Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
John Dickinson (1732-1808) was a highly successful lawyer and legislator in Philadelphia who became a leading political figure in the state and a conservative opponent of Benjamin Franklin. He was a delegate to the First Continental Congress and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence because he still hoped for reconciliation with the king. Nonetheless, he led the committee that provided the rough draft for the Articles of Confederation and, in 1786, he presided over the Annapolis Convention that sought to resolve interstate problems that arose under the Articles. Dickinson was a delegate from Delaware to the U.S. Constitutional Convention and supported the rights of the small states. He became a vocal proponent of the Constitution.
Before the Revolution, Dickinson was a strong critic of British governmental policy and, in 1765, he wrote a pamphlet protesting the Sugar and Stamp Acts. He served on the Stamp Act Congress and helped draft the petitions to the king, but opposed all violent resistance to the law. After the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767, Dickinson published his famous Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, which appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Posing as an average farmer and addressing his fellow British colonists, he argued that these laws were inconsistent with established English constitutional principles. Still, he continued to press for non-importation agreements instead of violent revolt. He thus became a relatively conservative leader who disagreed with the British but also with the radical ideas and tactics of patriots like Sam Adams.