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the new leader of the Quaker Party; but already in 1764, he stepped forward
and advocated the traditional Quaker priorities of constitutional perpetuity
and peaceful reform of injustice. On May 24, 1764, he made his case in A
Speech Delivered in the House of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania.
In what one perplexed historian calls “an odd mixture of conservative max-
ims and radical political doctrines,”83 Dickinson pled not just for the preserva-
tion of the 1701 Charter and traditional Pennsylvania Quaker liberties, but also
for the continuance of the Quaker process of peaceful resistance to oppression
rather than fundamental change. The mixture might have blended conservatism
and radicalism, but it was not odd at all. He ¬rst laid out his view for orderly
and peaceable walking, arguing that men in the throes of emotion cannot pos-
sibly govern effectively. He explained that “those who deliberate of public
affairs, that their minds should be free from all violent passions.”84 Drawing
on the Ancients (a neutral source) to make his case, he quoted Tacitus, remind-
ing the Assembly “[w]hich misfortune hath happened to many good men, who
despising those things which they might slowly and safely attain, seize them
too hastily, and with fatal speed rush upon their own destruction.”85 He then
proceeded to enumerate the many reasons why the change would not work to
their advantage.
For Dickinson, as for most Quakers, the 1701 Charter of Privileges was the
embodiment of Pennsylvania™s unique liberties, especially in that it secured all
of the Quakers™ rights as a dissenting sect. He then proceeded to enumerate the
privileges they had enjoyed, the ¬rst and most important being “a perfect reli-
gious freedom.” Giving voice to a perennial Quaker fear, Dickinson suggested
the possibility of Pennsylvania losing its religious liberty. With the switch to a
royal government, they could very well be taken over by the Church of Eng-
land, which was eager to establish itself more ¬rmly in America, “especially,”
he said, “in those colonies, where it is overborne, as it were, by dissenters.”86

80 Marietta, The Reformation of American Quakerism, 197.
81 Ibid., 200.
82 Hutson, Pennsylvania Politics, 156.
83 Jacobson, “John Dickinson™s Fight,” 64.
84 John Dickinson, A Speech Delivered in the House of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania
(Philadelphia, 1764), 1.
85 Ibid., 4“5.
86 Ibid, 18. See also Richard J. Hooker, “John Dickinson on Church and State,” American Liter-
ature vol. 16, no. 2 (1944), 82“98.
Political Schism and Rise of John Dickinson 199

In Pennsylvania history, the crown had at times been as much of a threat to
Quaker liberties as the proprietors. He reminded them of the privileges they
currently enjoyed and how these contrasted with traditional English liberties
and royal prerogatives: “Posts of honor or pro¬t are unfettered with oaths
or tests” and are open to men who pay “strict regard to their conscientious
persuasion.” “In what other royal government besides the Jerseys,” he asked,
“can a Quaker be a witness in criminal cases and bear of¬ces? In no other.”
And in New Jersey it was allowed only because at the founding of that colony
there was an “absolute necessity, from the scarcity of other proper persons,
to make use of the people called Quakers in public employment.” That scarcity
no longer existed either there or in Pennsylvania. Dickinson highlighted the
fact that Quakers were no longer the majority in any colony, and thus needed
to guard their rights even more closely. “Any body of men acting under a char-
ter,” he warned, “must surely tread on slippery ground, when they take a step
that may be deemed a surrender of that charter.”87 He explained, in sum, how
unreasonable it would be to think that their “extraordinary privileges” would
be preserved in any change of government.88
After reminding the Assemblymen of their unique charter and privileges,
Dickinson noted the distinction between the traditional British interpretation
of the fundamental law and the divinely inspired laws of Quakers by writing,
“how contradictory some of these privileges are to the most ancient principles
of the English constitution, and how directly opposite others of them are to
the settled prerogatives of the crown.”89 If they changed from the Charter of
Privileges to a royal government, they would be in the untenable position of
requesting more freedom for themselves than inhabitants of England possessed.
“It will not be an easy task to convince [Parliament],” he argued, “that the peo-
ple of Pennsylvania ought to be distinguished from all other subjects, under
his Majesty™s immediate government.”90 Moreover, it was unknown what ills
might arise as a consequence of this change. In what would become a leitmotif
of Dickinson™s writings, the danger of precedent, he warned, “We may intro-
duce the innovation [of a royal government], but we shall not be able to stop
its progress. The precedent will be pernicious.”91 The solution, then, was to
act slowly and cautiously. Appealing to the traditional way in which Quaker
politicians had redressed their grievances and secured their rights, he suggested
retaining the Charter, if at all possible, and seeking mediation. “Let us desire
his Majesty™s judgment on the point, that has occasioned this unhappy differ-
ence between [us]. This may be done without any violence, without any hazard
to our constitution.”92

