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ditional Quaker thinkers were concerned with upholding the extant fundamental constitution,
why did they not all chose a path similar to Galloway™s and become Loyalists? How could they
justify ultimately supporting the new American constitution, which they did overwhelmingly,
rather than the British? If they did indeed favor one side, why did they not continue their
political advocacy for the cause that they believed was more likely to preserve liberty? There
are no easy answers to these questions. The possible reasons are ideological and practical:
First, and most likely, is that, because of the lack of security for dissenters™ rights in the British
constitution, and the nonexistence of an American constitution, there was more of an incentive
to adhere to the only trustworthy constitution at hand, their Charter of Privileges. We will see
in the next chapter that, in this rough transitional period, localism prevailed over nationalism.
One might expect that they would have leaned toward a proposal by one of the leaders of their
Assembly, Joseph Galloway with his 1774 Plan of Union. But this would have been a disturb-
ing prospect. Although Galloway exempli¬ed some traditional Quaker concerns, most notably
preserving the ancient constitution, he actually departed from other principles that were very
important to Friends. His proposal for a hierarchical restructuring of the government proved
that he was less concerned with liberty of conscience and productive dissent within the polity
than most Friends. Most Quakers were evidently less troubled about establishing a new Amer-
ican constitution than they were with being oppressed under a hierarchical and intolerant one.
“Dickinsonian Politics” in the American Revolution 245

Conclusion
For Dickinson, as for the Quakers, a central constitution was a tool with which
to safeguard American liberties. When that tool was no longer accepted by his
countrymen, he went to work creating a new one, the Articles of Confederation.
His priority was always the preservation of American liberties by the surest
means. Dickinson™s record, when situated in the context of his culture, re¬‚ects
not hesitancy, indecisiveness, or pessimism, but unambiguous resolve in favor
of peace, liberty, and unity “ and caution lest these things be lost in the heat of pas-
sion. Neither was his caution indicative of negativity, but rather the opposite “
while some “despair[ed] of seeing the [British] constitution recover its former
vigor,” Dickinson did not give up hope until his entire country had spoken.182
He has also been painted as a traitor or a lukewarm patriot, but if patriotism is
de¬ned by a denial of self for the good of one™s country, then his absence from
the vote on independence should be seen as one of the greatest patriotic acts of
the Revolution. Furthermore, as the religious dissenters he followed, he chose
derision and infamy rather than admiration and popularity. Very much in the
Quaker mentality, he re¬‚ected on July 25, 1776, “I have so much of the spirit
of Martyrdom in me, that I have been conscientiously compelled to endure in
my political Capacity the Fires & Faggots of persecution.”183
Dickinson™s contribution to American political thought is therefore both
different from and more signi¬cant than what scholars have claimed. Advocate
of rights though he was, he was no intentional “Penman of the Revolution.” In
the 1760s and 1770s Dickinson was expressing an idea that most Americans
would not articulate until after the Revolution when they were faced with
creating their own state and national constitutions “ the idea of the perpetuity
of a fundamental constitution along with an internal process of amendment.

In short, when Friends were forced to choose between a ¬‚awed British constitution (that might
get worse if Galloway had his way) and the possibility of preserving their unique Quaker
constitution under a potentially perfect American constitution, they chose the what appeared
to be a safer course in the long run, and one that respected the voice of the “meeting” with
which they were most intimately bound, the American one.
A second possible reason for their acceptance of a new American constitution was practical:
Once independence had been declared and there was no return to the British constitution, it
was not dif¬cult for Friends to change course because of the federal system they were used
to in their meeting structure. As discussed in Chapters 1 and 8, it was a natural part of the
Quaker ecclesiastical structure that when a far-¬‚ung group became too physically remote from
the center, it would itself establish a new central government. It was also clearly in their inter-
est to support the new government and advocate their liberties under it. But none of these
explanations addresses their reluctance during the early years of the war to engage politically
to support either constitution. This is a problem that will be addressed in the next chapter.
182 Charles Caroll quoted in Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, 131.
183 John Dickinson to Charles Lee, July 25, 1776, quoted in Martha Calvert Slotten, “John
Dickinson on Independence, July 25, 1776,” Manuscripts 28 (1976), 189. Like Quakers who
believed persecution was a sign of divine chosenness, in the margins of his notes for his July 1
speech before Congress he wrote: “Drawing Resentment one proof of Virtue,” Delegates, 4:
356.
246 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

