<< . .

. 30
( : 44)



. . >>

1776“1790 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1978), 1“6.
29 John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 10, 1776, Delegates, 4: 243.
30 Dickinson quoted in Still´ and Ford, Life and Writings, 1: 206. He did not resign, as Rakove
e
claims (Beginnings, 151).
31 Charles Thomson to John Dickinson, Aug. 16, 1776, quoted in Flower, John Dickinson, Con-
servative Revolutionary, 174.
32 John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 10, 1776, Delegates, 4: 423.
254 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

The radicals™ ¬rst job was to write a new constitution. The document was
the offspring of two men with Quaker-informed radicalism in their blood “
Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. While Franklin was the president of
the Convention, he was busy with national affairs and did not devote much
time to the proceedings. Perhaps the real leader “ in spirit if not in body “
was erstwhile Quaker Paine. His partisans, James Cannon and George Bryan,
crafted a document that generally followed the guide laid out in Common
Sense.33 The delegates to Congress who had orchestrated and approved the
coup of the Assembly looked on as though they had not quite anticipated the
turn of events. They observed in horror as the “numsculs” who were “intirely
unacquainted with such high matters” took up their pens. Even some of the
members of the Convention themselves agreed that they were “hardly equal to
ye Task to form a new plan of Government.”34 Thomas Smith reported that
they were wholly uneducated on the matter of law. They “might have prevented
[themselves] from being ridiculous in the eyes of the world” had some members
not prostituted themselves to the popular democratic sentiment. “They would
go to the devil for popularity,” he said.35 They were farmers, artisans, and
mechanics, and they garnered their support from the same ranks and lower.
The constitution that the Convention produced was an anomaly among
state constitutions, but not for the reasons some scholars have claimed. It was
at once the legacy of Quakerism and hostile to it; it originated as a response
to hegemonic Quaker rule, but it drew some of its de¬ning features from
the very constitution it replaced “ the 1701 Quaker Charter of Privileges.
Commentators on the 1776 constitution often mention two supposedly unique
qualities.36 The ¬rst is the unicameral legislature. But of course, this was one of
the distinguishing aspects of the colonial government. As we have seen, the
Charter of Privileges was created speci¬cally to abolish the upper house of the
Assembly and nullify the powers of the proprietor.37 While the radicals claimed
to want to “reject everything” from the old constitution, “to clear every part
of the old rubbish out of the way and begin upon a clean foundation,” they
were actually preserving what had already existed in Pennsylvania for seventy-
¬ve years.38 The other notable provision, one that scholars almost universally


33 Selsam, Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, 49“50; Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin
Franklin, 164; Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, 131.
34 Peter Grubb quoted in Selsam, The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, 149; Francis Alison to
Cozen Robert, Aug. 20, 1776, “Notes and Queries,” PMHB vol. 28, no. 3 (1904), 375“84,
379.
35 Thomas Smith to Arthur St. Clair, quoted in Burton A. Konkle, Life and Times of Thomas
Smith, 1754“1809 (Philadelphia: Campion & Company, 1904), 75.
36 Kruman presents a fairly sanitized version of this process (Between Authority and Liberty,
24“27).
37 American Archives, ser. 5, 2: 1149.
38 Thomas Smith to Arthur St. Clair, quoted in Selsam, Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, 205.
Bouton seems to have accepted this claim uncritically. He ¬nds that the “solution” that the
Radicals found to the undemocratic Quaker constitution was to implement exactly the same
Critical Period in Pennsylvania 255

laud, is its democratic quality.39 And indeed it was the ¬rst constitution “
and the only one at this time “ to abolish property quali¬cations for voting.
Pennsylvania had always had a relatively liberal franchise because of the liberty
of conscience clause in the Charter, and the radicals expanded it even further.
But, as will become apparent, this democratic quality was not all it appears to
be on the surface.
Other provisions of the constitution stipulated the basic rights Pennsylva-
nians had long enjoyed. It speci¬ed trial by jury and the inviolability of one™s
house and papers from seizure without warrant. There was also a clause pro-
tecting religious liberty that grew directly out of Quakerism “ Section Two
provides for freedom of worship and the right not to be compelled to support
any church or ministry. Signi¬cantly, it also provided for civil liberties con-
nected with religion, including a provision for those principled against taking
an oath to take an af¬rmation. The test would be whether these fundamental
laws would be upheld.