87 Dickinson, A Speech, 11.
88 Ibid., 20.
89 Ibid., 16.
90 Ibid., 22.
91 Ibid., 29.
92 Ibid., 24.
200 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

Although at ¬rst glance, it would appear that Galloway, in his zeal to abolish
the Charter, had none of the traditional Quaker respect for the constitution.
But like Dickinson, Galloway also honored it; the two simply differed on which
constitution. Like most convinced Quakers, Dickinson privileged the Pennsyl-
vania constitution for what it gave Quakers; Galloway looked instead to the
British, which may have protected their property rights against Penn, but, as
Dickinson argued, would not guarantee their rights as Quakers. It was not just
the rights embedded in the constitutions that were at stake; it was also the
process by which they were advocated and secured. In addition to abandoning
the Quaker constitution, Galloway also left behind other Quakerly concerns
and practices, such as popular sovereignty. In advocating a royal government,
Galloway claimed to be drawing on the proven ability and right of represen-
tatives to change the constitution. He cited the usual Quaker arguments for
amendment: that “every government in the civilized world, has been changed”;
Dickinson retorted, “by force and injustice.” Galloway argued that “the ¬rst
frame of our government was altered”; Dickinson expounded, “being found
impractical, and,” repeating Galloway™s point, “its ˜privileges could hardly be
exercised or enjoyed.™”93 Quoting William Penn at length, Dickinson rejoined
with the explanation of the Quaker understanding of a constitution, that the
government is not a contract to be broken but a trust put in place for the good of
the people and the trustees do not have the right to abandon their position. The
trust, quoted Dickinson from Penn, “should not be invaded, but be inviolably
preserved, according to the law of the land.”94 In other words, the constitution
may allow amendment, but not the dissolution of itself. Moreover, Dickinson
challenged Galloway™s un-Quakerly suggestion that the representatives could
change the government without the approval of the people. Drawing from
Sully™s Memoirs, he wrote that “no step should be taken, without carefully
and deliberately consulting the people . . . who would be affected by their mea-
sures.”95 As if to punctuate his argument about popular consent, Dickinson
took his concern to the public, and an election in the middle of the contro-
versy decided it. The Franklin-Galloway contingent was ¬rmly put down with
Franklin and Galloway themselves removed from the Assembly. Thus the cam-
paign for royal government failed. Before this point, Quaker behavior toward
the British government might have led us to suspect that they preferred their
own provincial constitution over the imperial one. With the controversy now
resolved, it is clear that was the case.
Throughout the controversy, Dickinson advocated the traditional aims and
principles of Quaker theologico-political thought. It is easy to see how his