These were ideas basic to Quaker political thought. Historians who have seen
the signi¬cance of Dickinson™s work as preparing the country for revolution
have been interpreting it both with the bene¬t of hindsight “ that America
did eventually revolt “ and without understanding the context of Dickinson™s
thought. Despite the fact that his writings did lead to the Revolution and he
was compelled to abandon his conciliatory stance, his place in history is not
among the leaders of revolutions, but rather, to the extent Americans used
nonviolence, as the ¬rst leader of a national peaceful protest movement. In this
capacity, he actually did make a signi¬cant contribution to the Revolution “
John Adams noted that “the delay of the Declaration to [1776] has many great
advantages attending it,” not the least of which was that it served to “cement
the union.”184 But, as we shall see in the following chapter, his judgment in
this case was premature as the cement of the Union was not quite cured.

184 John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776, Delegates, 4: 376.
7

“The Worthy Against the Licentious”
The Critical Period in Pennsylvania




If the progress toward the Revolution in Pennsylvania was untidy, the realiza-
tion of it was decidedly ugly. This chapter examines the extremely troubled
period between the Revolution and the Constitutional Convention in order to
shed light on John Dickinson™s hopes for the new state and nation and his fears
as national problems were magni¬ed in Pennsylvania.1 Earlier arguments both
in this study and elsewhere maintain that party lines were drawn based on
religion and that theology has a signi¬cant “explanatory potential” that needs
to be elucidated.2 We have already seen that, since the campaign for royal

1 See Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (New York: Hill and
Wang, 2007). Holton claims that because they did not include a Bill of Rights, the Framers of
the Constitution were not genuinely concerned with preserving rights and justice. He ¬nds that
their complaints about the violations of rights and justice were empty, and they had no actual
cause for seeking a strong central government except for expanding their own economic power.
Likewise, there was no democratic excess, and historians mistakenly compare popular action
during this period to real tragedies such as slavery and the persecution of religious minorities
(16). What he fails to consider, however, is that there was, in fact, religious persecution and
denial of the civil rights of many Pennsylvanians. It was these things, this chapter will show,
that proved the claims of at least one Framer: that a strong central government was necessary to
control and unify the states.
2 Much has been written on this complex time in Pennsylvania, speci¬cally the con¬‚ict between
the radical “Constitutionalists” “ those who supported the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776 “
and the “Republicans” “ those who sought to reform it. Most recently, see Terry S. Bouton,
Taming Democracy: “The People,” The Founders and the Troubled Ending of the American
Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). This chapter follows Owen S. Ireland™s
interpretation in “The Crux of Politics: Religion and Party in Pennsylvania, 1778“1789,” WMQ
3rd ser., vol. 42, no. 4 (1985), 453“75. 474; and Douglas Arnold™s in A Republican Revolu-
tion: Ideology and Politics in Pennsylvania, 1776“1790 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989).
Before these studies on religion, assessments of party politics assumed the priority of class and
region as determining factors of factional alliance. The standard works on the period are John
Paul Selsam, The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylva-
nia Press, 1936); Robert L. Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776“1790
(Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1971); Jackson Turner Main,
The Sovereign States, 1775“1783 (New York: New Viewpoints: A Division of Franklin Watts,

