John Dickinson

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Government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind, and ought to be administered for the attainment of that end.

John Dickinson (November 2, 1732February 14, 1808), a Founding Father of the United States, was a solicitor and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. As a member of the First Continental Congress, where he was a signee to the Continental Association, Dickinson drafted most of the 1774 Petition to the King, and then, as a member of the Second Continental Congress, wrote the 1775 Olive Branch Petition. When these two attempts to negotiate with King George III of Great Britain failed, Dickinson reworked Thomas Jefferson's language and wrote the final draft of the 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. When Congress then decided to seek independence from Great Britain, Dickinson served on the committee that wrote the Model Treaty, and then wrote the first draft of the 1776–1777 Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

Dickinson later served as President of the 1786 Annapolis Convention, which called for the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Dickinson attended the Convention as a delegate from Delaware. He also wrote "The Liberty Song" in 1768, was a militia officer during the American Revolution, President of Delaware, President of Pennsylvania, and was among the wealthiest men in the British American colonies.


  • Our cause is just, Our union is perfect.
    • 1775, Declaration on Taking Up Arms, also quoted on The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, p. 127
  • The join in hand brave Americans all,
    By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.
    • 1768, The Liberty Song, Memoirs of the Historical Soc of Pennsylvania, Vol. XIV, also quoted on The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, p. 127
  • Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all!
    By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.
  • It is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people that no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent, given personally or by their representatives.
    • From the first draft of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances passed October 19, 1765 by The First Congress of the American Colonies, also known as the Stamp Act Congress; as cited in John Dickinson and the Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1764-1776, David Louis Jacobson, University of California Press (1965), p. 32
  • Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness, as you confess those invaded by the Stamp Act to be. We claim them from a higher source—from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives.
    • From An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados (1766), ‘Of the Right to Freedom: and of Traitors’, as contained in A Library of American Literature: Literature of the revolutionary period, 1765-1787, ed. Edmund Clarence Stedman, C. L. Webster (1888), p. 176
  • Let us take care of our rights, and we therein take care of our property. 'Slavery is ever preceded by sleep.'
    • From Letters from a Farmer, in Pennsylvania, to the inhabitants of the British Colonies, Letter XII, Dickinson, Philadelphia
  • Honor, justice and humanity call upon us to hold and to transmit to our posterity, that liberty, which we received from our ancestors. It is not our duty to leave wealth to our children; but it is our duty to leave liberty to them. No infamy, iniquity, or cruelty can exceed our own if we, born and educated in a country of freedom, entitled to its blessings and knowing their value, pusillanimously deserting the post assigned us by Divine Providence, surrender succeeding generations to a condition of wretchedness from which no human efforts, in all probability, will be sufficient to extricate them; the experience of all states mournfully demonstrating to us that when arbitrary power has been established over them, even the wisest and bravest nations that ever flourished have, in a few years, degenerated into abject and wretched vassals.
    • From ‘A Duty to Posterity’, as contained in A Library of American Literature From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Volume 3, ed. Edmund Clarence Stedman, C. L. Webster (1892), pp. 177-178
  • If it was possible for men who exercise their reason, to believe that the divine Author of our existence intended a part of the human race to hold an absolute property in, and an unbounded power over others, marked out by his infinite goodness and wisdom, as the objects of a legal domination never rightfully resistible, however severe and oppressive, the inhabitants of these Colonies might at least require from the Parliament of Great Britain some evidence, that this dreadful authority over them has been granted to that body. But a reverence for our great Creator, principles of humanity, and the dictates of common sense, must convince all those who reflect upon the subject, that Government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind, and ought to be administered for the attainment of that end.
  • We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers or resistance by force. The latter is our choice. We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honour, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.
  • Our cause is just, our union is perfect.
    • Declaration on taking up Arms in 1775. From the original manuscript draft in Dickinson's handwriting, which has given rise to the belief that he, not Jefferson (as formerly claimed), is the real author of this sentence.
  • With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves.
    • From The Declaration upon taking up Arms, before Congress, July 6th, 1775: as cited in A Conspectus of American Biography, Volume 1, ed. George Derby, J. T. White (1906), p. 239

Quotes about Dickinson

  • These excellent Letters,‭ ‬which contain much seasonable instruction,‭ ‬are said to be written by John Dickinson,‭ ‬Esq.‭ ‬the same eminent Author to whom thanks‭ ‬were most deservedly given,‭ ‬by the Committee for the‭ ‬Province of Pennsylvania,‭ ‬on the‭ ‬21ft of July last, “for the great assistance they had derived from the‭ ‬application of his eminent abilities to the service of‭ ‬his country,‭ ‬in”‭ (‬another‭) “‬performance,‭" s‬ince‭ ‬published,‭ ‬intitled,‭ “‬A new Essay‭" (‬by the Pennsylvanian Farmer‭) “‬on the constitutional Power of‭ ‬Great-Britain over the Colonies in America,‭" &c. ‬And the said Committee,‭ ‬with great justice and propriety,‭ ‬recommended that performance,‭ “‬as highly deserving the perusal and serious consideration of‭ ‬every friend of liberty,‭" &c‬.
    • From A Declaration of the People's Natural Right to a Share in the Legislature (1775), by Granville Sharp, p. 159
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