Protesting the Constitution
The 1776 constitution took effect on September 28. That autumn, having
resigned his commission in the militia to move his family out of the path of the
British Army, Dickinson returned to Philadelphia to oppose the constitution
and, he hoped, restrain the radicals. He wrote, spoke, and agitated strenuously
against both the process by which the constitution came into being, as well as
the speci¬c provisions it enumerated, which he considered “confused, incon-
sistent, and dangerous.”40 Dickinson expressed his constitutional priorities for
Pennsylvania in three main places. In the autumn of 1776 he published An
Essay of a Frame of Government for Pennsylvania and on October 21“22, he
spoke at a public meeting about the constitution, out of which were published
thirty-one resolutions.41 He also made edits in his printed copy of the Pennsyl-
vania Declaration of Rights.42 Each of these instances shows both continuity
and evolution of thought as new problems became apparent. As one might
expect, each also shares many provisions with his Articles of Confederation.


features as that constitution “ a unicameral legislature and a weak executive (Taming Democ-
racy, 55). By contrast, Selsam is clear that there was “preponderant in¬‚uence in favor of the
old constitution” (Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, 151).
39 Bouton is only the latest to argue that the 1776 constitution would “remove the barriers that
had kept their voices from being heard” (Taming Democracy, 55).
40 Resolutions from the “Meeting in the State-House Yard,” in American Archives, ser. 5 (Wash-
ington, DC, 1837“53), 1149“52. Published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Oct 23, 1776. (Here-
after referred to as Resolutions.)
41 It is unknown who penned the Resolutions; however, given his expertise and his history of
authoring most of the publications of Congress, it is probable that Dickinson took the lead in
writing these as well.
42 John Dickinson, handwritten notes on his copy of The Constitution of the Common-Wealth of
Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1776), 5“9, LCP. (Hereafter referred to as “Notes.”)
256 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

As the October Resolutions state, the most fundamental objection to the
new constitution of the Republicans, as they would be called, was that the
proceedings of the Convention were illegitimate. The Convention, they said,
“assumed and exercised powers with which they were not entrusted by the
people.” Although it was a legal truism that, as Dickinson wrote in his notes,
“no Laws can bind the People but what they assent to by themselves or by their
legal Representatives,”43 the Convention ignored it. That body had grown
out of the coup of the old government and was representative of the will of
only some people. Also, the constitution was not voted on by the people “ it
was proclaimed as a fait accompli. Beyond this, however, the document was
troubling to Dickinson on many levels.
Four main criteria for an effective and legitimate constitution recur through-
out Dickinson™s criticisms. The order in which they appear varies; thus it is
dif¬cult to tell which, if any, he thought should take precedence. One is that
the laws and structure of the new government should not “[deviate] from all
resemblance to the former Government of this state, to which the people have
been accustomed,”44 and, looking as far back in the state™s history as pos-
sible, he stipulated that they ought not subvert the basic constitution given
William Penn by Charles II in 1681.45 But his references tend toward the more
recent 1701 Charter. Many of his calls for constitutional continuity came in
the context of another top priority “ civil rights and liberties for religious dis-
senters. Like his fourth section of the Articles, he stipulated that the people
of Pennsylvania “shall for ever enjoy the same rights, privileges, and immu-
nities, and exemptions, unchanged, unrestrained, and altogether undiminished
by any law or ordinance whatever, for or on account of any religious persua-
sion, profession or practice, which they now enjoy, or have been accustomed
to the charter and laws of this colony.”46 With every mention of religion,
special attention was given to the matter of oaths “ that no “person con-
scientiously scrupulous of taking an oath [shall] be obliged or required by
any law whatsoever . . . in order to be admitted into any of¬ce whatever” but
“shall be permitted to take an af¬rmation, according to the ancient, legal and
laudable usage in this colony.”47 It is interesting that Dickinson and other
Republicans felt compelled to emphasize these provisions; after all, they were
enumerated in the new constitution. It suggests that they were not secured well
enough in their language to preserve them against the current climate in the
state.
Another recurring point in Dickinson™s writings is the separation of powers “
or lack of it. On this matter, the Resolutions are somewhat contradictory. They
demand continuity with the ancient laws of Pennsylvania, but they also deride
the new constitution for establishing a unicameral legislature, with the judicial

