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Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought
of John Dickinson

In the late seventeenth century, Quakers originated a unique strain of con-
stitutionalism, based on their theology and ecclesiology, that emphasized
constitutional perpetuity and radical change through popular peaceful pro-
test. While Whigs could imagine no other means of drastic constitutional
reform except revolution, Quakers denied this as a legitimate option to halt
governmental abuse of authority and advocated instead civil disobedience.
This theory of a perpetual yet amendable constitution and its concomitant
idea of popular sovereignty are things that most scholars believe did not
exist until the American Founding. The most notable advocate of this the-
ory was Founding Father John Dickinson, champion of American rights,
but not revolution. His thought and action have been misunderstood
until now, when they are placed within the Quaker tradition. This theory
of Quaker constitutionalism can be traced in a clear and direct line from
early Quakers through Dickinson to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jane E. Calvert received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2003
and is currently assistant professor of history at the University of Ken-
tucky. Her articles and reviews have been published in History of Politi-
cal Thought, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, History
Compass, Annali di storia dell™ esegesi, Quaker Religious Thought, Jour-
nal of Religion, Quaker History, and Pennsylvania History. She has also
received fellowships and grants from the University of Chicago (1996“
99, 1999, 2001, 2002); Haverford College (2000); the Library Company
of Philadelphia/Historical Society of Pennsylvania (2002); the Newberry
Library (2005); the National Endowment for the Humanities (2005); the
American Philosophical Society (2006); the Huntington Library (2006);
and the David Library of the American Revolution (2007). She is currently
working on an edited volume of John Dickinson™s political writings.
Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political
Thought of John Dickinson

University of Kentucky
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York

Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521884365
© Jane E. Calvert 2009

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the
provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part
may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2008

ISBN-13 978-0-511-46393-8 eBook (EBL)

ISBN-13 978-0-521-88436-5 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy
of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,
and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,
accurate or appropriate.
For Eric

Acknowledgments page ix
Abbreviations xiii

Introduction 1

i. quaker constitutionalism in theory and practice,
1. Bureaucratic Libertines: The Origins of Quaker
Constitutionalism and Civil Dissent 25
2. A Sacred Institution: The Quaker Theory of a Civil
Constitution 65
3. “Dissenters in Our Own Country”: Constituting a Quaker
Government in Pennsylvania 100
4. Civil Unity and “Seeds of Dissention” in the Golden Age of
Quaker Theocracy 136
5. The Fruits of Quaker Dissent: Political Schism and the Rise of
John Dickinson 177

ii. the political quakerism of john dickinson, 1763“1789
6. Turbulent but Paci¬c: “Dickinsonian Politics” in the
American Revolution 207
7. “The Worthy Against the Licentious”: The Critical Period
in Pennsylvania 247

viii Contents

8. “The Political Rock of Our Salvation”: The U.S. Constitution
According to John Dickinson 279
Epilogue: The Persistence of Quaker Constitutionalism,
1789“1963 312

Bibliography 335
Index 365

Looking back, I imagine I can see the beginnings of this book in my ¬rst year
of college “ at a Quaker school, reading Aristotle™s Nichomachean Ethics, and
being entranced with his description of moderated political participation as
the highest good. By graduation I had a growing collection of questions that
needed answering “ about Americans and how they relate to one another and
their government and about Quakerism. Beginning this project as my master™s
thesis at the University of Chicago was a ¬rst attempt to ¬nd answers.
As the study progressed through the dissertation and into this ¬nal form,
teachers, mentors, colleagues, and friends shaped it and helped bring it forth
with their own questions and observations. I can trace the birth of speci¬c
themes back to their words. Tom Hamm asked me what I thought of Quaker
quietism. Martin Marty talked with me about the “leaky Quakers,” with their
porous and ¬‚uid community. Catherine Brekus pushed me to think about
whether Quakers were simply radical Puritans. Pauline Maier and Ethan Sha-
gan thought with me about whether Quakers, as paci¬sts, could be considered
Whigs. And, in a question that turned the dissertation toward a book, Cass
Sunstein asked whether Quakers considered the constitution sacrosanct. While
these snippets are hardly the only guidance I received, they are the moments
that stand out in my mind as turning points in the development of my thesis. I
hope my responses do justice to their queries.
Many others were helpful in equally important ways. Mark Noll served as
my constant optimistic skeptic, always challenging, rarely convinced in the early
stages, but always encouraging. Matt Cohen described, in terms that are still
beyond me, why my project was worthwhile. Paul Rahe and Kenneth Bowling
had, among much sage advice, the foresight to know that I was writing a book
about John Dickinson years before I did. It was my good fortune that Jim
Green at the Library Company of Philadelphia directed me their way. The kind
folks at the Friends Library of Swarthmore College were always ready with
bountiful resources, reliable assistance, and donations to the Calvert library.
Georg Mauerhoff at Readex gave me access to Archive of Americana, without
x Acknowledgments

