John Dickinson, Illustration

John Dickinson was a Founding Father and played a key role in the American Revolution and the early days of the republic. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

John Dickinson

November 1732–February 14, 1808

John Dickinson was a Founding Father, known as the "Penman of the Revolution" for his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania. Although he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence, his name was signed to the United States Constitution.

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Biography of John Dickinson

John Dickinson was a Founding Father, but he was also a reluctant revolutionary. He is often referred to as the “Penman of the Revolution,” because of his highly articulate and influential writings. Among his more famous works were a series of letters collectively known as “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” which were published in newspapers throughout the colonies. Although Dickinson was highly critical of British colonial policy in the “Letters” and other works, he was not an advocate of independence and wanted the colonies to their differences with Britain. As a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1775, Dickinson edited the final version of the Olive Branch Petition in an attempt to avoid war with Great Britain. In 1776, he voted against the Declaration of Independence and refused to sign it, going so far as to state that Independence from Great Britain was “treasonous action of the most despicable kind.” Despite his opposition to the Revolution, he did fight briefly with the Continental Army and served his new country loyally after independence was achieved. He served in Congress from 1779 to 1780, where he drafted and signed the Articles of Confederation. In 1786, representing Delaware, he attended and chaired the Annapolis Convention, which led to the Constitutional Convention. In 1787, he represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention, where his name was signed to the United States Constitution. Dickinson died in Wilmington, Delaware on February 14, 1808, and was buried at the Friends Burial Ground.

John Dickinson — Quick Facts

  • Dickinson was born in 1732 at Crosiadore estate, near the village of Trappe in Talbot County, Maryland.
  • He was educated by tutors and studied law in England.
  • In 1757, he started practicing law in Philadelphia and became a prominent lawyer.
  • His political started as a member of the assembly of the Three Lower Counties of Delaware
  • He was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress and helped write the Stamp Act Resolutions.
  • In 1767-68, he wrote a series of newspaper articles in the Pennsylvania Chronicle that came to be known collectively as “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania.”
  • The “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” attacked British tax policies in the colonies, but also emphasized the possibility of a peaceful resolution.
  • He generally opposed many British colonial policies, but he also sought to avoid violence, because he was a Quaker.
  • He was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses where he lobbied for a peaceful resolution with Great Britain.
  • In 1775, he edited the final version of the Olive Branch Petition in an attempt to avoid war with Great Britain.
  • He voted against passage of the Declaration of Independence and refused to sign it, stating that Independence from Great Britain was “treasonous action of the most despicable kind.”
  • Although he opposed war with Great Britain, he did serve briefly in the Continental Army.
  • Following the Revolutionary War, Dickinson served in Congress from 1779 to 1780, where he drafted and signed the Articles of Confederation.
  • In 1786, representing Delaware, he attended and chaired the Annapolis Convention.
  • In 1787, he represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention.
  • Dickinson left the Constitutional Convention early due to illness, so he did not actually sign the Constitution, but he did authorize a fellow delegate to sign for him.
  • He is often referred to as the “Penman of the Revolution” because of his influential writings.
  • Dickinson died in Wilmington, Delaware on February 14, 1808.
  • He is buried at the Friends Burial Ground in Wilmington, Delaware.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title John Dickinson
  • Coverage November 1732–February 14, 1808
  • Author
  • Keywords john dickinson
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 3, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 5, 2022
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