93 In this instance, we must understand here that there is a difference between “change” and
“alter.” Here “change” means abolition of one constitution and adoption of another; “alter”
means adapting an existing constitution. Dickinson rejected change but approved of alteration.
94 William Penn quoted in John Dickinson, A Reply to a Piece called The speech of Joseph
Galloway, Esquire (Philadelphia, 1764), 30.
95 Dickinson, quoting Maximilian of B´ thune, Duke of Sully, Memoirs, in A Reply to a Piece, 30.
Sully™s Memoirs advocated a plan for peace in Europe through a federation of powers.
Political Schism and Rise of John Dickinson 201

position was exemplary of some key aspects of “civil Quakerism” and why
his argument for the Charter was ultimately successful.96 Other historians™
conclusions that Dickinson eventually “arrived on the side of the Proprietary
Party,” which, for obvious reasons, also opposed the campaign, are simply
mistaken.97 He was no more a supporter of Thomas Penn than the Quakers,
who had always resisted the Proprietary, and who had also resisted the change
in government. But this is the usual interpretation of Dickinson™s role in this
controversy, and one that has contributed to the confusion about his polit-
ical thought in toto.98 That the Proprietary Party celebrated and promoted
Dickinson™s speech is merely proof of their using his words for their political
advantage, not proof of his allegiance. “No man,” he assured his colleagues,
“can be more clearly convinced than I am, of the inconveniencies arising from
a strict adherence to proprietary instructions.” He elaborated that the “dis-
tinct and partial mode of taxation” that the proprietors were imposing on the
Province was “granted on all sides to be unequal.” Furthermore, he af¬rmed
that he was not in league with the proprietors, writing that despite his dis-
agreement with the Assembly on this point, “I always receive satisfaction from
being on [the Assembly™s] side.”99 Years later he would add, “The proprietary
People are known to be & to have been uniformly my deadly foes throughout
my Life.”100 He admitted that simply agreeing with Franklin and Galloway
“would have been the most politic part for me to have acted,” but that he was
bound to dissent from the majority and obey “the unbiassed dictates of my
reason and conscience.”101 Both were aligned with the traditional balance of
Quaker principles.102
Scholars sometimes misinterpret Dickinson™s politics in another way in the
wake of this controversy. The election that ousted Franklin and Galloway
brought Dickinson to the fore of Pennsylvania politics. He was elected by a
landslide in 1764, supported by the so-called New Ticket, which was composed
of Presbyterians, who had always opposed the Quaker Party, and others against
royal government. After so recently identifying Dickinson as a partisan of the
Proprietary, now scholars consider him the leader of the Presbyterian Party.

96 Tully makes this observation in Forming American Politics, 304.
97 Flower, John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary, 36.
98 See, for example, Theodore Thayer, Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy:
1740“1776 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1953), 94, 177;
Jacobson, “John Dickinson™s Fight”; G. B. Warden, “The Proprietary Group in Pennsylvania,
1754“1764,” WMQ 3rd ser., vol. 21, no. 3. (1964), pp. 367“89, 368; Bernard Bailyn, ed.,
Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 660, 661; Flower, John Dickinson, Conservative
Revolutionary, 36; and Arthur J. Mekeel, The Relation of the Quakers to the American
Revolution (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1979), 34.
99 Dickinson, A Speech, 30.
100 John Dickinson to unknown, August 25, 1774, Ser. I. a. Correspondence, 1762“1808,
101 Dickinson, A Speech, 30“31.
102 Marietta calls him a “kindred spirit” with Quakers (The Reformation of American Quakerism,
202 Quaker Constitutionalism in Theory and Practice

But contrary to those who claim a “marriage” between the two, Dickinson was
no partisan.103 Like traditional Quakers, Dickinson was a trimmer in, I argue
here and in the following chapters, the principled sense.

