Study Guide

John Dickinson in Articles of Confederation

John Dickinson

The Founding Father You've Never Heard Of

Everybody knows that Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence (You didn't? Now you do.)

John Dickinson authored the first draft of the Articles of Confederation, but unlike Jefferson, he didn't become a household name (unless you're a history teacher). That's probably because Dickinson actually opposed breaking away from Britain in July of 1776.

But he still got invited to the Articles of Confederation party.

While Jefferson and John Hancock were foaming at the bit for freedom, Dickinson abstained from voting on the Declaration of Independence because he thought the colonies wouldn't be able to defeat the powerful British Empire. He thought America should try to make some foreign allies first (later, the French were essential in helping to win the Revolutionary War, sort of proving him right).

His caution made sense at the time; the British were definitely the equivalent of the Galactic Empire in terms of firepower and reach. But sometimes it doesn't pay to play it safe: everyone else voted in favor of the Declaration, leaving Dickinson as the sole abstainer…which must have felt even worse than being that person who shows up at a costume party in a regular button-down. (Source)

From J.D. to Jay-Z

Nevertheless, J.D. was respected by his peers. In the 1760s he published "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania " in protest of the Townshend Acts, a series of taxes on the colonies created by British Parliament.

The letters made him famous, and they were so widely read that Dickinson earned the nickname "penman of the Revolution." (Yeah; it's not quite the coolest moniker of all time.)

Most people who write letters to the editor don't get quite so much publicity. Jefferson even called him "among the first of the advocates for the rights of his country when assailed by Great Britain" (source).

J.D. also was good at changing with the times, a la Jay-Z; when leaders started to take notice that the Articles of Confederation were failing as a government, he chaired the Annapolis Convention to revise them, and later participated in the Constitutional Convention.

In other words, he had his voice heard in just about every major political debate in America before, during, and after the Revolution. He was basically that person who's on the student council every single year of high school.