one of the richest women in the colonies.

Dickinson was the first person to use the phrase “American People”.

Dickinson is the namesake of Dickinson College.

--Noah Rogers

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