At heart, Dickinson was a “Quaker politician” and as ecumenical in politics
as his Quaker forebears. They believed, as Penn wrote, that “[a] wise Neuter
joins with neither [Party]; but uses both, as his honest Interest leads him.”104
They accordingly allied themselves with Whigs or King James II as it suited
their cause. Likewise Dickinson pursued a middle way that was based not on
party af¬liation but on the principle of preserving charter liberties. With this
destination in sight, he navigated a straight course by shifting slightly toward
whatever side needed his weight. Rather than considering Dickinson as joining
different parties, it is more accurate to say that parties gravitated toward him,
as in the case of the Presbyterians. As we shall see, however, his political
convictions denied him a home in any camp, and, in the rough political seas
of the 1760s and 1770s, his principles soon became realigned, although not
permanently or without tensions, with the Quaker Party.
As Quakers ¬rst entered politics in seventeenth-century England, they did
so as martyrs for their theologico-political cause. The persecution they experi-
enced was not only because they adhered to radical religious doctrines but also
because they resisted permanent factional alliances. They were thus accused of
Ranterism by one side and of popery by the other. When Dickinson™s enthusi-
astic engagement with Pennsylvanian, and later American politics, earned him
the same confused charges of partisanship, he re¬‚ected on his stance. He wrote
that his “sentiments perhaps may prove destructive to one, who designs his
reputation on the basis of a party “ since it is highly improbable, that any man
may be esteemed by a party, unless he is bound to it by prejudices as well as by
principles.”105 Dickinson™s identi¬cation with the culture of martyrdom that
pervaded Quakerism began to surface at this time. He was aware of the course
he was taking by following his conscience. He wrote that “A good man ought
to serve his country, even tho™ she resents his services.”106 Several years later in
the contest with Britain as he again found himself the advocate of unpopular
causes, he re¬‚ected on his choices in life and his role in the royal government

103 Hutson, Pennsylvania Politics, 212“13. On the contrary, in the previously cited letter from
Dickinson to an unknown Presbyterian (fn. 100), he allays the concerns of his recipient that
he might be biased against people of that religion, which indicates the perceptions of his
104 William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude (London, 1693; rpt. Richmond, IN: Friends United
Press, 1978), 61.
105 Dickinson, A Reply, 34“35.
106 Ibid., 31.
Political Schism and Rise of John Dickinson 203

I reconcile myself to my Lot the more easily perhaps, because, from my ¬rst outset in
Life, I had laid down to Myself these maxims, to which, thro the Divine favor, I have,
I think, invariably adhered throughout the part that is past . . . ““Never to sollicit or
seek directly or indirectly any Post of Pro¬t or Honor “ In public affairs, to pursue
solely the good of my Country, and to defy the World” . . . Is it possible for a Man to
give greater proofs than have been given in other Instances that he is govern™d by the
Dictates of his Conscience & Judgment in public Affairs? What a Torrent of Passion
did I oppose several years ago, disdaining the protection of the Proprietary Faction,
while at the same Instant I brought on myself the utmost Indignation of the ruling
Faction in Assembly? . . . Indeed by that single step, I cast myself out of a certain Income
of several Hundreds of pounds a Year, besides losing the promising Prospects that
presented themselves of my rising by the Power of the Factions!107
Despite this political independence, interestingly, because of a passionate
temperament and, no doubt, the contentious political culture in which he
moved at this early stage of his career, Dickinson™s personal deportment was
not always in keeping with stated Quakerly principles of peaceful discourse
and moderation. Despite his counsel of moderate behavior to the Assembly, he
did not practice what he preached; the disagreement with Galloway provoked
him to decidedly rash behavior. In his Reply to Galloway, for example, he
spent little time on the constitutional debate, focusing instead on defending
his reputation and criticizing in a taunting and sarcastic tone his opponent™s
lack of skills in writing and argumentation. More than this, however, after
a particularly contentious session of the Assembly, he and Galloway came to
blows on the steps of the State House.108 Over the next two decades however,
as Dickinson™s faith matured with his politics, he managed to become more of
an “orderly walker” and example to others of “peaceable conversation.”

107 Dickinson to unknown, August 25, 1774, Ser. I. a. Correspondence, 1762“1808, RRL/HSP.
108 Flower, John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary, 42.