247
248 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

government in 1764, three Quaker-informed factions existed in Pennsylvania.
In¬‚uenced by the con¬‚ict with Britain, two of them were gradually moving
away from traditional Quaker theologico-politics “ one toward individualis-
tic, democratic, and armed radicalism; the other toward a withdrawn, pas-
sive stance, based on a new, narrower interpretation of the peace testimony.
These factions were now set against one another with resistance to the British
the apparent point of con¬‚ict. The radical group, in its beginnings hostile to
Presbyterians in the campaign for royal government, now united with them,
ostensibly to further the American cause. The withdrawing group of Quakers
retreated from civic engagement and adopted a neutrality that was historically
uncharacteristic of their Society when rights were threatened.
As the previous chapter demonstrated, a few Quakerly types, such as John
Dickinson, maintained a stance more in keeping with traditional Quaker behav-
ior than either of these two strains “ rights advocacy and peaceful protest for
reform. Now that the break with Britain was formalized, he could in good
conscience (not being a convinced Quaker) take up arms and defend America
against her attacks. But also, because of the alliance between radical Presby-
terians and former Quakers, he found himself ¬ghting a battle at home as
challenging as extracting Americans from British rule “ securing the funda-
mental rights of Pennsylvanians and Americans against the “patriotism” of the
new governors.3 Indeed, the localism of all parties often obscured the larger
con¬‚ict.
In the spring of 1776 John Adams commented that Dickinson was both
an “Advocate for Colony Governments, and Continental Confederation.”4
During this period, he struggled to establish constitutions for the state and
nation that would preserve the unique liberties that Quakers had enjoyed in
colonial Pennsylvania, as well as their traditional English liberties. Now, at a
time when there was no central constitution and only a weak and defective
state constitution, his fears for dissenters™ rights before independence were
realized as he, members of the Society of Friends, and others perceived as
hostile to the regime fell through a constitutional gap that left them without
protection from overly enthusiastic Patriots. At issue was the fact that the

Inc. 1973); Adams, The First American Constitutions; Anne M. Ousterhout, “Controlling the
Opposition in Pennsylvania during the American Revolution,” PMHB vol. 105 (1981), 3“34;
Rosswurm, Arms, Country, and Class; Ousterhout, A State Divided; Marc W. Kruman, Between
Authority and Liberty: State Constitution-Making in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: Uni-
versity of North Carolina Press, 1997). My argument will only touch lightly on the theological
and constitutional motives of the radicals, focusing instead on the priorities of Quakers and their
supporters during this period.
3 The argument here differs in some fundamental ways from that put forth by Bouton in Taming
Democracy. It agrees that the Revolutionary elites sought to limit the new popular power in
Pennsylvania; however, it disputes the claim that Pennsylvania during the Critical Period was the
“healthy” or “expansive” democracy Bouton portrays, or that it could be seen as enlightened
exemplar for other states (6, 7).
4 John Adams to John Winthrop, May 12, 1776, Delegates, 3: 663.
Critical Period in Pennsylvania 249

national and state constitutions depended upon the stability of one another.
His attempts to prevent the problems began before independence with his
draft of the Articles of Confederation. Immediately after independence was
declared, he fought for a just and balanced constitution for Pennsylvania,
which culminated in his presidency toward the end of the period. The ideals he
espoused in his version of the Articles of Confederation and in Pennsylvania
government represented Quaker concerns, and his constant equation of liberty
with safety led to his presidency of the Annapolis Convention that met to
amend the national constitution. The following pages will highlight his ideals
within the context of the clash between withdrawn and traditional Quakers
and their supporters on the one hand, and radical Revolutionaries on the other,
many of whom had learned from radicalized Quakerism that had grown over
the last decades.

The 1776 Articles of Confederation
Although Dickinson wrote the Articles of Confederation for the nation, he did
so with an eye toward the increasing anti-Quaker sentiment in Pennsylvania.
The coup of the Pennsylvania government by the radicals and his recognition
of the reality that America would probably “ though not “inexorably” “ revolt
instigated his attempt to secure the Quakers™ constitutional rights.5 His fear
at this point was that the patriotic furor of the radicals, combined with their
deep-seated resentment of nonradical Quakers, would overrun any regard for
dissenters™ rights that had existed under the now-incapacitated 1701 Charter.
Not wanting independence, but in preparation for it, he took the lead imme-
diately before the Declaration in writing the Articles.6 Although there were
several attempts at an American constitution before Dickinson™s draft, none
of these had a signi¬cant in¬‚uence on Dickinson™s document.7 Earlier authors
were limited by their desire for reconciliation. They thought not in terms of con-
federation but of disparate colonies essentially independent from one another
and bound only by a distant and oppressive (or happily negligent) imperial
government.8 Dickinson on the other hand, despite his fervent hope for con-
tinued unity with Britain, did not let this wish interfere with his vision for the
future and what was necessary for an independent America. In fact, it was his
conviction that independence was dangerous and likely that prompted him to