43 “Notes,” 6.
44 Resolutions, 1149.
45 “Notes,” 6.
46 John Dickinson, Essay of a Frame of Government for Pennsylvania (1776), 13.
47 Dickinson, Essay of a Frame, 13.
Critical Period in Pennsylvania 257

and executive branches dependent on the legislative. This is a clear point where
we can see an important evolution in Dickinson™s constitutional thought. Dur-
ing the 1764 campaign for royal government, he argued for the preserva-
tion of the 1701 Charter by touting its distinctive unicameralism and legisla-
tion unchecked by “a council instituted, in fancied imitation of the House of
Lords.”48 But by now, Dickinson had undergone a similar “striking change of
mind” to that of other Founders, though perhaps earlier “ he turned away from
the idea that the popular branch should bear the preponderance of power.49
But it did not take ten years of turmoil under the new Articles for him to realize
it. Although he had been in favor of a more egalitarian or democratic structure
before, he now advocated one that was more hierarchical, or at least placed
new checks on the popular branch.
Dickinson™s change of mind in this regard could be traced to a variety of
factors “ the fractiousness of the Pennsylvania government under Quakers and
the fact that this is what almost led to a drastic and potentially damaging change
of government in 1764; the current dif¬culties with parliamentary supremacy
in England; or the current democratic despotism in Pennsylvania. Regardless
of the impetus, it is important to remember that Quakers had never “ or
not since their earliest years “ advocated a pure democracy that would make
unicameralism so dangerous. As we have seen, their government, while more
“liberal” than some, was premised upon the idea of a spiritual aristocracy
that would result in a sort of representative democracy and a check on the
people. They believed in egalitarianism of a sort, but we might consider it
as equal opportunity rather than equal liberties and privileges by default. In
other words, individuals might all potentially speak publicly (i.e., vote and hold
of¬ce), but each must prove that his voice was worthy of being heard, and only
those whose did would lead. For the government to function otherwise would
lead to licentiousness. On the other hand, because of this fundamental sense
of the possibility of equality, Quakers tried to bring individuals along with
education to the point where all voices had weight. However, they ultimately
believed that a government conducted by men who were in power solely on
the basis of their earthly equality with others as human beings rather than on
spiritual merit was a dangerous and unacceptable foundation. In recent years
and in various ways, Dickinson had likewise seen problems with an immoderate
popular voice. And he saw it now.
Excessive popular power notwithstanding, in their arguments for separa-
tion of powers, the Republicans™ greatest concern was the service of judges
at the pleasure of the Assembly. This was actually an important difference
from the colonial government, which had given judges more independence.50
The Resolutions cite two of Dickinson™s earlier writings for the Continental

48 John Dickinson, A Speech, 18.
49 Lance Banning, The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1978), 89.
50 Justices of the peace could only be removed after being found guilty in a trial. See Marietta and
Rowe, Troubled Experiment, 166“67.
258 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