Turbulent but Paci¬c
“Dickinsonian Politics” in the American Revolution

With the controversy over royal government decided, Pennsylvania turned its
attention to the problems with Britain. In the next decade, the same issues at
stake in the provincial debate over the Charter would be writ large in a national
debate “ how best to unify the polity and preserve rights in the face of an unjust
government. This and the following chapter form a pair as they describe how
the three factions of Quakerism persisted and exerted a tremendous in¬‚uence
on the course of national events. The traditional faction, supported by the with-
drawers “ who were hardly withdrawn at this point “ dominated the Assembly
until days before independence and infuriated the Revolutionary leaders. After
the royal government controversy was decided, the radical faction temporar-
ily lost all in¬‚uence in the Assembly, and instead merged with other radical
groups. As in this earlier controversy, the coming Revolution raised the ques-
tion of which constitution Quakers of all sorts and their followers ultimately
preferred “ their local and peculiarly Quaker constitution or the remote and
non-Quakerly constitution of the British Empire, or neither.1 Throughout it all,
Dickinson would remain a mediator and counsel the same course for Amer-
ica as he had for Pennsylvania, adherence to the constitution and peaceful
advocacy of rights.
The story of Dickinson™s via media between the extremes of withdrawing
Quaker paci¬sm and revolutionary radicalism unfolds in ¬ve main episodes:
The ¬rst is the period of the Stamp Act Controversy in 1765. The second is
from the Townshend Acts and the publication of his Letters from a Farmer
in Pennsylvania in 1767“68 until 1774. The third is the pivotal years just
prior to independence, 1774 and 1775. The fourth is the spring months of
1776, immediately preceding the Declaration of Independence. The ¬nal phase,
treated in Chapter 7, is the Critical Period, when Pennsylvania suffered its
own revolution. At various points, Dickinson was embraced and rejected by

1 “Non-Quakerly,” as opposed to “un-Quakerly.” The British constitution, while no longer hostile
to Quakers, did not, as Dickinson argued, secure their liberties as Quakers.

208 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

all factions. Ultimately, without deviation, he ended up where he began, a
Quakerly Patriot. As he explained it, “My Principles were formed very early in
the Course of this unhappy Controversy. I have not yet found Cause to change
a single Iota of my political Creed.”2 This and the next chapter will describe
what his opponents would call “Dickinsonian Politics,” noting especially the
position of the Quaker community and his stance in relation to it.3

The Stamp Act Controversy, 1765
Contemporaneous with the campaign for royal government in which Dickinson
was embroiled was the Stamp Act controversy, into which he entered with
equal vigor. The peaceful resistance to the Act began not in Philadelphia, but
in Boston. After days of almost-uncontrolled rioting, destruction of property,
and other civil misconduct, Bostonians ¬nally realized that violent protest was
achieving nothing and was, in fact, counterproductive. They were compelled
by their own extremism to reexamine their use of violence and force as a
political tool. In this way they happened upon the use of nonviolent protest
techniques such as boycott and nonimportation. But their abandonment of
violence was also prompted by the demise of the Grenville ministry, which
seemed to lessen the tyrannical inclinations of the British government.4 Their
peaceful techniques, in other words, were born of necessity and convenience,
not principle. They did not disavow their earlier violent acts. Neither, as some
scholarship would have it, did they engage in civil disobedience.5
At this point in the controversy with Britain, the Quaker position was gen-
erally uni¬ed in favor of resistance. The Pennsylvania Assembly resolved that
it was their duty “to remonstrate to the Crown against the Stamp Act, and
other late Acts of Parliament, by which heavy Burdens have been laid on the
Colonies” and that they would send a committee to the Stamp Act Congress
in New York.6 Dickinson was nominated to be on the committee, and they
were “strictly required to take Care that such Addresses, in which you join,
are drawn up in the most decent and respectful Terms, so as to avoid every
Expression that can give the least occasion of Offense to his Majesty, or to
either House of Parliament.”7
In New York, Dickinson served as the de facto leader of the Stamp Act
Congress and the draftsman of the Resolutions of the Congress. He then began