5 Rakove, Beginnings, 152.
6 He was one of a committee of thirteen that included, among others, Josiah Bartlett, Edward
Rutledge, Samuel Adams, and Thomas McKean. The document that was submitted to Congress
on July 12 was originally written by Dickinson, and then revised by him according to the
critiques of his colleagues. This version was then debated and amended by Congress before it
was approved in late August. Rakove, Beginnings, 139.
7 Ibid., 138. Adams describes the a few points that resemble Franklin™s version (The First American
Constitutions, 281).
8 Ibid., 138“39.
250 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

write it as he did and create a document that would bear a strong resemblance
to the 1787 Constitution.9
There are several proposals in the Dickinson Plan that scholars consider
“innovative.”10 Among the most notable of his contributions are the provisions
for a powerful central government and religious liberty.11 These may have been
exceptional when compared to the work and thought of other Founders, but
most were standard in the context of Quaker political thought and practice.
Because there have been several competent analyses of the Dickinson Plan, what
follows is not exhaustive.12 Rather, as a preface to a deeper treatment of the
Constitution in Chapter 8, this discussion will only touch some of Dickinson™s
ideas.
The main issue in framing an American constitution was similar to the
question of the relation of the colonies to the British constitution “ the power
of the states in relation to the central government. Dickinson was not alone in
his concern for such a power, but he was one of the most consistent advocates
of it, so much so that he has drawn suspicion from colleagues and historians
alike that he was an “ardent nationalist.”13 The editors of the Letters from
Delegates consider his efforts in this regard to be “radical.”14 Such a perception
is unbalanced, however; as we shall see, he was no less concerned with state™s

9 Jack N. Rakove, “Legacy of the Articles of Confederation,” Publius vol. 12, no. 4, The Con-
tinuing Legacy of the Articles of Confederation (1982), 45“66; Harry W. Jones, “The Articles
of Confederation and the Creation of a Federal System,” in George W. Corner, ed., Aspects
of American Liberty: Philosophical, Historical, and Political (Memoirs of the American Philo-
sophical Society) (Philadelphia, 1977), 126“145; Robert W. Hoffert, A Politics of Tensions:
The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas (Niwot: University of Colorado
Press, 1992), 85.
10 Rakove, Beginnings, 139.
11 Not directly related to the topic of this chapter is Indian relations, which drew Dickinson™s
attention more than the other Founders. As we have seen, while most Americans regarded
Indians little or with hostility, Quakers had a long history of intimate and amicable relations
with them. Accordingly, Dickinson addressed his fourteenth and ¬fteenth articles to Indian
relations. The former restricts attacks against Indian nations to defense in the face of imminent
danger of invasion. The latter is concerned with peaceful dealings. It establishes in the ¬rst
instance a “perpetual alliance” between the entire Union and all other Indian nations. From
there, provisions were made for “their Lands to be secured, and not to be encroached on” and
an ambassador from the United States to “reside among the Indians” to “take Care to prevent
Injustice in the Trade with them.” Finally, the United States would establish a fund to provide
“occasional Supplies to relieve their personal Wants & Distresses.” Isolated points concerning
Indians appeared in the ¬nal version of the Articles and in the Constitution; however, none
consider their welfare.
12 For his draft, annotated with inclusion of his marginalia and edits on the ¬nal product, see
Delegates, 4: 233“55. For analyses of the Dickinson Plan, see Merrill Jensen, The Articles of
Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolu-
tion, 1774“1781 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1940), 126“39; Jones, “The Articles
of Confederation”; Rakove, Beginnings, 151“58.
13 James H. Hutson, “John Dickinson at the Federal Constitutional Convention,” WMQ 3rd ser.,
vol. 40, no. 2 (1983), 256“82, 258.
14 Delegates, 4: 253.
Critical Period in Pennsylvania 251

