Revolutionary War Historical Article

John Dickinson of Pennsylvania & Delaware: Signer of the Constitution

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the September 1984 Edition of the Valley Compatriot Newsletter

John Dickinson (1732-1808) was born in Maryland and reared on the family estate near Dover, Delaware. He served as a Brigadier General in the Pennsylvania Militia, and was elected representative from Delaware and Pennsylvania as well as being president of both states at different times. It appears that he was more often associated with Pennsylvania.


His early education was private, mostly by tutors, until 1750, when he took up the study of law under John Moland. He then spent three years in the "Temple" in London furthering his education.

After being admitted to the bar, he set up his practice in Philadelphia. Within five years he was considered one of the prominent lawyers of that city. In October of 1760 he was elected to the Assembly of the Lower Colonies of Delaware and became speaker of that body in 1762.

He was then elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature from Philadelphia. His ultra- conservative views propelled him into leadership of the Patriots. As a vigorous opponent to the Stamp Act, he attended the Congress of 1765 and is credited with writing the "Declaration of Rights and Grievances" which was published in 1765. After his re-election to the Assembly he wrote the first "petition to the King" which was unanimously accepted. He fell into disfavor for opposing the use of force against England and for opposing the New England radicals. He withdrew from the First Continental Congress claiming that he was being excluded. The Congress later called upon him to write their "Petition to the King" after rejecting the draft of Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. Later he wrote the "Olive Branch Petition" which was approved on July 5th, 1775, after a serious debate by the opposing New Englanders.

In July of 1776 Dickinson voted against the Declaration of Independence, hoping that a peaceful solution could yet be found. But when the war officially came, he and Thomas McKean were the first two congressmen to join the fight. Dickinson led his Regiment to Elizabethtown and there assumed the Command of a full brigade.

Later that year, he chaired the Committee to write the Articles of Confederation. In November of 1776 he was again elected to Congress but declined to serve. He retired to his estate near Dover, Delaware. During the Philadelphia Campaign he served as a Private in the Delaware Militia and fought in the Battle of Brandywine.

In 1781 he became President of the Supreme Executive Council of Delaware and upon returning to Philadelphia, held the same office in Pennsylvania. After the War he founded (and funded) the Dickinson College. Following that activity he was elected delegate from Delaware to the Constitution Convention, which he helped write.

During the last 17 years of his life he held no public office but wrote many letters on various issues, strongly advocating friendship between France and the United States. In 1801 he published two volumes of his writings.

For more details on this most interesting Patriot we recommend C. J. Stille's "The Life and Times of John Dickinson"

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