Congress, the First Petition to the King and the Letter to the Inhabitants of
Quebec, to show how America had long disagreed with such an arrangement.
Dickinson™s Essay of a Frame spends considerable time explaining how “vest-
ing the Supreme Legislature in three different bodies, has a great tendency to
give maturity and precision to acts of legislation, as also stability to the state, by
preventing measures from being too much in¬‚uenced by sudden passions.”51
In this regard, the Republicans were unhappy with the constitution because
it was an anomaly among state constitutions. “[I]t differs,” they complained,
“from others lately formed.”52
A ¬nal repeating theme of Dickinson™s criticisms was that the new constitu-
tion had no provision for amendment. He would have had the Declaration of
Rights read “the People have a Right and ought to establish a new or reform
the old Government in such Manner as shall by the Community be judged
most conducive to the public Weal.”53 What the Convention did instead was
to mandate that it was to be accepted in toto by the people without a vote,
that it was not to be changed for the ¬rst seven years, and then not by the
people, but rather by a Council of Censors established for that purpose. What
was worse, it demanded that all inhabitants of Pennsylvania take an oath or
af¬rmation so that they could not “directly or indirectly do any act or thing
prejudicial or injurious to the constitution or government thereof, as estab-
lished by the Convention.”54 Accordingly, the Republicans resolved that no
one should swear to or af¬rm any such thing and urged resistance.
These were the consistent arguments that appeared in all Dickinson™s con-
stitutional writings.55 But there were some that were unique to a particular
document. For example, he ended his Essay of a Frame by suggesting some pro-
visions that might eventually be added to the Frame. Two deserve special note.
The ¬rst is “[t]o prohibit the punishing of any crime but murder, or military
offences with Death.”56 Such a law would revive one of the oldest laws in Penn-
sylvania from the days when the Quaker colony stood out as the most gentle to
criminals of all British governments. The other law would stipulate that “[n]o
person coming into, or born in this country, to be held in Slavery under any pre-
tense whatever.”57 With the abolition movement beginning among Quakers in

51 Dickinson, Essay of a Frame, 3 (page unnumbered).
52 Resolutions, 1150.
53 “Notes,” 6.
54 The Proceedings Relative to Calling the Convention of 1776 and 1790 (Harrisburg, 1825), 54.
55 The one exception to this is that, oddly enough, a provision for amendment does not appear in
Dickinson™s draft of the Articles. The very fact that this omission is so out of keeping with all
his other writings on the subject, we must assume its absence here is due to some other reason
than that he did not consider it important. Indeed, is clear that he was thinking about the issue
of change. In his notes on the draft, he wrote, “The Power of Congress interf[ering] in any
Change of the Const[ituti]on? Also the Propeity of guaranteeing the respective Constitutions
& Frames of Government.” (“John Dickinson™s Draft Articles of Confederation,” Delegates, 4:
252, n. 2.)
56 Dickinson, Essay of a Frame, 16.
57 Ibid.
Critical Period in Pennsylvania 259

Pennsylvania, it was the ¬rst state to outlaw slavery in 1780. Dickinson would
continue to express his objection to slavery in the Constitutional Convention.
The majority of Dickinson™s notes on his copy of the Declaration of Rights
suggest that he wrote them later than the autumn of 1776. They highlight
potential problems that were not yet in existence or not clearly apparent at the
time the constitution was proclaimed. It is likely that, as events unfolded and
Dickinson witnessed or learned of the infringement on individual liberties in
Pennsylvania, his criticisms of the constitution became more re¬ned.
During the last months of 1776, Pennsylvania spiraled into chaos. There
was no clear leadership in Philadelphia as the Constitutionalists and Republi-
cans contested for power. It was very much a dispute over who should rule at
home.58 The ultimate source of the confusion was that there was no clear pref-
erence for one party or the other by the people; the state was split virtually down
the middle. On the traditional election day, October 1, some counties held elec-
tions to support the old government. When the new election day approached,
these resisters made plans to undermine the proceedings on November 5 by
strategic voting and attempting to persuade electors not to take the oath. The
Constitutionalists, meanwhile, allowed the Associators to control elections in
some areas; they conducted the voting by battalion and did not allow others
to cast a ballot. Also, it was, in general, dif¬cult for those unwilling to take
the oath to vote. Although the Republicans won heavily Quaker Philadelphia
overwhelmingly, the Constitutionalists carried the election with the support of
the Presbyterian Western counties.59
By this time, Pennsylvania not only had crippling internal dif¬culties, it was
under direct threat from the British. In an attempt to remedy the political situ-
ation, on November 27 Dickinson offered a compromise to the Constitutional-
ists. They would cooperate if the radicals “will agree to call a free Convention
for a full & fair Representation of the Freemen of Pennsylvania.” The pur-
pose would be for “reversing the Constitution form™d by the late Convention
and making such Alterations & Amendments therein as shall by [the Freemen]
be thought proper.” The offer was rejected.60 Unable to give allegiance to a
¬‚awed constitution, Dickinson left the Assembly, taking many Republicans
with him. Clearly even the most devoted traditionalists struggled with the urge
to withdraw when their theologico-political purity was threatened. Remaining
members of the party hoped for his return. “The eyes of the whole city are
¬xed upon you,” said Benjamin Rush. “[T]he whole city waits only to see what
part you will take.”61 At this point, however he resolved to return to Delaware
and enlist in the militia as a private. Thus, with no hope of a quorum, the
government was paralyzed.
58 Carl Becker, History of Political Parties in the Province of New York (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1909), 22.
59 Selsam, Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, 226“30.
60 John Dickinson, note on constitutional revisions in Pennsylvania, Nov. 27, 1776, Government
Documents, Revolutionary and Early National Periods, 1765“1788, n .d., JDP/LCP.
61 Benjamin Rush to John Dickinson, December 1, 1776, in Butter¬eld, Letters of Rush, 1: 119.
260 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