which I would have been at a loss. Lisa Clark Diller provided me with among
the most thoughtful comments on an early draft. My student assistants, Peter
Regan and Karl Alexander, worked long hours with messy early footnotes.
The RHCP were ever present with their spicy soul food for the heart and mind,
which sustained me in ways nothing else could. Lew Bateman, my editor at
Cambridge, was as patient as he could be with this simultaneously picky and
ignorant ¬rst-time author. And the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion have
been as enthusiastic an audience as a scholar can hope to have. My heartfelt
appreciation to each and all.
Fellowships and grants from a number of institutions were also crucial for
the completion of the project. Most important was the Newberry Library (Mon-
ticello College Foundation Fellowship), where, with the gifts of six months
without teaching and a lively and supportive intellectual community, the dis-
sertation transformed, seemingly on its own, into a book. Those were, without
a doubt, the most ful¬lling months of my professional life. An NEH “We
the People” Summer Stipend and the administration of St. Mary™s College of
Maryland contributed to this scholarly getaway. The support of the Library
Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Andrew
W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship), often embodied in the person of librar-
ian Connie King, allowed me access to the seminal resources on Dickinson.
The American Philosophical Society (Library Residence Research Fellowship),
the Haverford College Quaker Collection (Gest Fellowship), and the Hunt-
ington Library (Robert L. Middlekauff Fellowship) offered unique and indis-
pensable resources and support in spectacular environs. The bucolic, if not
rabbit-friendly, environment of the David Library of the American Revolution
(Library Fellowship) was the ful¬llment of a dream “ twenty-four-hour library
access to everything a girl could desire on the War of Independence. Conver-
sations with the staffs and scholars I have met at these places enriched and
complicated my ideas. I am grateful to all of them.
Acknowledgment is also due to several journals for allowing me to reprint
portions of articles in this study: “The Quaker Theory of a Civil Constitution,”
History of Political Thought vol. 27, no. 4 (2006), 586“619; “America™s For-
gotten Founder: John Dickinson and the American Revolution,” History Com-
pass, 5/3 (May 2007), 1001“11, DOI 10.1111/j.1478“0542.2007.00424.x;
and “Liberty without Tumult: Understanding the Politics of John Dickinson,”
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography vol. 132, no. 3 (2007), 233“
62. The readers at these journals, as well as those at Cambridge University
Press, offered wonderful encouragement and suggestions.
My deepest appreciation goes to my family. My mother, Jenifer Patterson,
was a constant, without whom I would not have even made it through graduate
school. I am sure the political theory genes I inherited from my father-professor,
Robert Calvert, as well as the decades of ideas he exposed me to, are the reason I
had any questions to begin with. And my brother, Edward Calvert, was always
interested in and appreciative of my progress.
Acknowledgments xi

Above all, however, this project would not have emerged from the dark
recesses without my husband, Eric Kiltinen. The questions he asked, drawing
it out, and the hours he spent (often trapped in a moving car) listening to my
inchoate musings cannot be enumerated. He has been an invaluable sounding-
board, a learned theologian, a meticulous editor and index-helper, a competent
computer-¬xer, a reliable and loving cat- and horse-sitter, a steady Baconbring-
enhomer, cook, carpenter, and all-around Hausmann, and my friend. If there
is anything worthy about this book, I owe it to him, because it could not have
been written without him.

Lexington, Kentucky
June 2008

APS American Philosophical Society
Delegates Letters from the Delegates to Congress,
1774“1789. Paul Hubert Smith, ed. 25 vols.
Summer¬eld, FL: Historical Database, 1995.
DPA Delaware Public Archives
FHL Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College
HSP Historical Society of Pennsylvania
HQC Haverford College Quaker Collection
Friends™ Library The Friends™ Library: comprises journals, doctrinal
treatises, and other writings of the Religious
Society of Friends. William Evans and Thomas
Evans, eds. 14 vols. Philadelphia: J. Rakestraw,
JCC Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774“1789.
Worthington C. Ford et al., eds. Washington,
DC, 1904“37.
JDP/LCP John Dickinson Papers, Library Company of
LL Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania: A
Biographical Dictionary, 1682“1709. Craig
Horle et al., eds. 3 vols. Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 1991“2005.
LCP Library Company of Philadelphia
Letters John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in
Pennsylvania, To the Inhabitants of the British
Colonies (1767“68) in Forrest McDonald, ed.,
Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in
Pennsylvania (John Dickinson); Letters from a
Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), 2nd ed.
(Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 1999).
xiv Abbreviations