rights. Even at this early point, Dickinson had a sense for the relationship
between state and nation that eluded most of his colleagues. Others, too,
worried about the “mutual Jealousies, Hatreds, Wars and Devastations” that
might ensue with independence, but many were unconcerned, and none had
much to say, about how to address the potential for democratic problems in
America, which were already becoming reality in Pennsylvania.15 Dickinson™s
priority was to create a primary central structure that would resolve problems
both in and between states and impose a coercive power that would compel
them to defer their own interests to that of the Union. The ultimate effect
would be twofold: A central power would protect the states and allow them
to ¬‚ourish in their own unique ways. Conversely, stable states would ensure a
secure and perpetual union.
According to Dickinson, there were three primary ways to accomplish the
preservation of the Union. First, the states must submit to the Union and pro-
mote its good. To this end, he drafted articles that restricted the power of
states and secured the powers of the central confederation in negotiating war
and peace, regulating foreign and domestic trade, and regulating the states™
relations with one another. The states would retain their discrete rights pro-
vided that these did “not interfere with the Articles of this Confederation.”16
Signi¬cantly, however, the directives from the central government were not
necessarily negative. States should actively contribute to the common good.
Article Twelve, for example, stipulates that “all Expences that shall be incurr™d
for the general Wellfare . . . shall be defrayed out of a Common Treasury.” Sec-
ond, the Union could not survive without peace between the states. Individual
states must therefore be restrained from wantonly exercising their own wills
and Congress empowered to mediate con¬‚icts. Dickinson wrote that the cen-
tral government would have the right of “[s]ettling all Disputes and Differences
now subsisting, or that hereafter may arise between two or more Colonies.”
One area in particular in which Dickinson anticipated con¬‚ict was over the
Western lands, over which multiple states laid claim. Congress would regu-
late their boundaries. As scholars of the Articles have noted, Dickinson was
laying the groundwork for a federal system.17 To do so, he drew on his experi-
ences with Quakerism, speci¬cally, their history of mediating con¬‚icts and the
structure of their church government.
A third way in which the central government should regulate involves indi-
viduals, speci¬cally, protecting their rights. Jack Rakove implicitly acknowl-
edges the Quaker in¬‚uence when he discusses what he considers to be the most
innovative aspect of Dickinson™s Articles “ religious liberty. As we have seen,
Quakers believed that civil union and liberty depended on civil safety, which

15 John Dickinson to William Pitt, 21 December 1765, quoted in Greene, “The Background of the
Articles of Confederation,” 35.
16 All quotations from the Dickinson draft are from “John Dickinson™s Draft Articles of Confed-
eration,” Delegates, 4: 233“55.
17 Jones, “The Articles of Confederation,” 130“31. Hoffert, Politics of Tensions, 84.
252 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

they believed would be achieved by state-protected religious liberty. Dickinson
was focused on the sectarian problems in Pennsylvania at this time and wor-
ried that they would “ as they did already “ create problems in forming and
stabilizing the state governments that would be so essential to the survival of
the Union.18 His third article, therefore, preserved laws in the states exactly as
they had existed under the colonial governments. What he had in mind is clear
from the fourth article. There he enumerated the unique liberties Pennsylvania
Quakers had under their 1701 Charter, such as that individuals should not
be compelled “to maintain any religious Worship, Place of Worship, or Min-
istry contrary to his or her Mind,” and, signi¬cantly, “whenever on Election
or Appointment to any Of¬ces, or on any other occasions, the Af¬rmation
of persons conscientiously taking an Oath hath been admitted in any Colony
or Colonies, no Oath shall in any such Cases be imposed by any Law or
Ordinance.” Both of these provisions were, of course, based on long-standing
Quaker testimonies and did not necessarily exist elsewhere in the colonies.
They were the same ones that he worried Pennsylvanians would give up by
changing to a royal government in 1764, and, with the hostility to Quakers
in Philadelphia palpable as he wrote, it was these he feared would evaporate
under the revolutionary government.
But Americans were not ready for this constitution. Edward Rutledge, one
of Dickinson™s colleagues on the committee, believed that the Dickinson Plan
would destroy “all Provincial Distinctions”19 and consolidate the states “into
one unitary polity.”20 Accordingly, after it was submitted to Congress on
July 12, it was reworked over the next months to remove all of the offending
passages, namely those that empowered the central government, restricted the
power of the states, and, most signi¬cant to the purposes here, the article on
religious liberty.21 If the latter would have passed, observes John Witte, “it
would have been a remarkable step on the path toward creating a law on
national religious liberty.”22 Indeed, in his notes on a later version, Dickinson
questioned the absence of an article on religion. Anticipating the First and
Fourteenth Amendments, he asked, “Should not the ¬rst Article provide for a
Toleration and agt. Establishments hereafter to be made?”23 Having joined his
battalion days after independence, and having been voted out of Congress by