2 John Dickinson, “Notes for a Speech in Congress,” May 23, 1775, Delegates, 1: 378.
3 William Whipple to Josiah Bartlett, February 7, 1777, Delegates, 6: 236.
4 See Maier, From Resistance to Revolution, 53“70.
5 The less violent activities of Bostonians, such as the Boston Tea Party, are often noted as examples
of civil disobedience. See, for example, Harry W. Jones, “Civil Disobedience,” Proceedings of the
American Philosophical Society vol. 111, no. 4 (1967), 195“98, 196; William G. McLoughlin,
“Massive Civil Disobedience as a Baptist Tactic in 1773,” American Quarterly vol. 21, no. 4
(1969), 710“727, 710; Michael Couzens, “Re¬‚ections on Violence,” Law & Society Review
vol. 5, no. 4 (1971), 583“604, 597.
6 PA, 7: 5767.
7 Ibid., 5769.
“Dickinsonian Politics” in the American Revolution 209

a campaign to publicize Quaker resistance tactics through a number of pub-
lications. Although Bostonians had realized that peaceful protest would get
them farther than violence, they still had not mastered the subtleties of their
technique. They resigned themselves to avoiding business that required the use
of stamps.8 Dickinson proposed a remedy to this passivity. There were two
modes of peaceful resistance that he advocated, both of which were at the
core of Quaker political behavior. One was the “business-as-usual” model;
the other was economic sanctions. Both were tactics Quakers had been using
in a variety of situations for years to resist unjust laws and customs. Indeed,
the business-as-usual model of resistance was as old as Quakerism itself, and
almost synonymous with it.
In an address on the Stamp Act to “Friends and Countrymen” (1765),
Dickinson called for immediate resistance. His concern was that after all the
initial violence, the new passivity was extremely hazardous. In continuation
of the theme of the danger of precedent he expressed in the royal government
controversy, he wrote, “They will have a Precedent furnished by yourselves, and
a Demonstration that the Spirit of Americans, after great Clamour and Bluster,
is a most submissive servile spirit.”9 He reiterated that “Your compliance with
this Act will save future Ministers the Trouble of reasoning on this head, and
your Tameness will free them from any Kind of Moderation when they shall
hereafter mediate any other Tax upon you.”10 Insofar as precedents established
the constitutionality “ and hence the permanence “ of an act, Englishmen
were generally wary of them. In this regard, Quakers were similar to their
countrymen, though not identical. To Englishmen, legal “innovations” were
potentially dangerous because they were measures that had never been tried
before and did not have the weight of custom behind them. Precedents, on the
other hand, had constitutionality because they were accepted and put to use.11
To Friends, suspicious of human traditions, both innovations and precedents
were dangerous because neither determined de¬nitively the constitutionality of
an act.12
Rather than risk the entrenchment of unconstitutional laws, then, Dickinson
counseled civil disobedience by simply ignoring the act and continuing publicly
about their business. “It appears to me the wisest and the safest course for
you,” he explained, “to proceed in all Business as usual, without taking the least

8 Maier, From Resistance to Revolution, 71.
9 John Dickinson, “Friends and Countrymen” [Address on the Stamp Act], (Philadelphia,
1765), 1.
10 Ibid. On the doctrine of precedent during the con¬‚ict with Britain, see John Phillip Reid,
Constitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority to Tax (Madison: University
of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 122“34.
11 According to Reid, “The doctrine of innovation warned that an action was legally dubious
because it had not been done before. Precedent was evidence of legality or constitutionality
because something had been done before” (Authority to Tax, 123).
12 Dickinson wrote, “Another argument for the extravagant power of internal legislation over us
remains. It has been urged with great warmth against us, that ˜precedents™ shew this power is
rightfully vested in parliament.” Essay on the constitutional power, 105.
210 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

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