“Notes” John Dickinson, handwritten notes on his copy of
The Constitution of the Common-Wealth of
Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1776), 5“9, located
in the Library Company of Philadelphia.
Resolutions Resolutions from the “Meeting in the State-House
Yard” in Peter Force, ed., American Archives.
ser. 5 (Washington, DC, 1837“53), 1149“52.
Published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Oct. 23,
RRL/HSP R. R. Logan Collection, Historical Society of
PA Pennsylvania Archives, Eighth Series: Votes and
Proceedings of the House of Representatives of
the Province of Pennsylvania. Gertrude
MacKinney, ed. 7 vols. Philadelphia: Franklin
and Hall, 1931.
Penn-Logan Corresp. Correspondence between William Penn and James
Logan, Secretary of the Province and Others.
Edward Armstrong, ed. 2 vols. Philadelphia:
Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1870“72.
PMHB Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
PWP The Papers of William Penn. Richards. Dunn and
Mary Maples Dunn, eds. 5 vols. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981“86.
PYM Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Statutes Statutes-at-Large of Pennsylvania from 1682“1801.
James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, eds. 15
vols. Harrisburg, PA: Clarence M. Busch, State
Printer of Pennsylvania, 1896“1911.
WMQ The William and Mary Quarterly

Few religious groups in America have provoked such mixed and extreme reac-
tions as the Religious Society of Friends. Commonly known as Quakers, since
their inception in the 1650s and their energetic pursuit of dissenters™ rights,
they have been scorned and celebrated by popular and scholarly observers
alike. While some commentators have derided them for arrogance, hypocrisy,
and the subversion of social and political institutions, others go as far as to say
that the Quakers “invented” America and credit them with originating much of
what is right and just in this country.1 Interestingly, others still have dismissed
them as irrelevant to the larger questions of American political life or simply
taken no notice.
Yet as anyone with a passing familiarity with American history might
observe, in one way or another, for better or worse, Quakers have been an
important force. They were ubiquitous and “peculiar,” as they described them-
selves, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; it is well-known that Quak-
ers caused signi¬cant dif¬culties for Massachusetts Puritans and that Pennsyl-
vania was a Quaker colony. Although they blended into American culture more
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, very little probing of the more recent
past reveals them to be equally present; many, for example, are aware that
Friends had a prominent role in the social reform movements of the Antebel-
lum period. Beyond that, at the very least, it would be hard to ¬nd an American
today unfamiliar with the Quaker Oats man, contrived image though it is.
But even with this signi¬cant presence, few scholarly works have undertaken
to show precisely what Quakers have contributed to American political culture
and how they accomplished it. Despite the grandiose claims, both negative and

1 See, for example, Joseph Smith, Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana: A Catalogue of Books Adverse to
the Society of Friends (London, 1873; rpt. New York: Kraus, 1963). In the twentieth century,
commentary has tended toward the other direction. See, most recently, David Yount, How
Quakers Invented America (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Little¬eld Publishers, 2007). A fuller
discussion of the popular reception of Quakerism appears in the following chapters.

2 Quaker Constitutionalism and John Dickinson

positive, there has been at the same time a curious neglect of the intricacies
of Quaker theologico-political thought that has kept many of the arguments
super¬cial, implausible, or merely limited.
That Quaker constitutionalism is the subject of a formal analysis challenges
conventional approaches to the study of Quakerism and Anglo-American polit-
ical history. In the ¬rst instance, a common anachronism committed by con-
temporary scholars, and what has undoubtedly contributed to the absence of
Quakerism from the political historiography, is to consider religion and pol-
itics as though they were separate and distinct realms of thought and action.
In discussing Quaker thought, I borrow the term “theologico-political” from
Spinoza. This term signi¬es the interrelatedness of the religious and the political
that has shaped Anglo-American thinking even beyond the First Amendment.
When Spinoza wrote his Theologico-Political Treatise (1670), he did so as an
objection to this relationship. This has led some scholars to argue that he was
the ¬rst liberal democrat.2 Whatever Spinoza might have been, his treatise is
not best viewed whiggishly as a harbinger of things to come, but rather for
what it was, a commentary on his present, in which few could conceive of a
secular political world. It is only in this context that we can understand how
Quakers and other men of their time understood theology and ecclesiology
as largely indistinguishable from political theory and civil structures. While at
times throughout this study I speak of them separately, this is an arti¬cial device
used for the sake of a comprehendible discussion and does not re¬‚ect the actual
way people of the time thought. Quaker theories on church and state emerged
simultaneously. The only sense in which religion preceded politics occurred
when they looked for the ultimate justi¬cation for their political theory; then
they turned to God.
Among scholars sensitive to the historical relationship between religion and
politics, the neglect of Quakerism stems from another source “ confusion about
the genealogy of Quakerism. There has been a largely unarticulated tension in
the literature about whether they were Anabaptists or reformed Calvinists;
or, rather, toward which side of their family tree they tended.3 For different
reasons, placing them too ¬rmly on one branch or the other has had the
consequence of making them appear irrelevant to political history.
When scholars have considered Quakerism as a variation of Anabaptism,
they have cultivated a myth that that they were quietists. Some claim that, after a
period of enthusiastic proselytizing in their founding years, the Society retreated
inward and disengaged from the world. Quaker historians, such as W. C.
Braithwaite, have argued that, after their initial intensity, there was eventu-
ally an “indifference to public life which persecution and nonconformity with