18 See also Rakove, Beginnings, 153.
19 Edward Rutledge to John Jay, June 29, 1776, Delegates, 4: 338. Interestingly, Rutledge seemed
to fear that Dickinson™s Plan would make the nation too democratic. He worried that it would
unleash the “leveling Principles” and “occasion such a ¬‚uctuation of Property as to introduce
the greatest disorder.”
20 Greene, “The Background of the Articles of Confederation,” 41. Also Rakove, Beginnings,
155“57.
21 For the revisions that were made, see Rakove, Beginnings, 158“62; Rakove, “Legacy,” 45“53;
Jensen, The Articles of Confederation, esp. 177“84.
22 John Witte, Jr., Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, 2nd ed. (Boulder, CO:
Westview Press, 2005), 75.
23 “John Dickinson™s Draft Articles of Confederation,” Delegates, 4: 253, n, 3.
Critical Period in Pennsylvania 253

the new Pennsylvania Assembly, he was not present to defend his provisions.
A much weaker version emerged, the only sort that could win approval.
Rutledge complained famously that Dickinson™s draft “has the Vice of all his
Productions to a considerable Degree; I mean the Vice of Re¬ning too much.”24
But clearly, considering how events unfolded in Pennsylvania, the excise of these
portions of the draft had grave implications for certain segments of society. As
they were being written, John Adams was sanguine that with these Articles,
“the last ¬nishing Stroke will be given to the Politicks of this Revolution.”25 He
might have been right, had the articles been implemented as Dickinson wrote
them; some scholars muse that if they had, the 1787 Constitution might not
have been necessary.26 But in reality, the politics had only just begun. More
prophetically, Abraham Clark of New Jersey remarked to Elias Dayton, “We
are now Sir embarked on a most Tempestious Sea.”27

The Revolutionary Convention and the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution
As soon as independence was declared, the radicals moved to establish formally
the new Pennsylvania government.28 Elections were held July 8 and the ¬rst
meeting of the Convention was July 15. If it had not been clear before, the tone
of the proceedings was extreme “ only fervent radicals were elected. Moderate
members of the Assembly were unceremoniously turned out, “all fallen, like
Grass before the Scythe.”29 Dickinson got the news on the front. “While I
was exposing my person to every hazard, and lodging within half a mile from
the enemy,” he explained, “the members of the Convention at Philadelphia,
resting in quiet and safety, ignominiously voted me, as unworthy of my seat,
out of the National Senate.”30 But no sooner had the election taken place than
onlookers began to have doubts about the competency of the new government
and regret that a tone of moderation had not been preserved. Particularly,
they lamented Dickinson™s absence. Charles Thomson wrote to him in the ¬eld
saying, “I wish they had chosen better; & that you could have headed them.”31
Even John Adams was inclined “to wish that [Dickinson and others] may be
restored, at a fresh Election.”32

24 Edward Rutledge to John Jay, June 29, 1776, Delegates, 4: 338.
25 John Adams to John Winthrop, June 23, 1776, Delegates, 4: 299.
26 Forrest McDonald and Ellen Shapiro McDonald, Requiem: Variations on Eighteenth-Century
Themes (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988), 90.
27 Abraham Clark to Elias Dayton, July 4, 1776, Delegates, 4: 378.
28 For a concise narrative of the establishment and functioning of the new government and constitu-
tion, see Guide to the Micro¬lm of the Records of Pennsylvania™s Revolutionary Governments,

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