With the danger to the state from the British increasing, Congress demanded
that the Council of Safety, now the state™s acting government, call out the militia
to protect the city. Though calls went out, they were of little effect because the
Associators were now too complacent to ¬ght, and they ran rampant in the
city with little or no accountability to their of¬cers. One historian has argued
that the apathy of the Associators toward the invasion of the British was
because they had a more immediate concern in mind “ gaining power in the
Pennsylvania government. Once that was achieved, they did not look beyond
their own state to the national situation and had little interest in ¬ghting a
revolution.62 Their grievances were not against England; they were against the
Quaker government. In early December, Congress placed Pennsylvania under
martial law.63
Although the alliance between radical Presbyterians and radicalized Quak-
ers seems counterintuitive, at this point it was logical. The Presbyterians had
long railed against Quaker power. “You are the persons who have made us
slaves,” they claimed in 1764, “you have depriv™d us of charter-privileges; have
made laws for us; and have offer™d to deprive us of juries, so that you might
have the power to spare our lives, or take them away, at pleasure”64 Like-
wise, the radicalized Quakers bristled at the restrictions withdrawing Friends
sought to impose on their revolutionary activities. The split between Quakers
followed a similar fault line that existed since their origins and once again
appeared in the early 1760s: One side, including withdrawing and traditional
Quakerism “ with Dickinson at the head “ favored unity, security, and a sort
of hierarchy; the other side “ guided by Paine™s ethos “ favored individual
leadings, democracy, and dangerous innovation. Paine claimed that “[w]hen I
turned my thoughts towards matters of government, I had to form a system
for myself, that accorded with the moral and philosophical principles in which
I had been educated.”65 But former Quakers such as he rejected not just the
representational quality of their religion™s democracy that had been established
by Fox, Barclay, and others in favor of pure democracy but also the paci¬sm
that had restrained many members for years. Presbyterians were experienc-
ing similar problems with factionalism in the church. Radical Presbyterians,
acting perhaps out of the enthusiasm of the First Great Awakening, rejected
the hierarchy by which their church had been organized and then attempted to
democratize the state accordingly.66 With Presbyterians and radicalized Quaker

62 Selsam, Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, 258“59. For an extensive discussion of the lack
of commitment of militiamen, see James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender, A Respec-
tiable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763“1789 (Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan
Davidson, 1982).
63 JCC, 5: 1017.
64 Williamson, Plain Dealer, 1: 14.
65 Thomas Paine, “The Age of Reason,” in Moncure Daniel Conway, ed., The Writings of Thomas
Paine (New York: G. P. Putnam and Sons, 1896), 4: 63.
66 It is well known that radical Presbyterians took the lead in the Revolution. Peter C. Messer
attempts to explain the radical behavior in terms of evangelical millenarianism in “˜A Species of
Critical Period in Pennsylvania 261