2 Hillel G. Fradkin, “The ˜Separation™ of Religion and Politics: The Paradoxes of Spinoza,” The
Review of Politics vol. 50, no. 4, Fiftieth Anniversary Issue: Religion and Politics (1988), 603“27.
3 The only work that confronts this problem head on is Melvin B. Endy™s “Puritanism, Spiritualism,
and Quakerism,” in Mary Maples Dunn and Richard Dunn, eds., The World of William Penn
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), 281“301.
Introduction 3

the practices of the world gradually fostered.”4 Following them, others such
as Christopher Hill maintain that after 1660, “[t]he Quakers turned paci¬st
and abandoned any attempt to bring about by political means a better world
on earth.”5 This alleged quietism has not been seriously examined since by
most political historians who usually consider Quakers as a whole to be, as
Garry Wills has categorized them, “withdrawers” from government and civil
society “ a corporately exclusive sectarian group that shuns engagement with
the world to preserve its own purity.6 Until relatively recently, the perception
of Quakers as apolitical has discouraged attempts to investigate their political
theory. Naturally, a quietist group would have no need to formulate a theory
of a civil constitution or civic engagement. In her seminal work on Anglo-
American political thought, therefore, Caroline Robbins writes that Quakers
can be “safely neglected” in the study of constitutionalism. “Their continued
existence,” she says, “was a reminder of a demand for greater liberty, but
they took no great part in political agitations of any kind.”7 Most subsequent

4 William C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1955), 314; Hugh Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England (New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press, 1964), 251; W. C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism (London: Macmillan
and Co., 1919), 179; H. Larry Ingle, “Richard Hubberthorne and History: The Crisis of 1659,”
Journal of the Friends™ Historical Society vol. 56, no. 3 (1992), 189“200, 197.
5 Christopher Hill, The Religion of Gerrard Winstanley (Oxford: The Past and Present Society,
1978), 55; also see Christopher Hill, Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries
(New York: Viking, 1984), 130. Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience
(New York: Vintage Books, 1958), 68; Blanche Weisen Cook, et al., eds., Peace Projects of
the Seventeenth Century (New York: Garland Publishing, 1972), 15. A sort of quietism was
certainly an important aspect of Quaker thinking, but explaining it simply as withdrawal does
not take into account the political expressions of this stance. Nor was this stance ubiquitous
throughout the Society of Friends in the eighteenth century. Richard Bauman describes three main
modes of Quaker political behavior that existed “ sometimes in tension with one another “ in
mid-eighteenth century Pennsylvania: religious reformers, worldly politicians, and “politiques,”
those who were a mixture of both. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the so-
called quietists as political leaders on their own terms. Although Quakers participated in politics
in diverse ways, Bauman™s analysis presupposes an underlying unity that is important for the
purposes here “ the idea of a government and society based on Quaker principles. They simply
took different approaches to reforming civil society in different periods. See Richard Bauman,
For the Reputation of Truth: Politics, Religion, and Con¬‚ict among the Pennsylvania Quakers,
1750“1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971).
6 For more on the category of “withdrawer,” see Garry Wills, A Necessary Evil: A History of the
American Distrust of Government (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999). There was a point
at which some Quakers did indeed withdraw from of¬ce holding; however, this fact does not
de¬ne all Quakers or their entire relationship to government and politics.
7 Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman: Studies in the Transmission,
Development and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II
until the War with the Thirteen Colonies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 222.
This statement may not be representative of her later thought. In 1979 she contributed a brief
essay to discussion on the West Jersey Concessions and Agreements of 1676/77, the ¬rst Quaker

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