types all alienated from or disillusioned with the reticence of traditional and
withdrawing Quakerism, they could ¬nd common ground both politically and
theologically.
Now armed, the Quaker element in the new government looked and acted
much like reformed and democratized Calvinism. In the constitutional priorities
that Paine expressed, we see what radicalized Quakerism devoid of the peace
testimony and allied with reformed Calvinism could do in opposition to tradi-
tional Quaker constitutionalism. In wartime, historic rights and liberties were
obliterated. The February before independence was declared, Samuel Adams
scoffed at the fear that “Presbyterians, if freed from the restraining power of
Great Britain, would overrun the peaceable Quakers in government.”67 Over
the next few years, however, the radical leaders of Pennsylvania proceeded to
violate every provision of their constitution named here.

“Torism is dum”: The Constitutional Gap in Pennsylvania and
Persecution of Dissenters
Although the sentiment in this heading was expressed by a learned Delawar-
ian,68 it is representative of the lack of nuance with which the uneducated
radicals who crafted the Pennsylvania constitution perceived resistance to their
cause. There is no doubt that some Quakers were Tories actively aiding the
British “ “just enough to taint the neutrality of the whole sect,” says Robert
M. Calhoon.69 Thus anything less than patriotic enthusiasm was suspect, and
neutrality, or even moderation, became the blank canvass for all the radicals™
fears. George Savile™s 1688 characterization of a trimmer summarized well the
attitude of the Revolutionaries toward Quakers: “But it so happens, that the
poor Trimmer hath all the Powder spent on him alone . . . there is no danger
now to the state . . . but from the Beast called a Trimmer.”70 And it is clear that
what provoked the Patriots was as much Quakers™ trimming as their perceived
Toryism. The seventeenth-century Trimmer faction was known for fence sitting
and opportunism. And when the political situation became heated and revolu-
tion broke out, they stood passively by, letting others take the risks for liberty.

Treason & Not the Least Dangerous Kind™: The Treason Trials of Abraham Carlisle and John
Roberts,” PMHB vol. 128, no. 4 (1999), 303“32. See also fn. 113, this chapter.
67 Samuel Adams, February 3, 1776, in William V. Wells, The Life and Public Services of Samuel
Adams, 2: 363.
68 Thomas Rodney to Caesar Rodney, May 19, 1776, Delegates, 4: 62. On Toryism, see, among
others, Leonard W. Larabee, Conservatism in Early American History, (New York: New York
University Press, 1948); William H. Nelson, The American Tory (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1961); the special issue of Pennsylvania History devoted to exploring the varieties of
Loyalism, vol. 62, no. 3 (1995); work by Calhoon, including The Loyalists in the American
Revolution.
69 Calhoon, The Loyalists in the American Revolution, 388. He ¬nds that only “[a] very few
Friends were forthright apologists for British policy” and that “the great majority of the sect
and virtually all its leadership were genuine paci¬sts” (170).
70 Savile, The Character of a Trimmer, preface.
262 The Political Quakerism of John Dickinson

Although Quakers had never been trimmers in this sense, always being willing
to take a stand and accept punishment for their beliefs, they now appeared to
be so, adopting a more cautious stance that seemed to many to be cowardice
or economic self-interest.
In 1768 Dickinson proclaimed that “[w]ise and good men in vain oppose
the storm” of violent resistance. He anticipated the suffering he and Friends
would ultimately experience, writing that they “may think themselves fortu-
nate, if, endeavouring to preserve their ungrateful fellow citizens, they do not
ruin themselves.” He prophesied, “Their prudence will be called baseness; their
moderation guilt” and “their virtue” may “lead them to destruction.”71 Speak-
ing in 1775 of the “ignorant hotheaded Demagogues” leading mobs around
New York, physician John Jones echoed his cousin™s fears. “Nothing less than
death or banishment will satisfy the resentment of these raging Patriots,” he
said. It was this “popular fury” that in large part made Quakers dread the

<< . .

. 30
( : 44)



. . >>