Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI: Three Pennsylvanians: John Dickinson, James Wilson, Benjamin Franklin - The Lamp of Experience
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CHAPTER VI: Three Pennsylvanians: John Dickinson, James Wilson, Benjamin Franklin - Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience 
The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
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Three Pennsylvanians: John Dickinson, James Wilson, Benjamin Franklin
Pennsylvania made important contributions to the intellectual origins of the American Revolution. The first and second Continental Congresses met in Philadelphia; the famed Library Company served as the first Congressional library; and Pennsylvanians made notable additions to the political literature of the Revolutionary era. The writings of Pennsylvania’s chief spokesmen—Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, and James Wilson—made frequent and effective use of history. Dickinson and Wilson were both lawyers and approached history from similar vantage points; Franklin, if less deliberate in his investigation of history, was no less enthusiastic about its study or political value.
Once hailed as “the penman of the American Revolution,”1 John Dickinson earned this rare praise by drafting the resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and writing his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania in 1767 and 1768. Always deeply affected by “the Charms of liberty,” he believed the American cause “of too much dignity, to be sullied by turbulence and tumult.” Patriots, he urged, “should breathe a sedate yet fervent spirit, animating them to actions of prudence, justice, modesty, bravery, humanity, and magnanimity.”2 Dickinson was undoubtedly a reluctant Revolutionary, a politician afflicted with the ability to see both sides of a question. He was, as a recent writer expressed it, “too careful, too refining in thought to see an issue in black and white.”3 Dickinson himself wrote in 1767: “We cannot act with too much caution in our disputes. Anger produces anger; and differences that might be accommodated by kind and respectful behaviour, may, by imprudence, be enlarged to an incurable rage.”4 His reputation as a patriot suffered from his apparent efforts to avoid separation from England at a time when many of his associates pressed for complete independence. But despite all such pleas for prudence Dickinson was firmly committed to contend for the liberty delivered down to him by his ancestors.5 His caution has been mistaken for fear, his conservatism in political method for conservatism in political belief.
Dickinson’s absorption with history and the type of history he favored illuminate the emergence of a patriot whose resolution consistently conquered his instinct for caution. Born to great wealth and raised an aristocrat, Dickinson studied for a legal career, entering John Moland’s law office at eighteen and transferring to the Middle Temple in London at twenty-one. In England he studied antiquity at first hand, reporting back to his father on wonderful walks along the same paths “frequented by the Antient Sages of the Law.” With awe and reverence he contemplated the likelihood that he was studying “in the Chambers where Coke or Plowden had meditated.” His awe was not for the more visible signs of the English past, but for the magnificence of the historical associations. Musingly he let himself drift back to the time when “a Hampden, and a Holt opposed encroaching Power, and supported declining Justice.”6
In these happy circumstances, close to history and to London’s bookstores, Dickinson developed his taste for books. “I am wholly taken up with reading,” he reported to his father; and even discounting the inevitable exaggerations of youth, Dickinson seems to have acquired steady reading habits. He boasted of his library and his scholarly accomplishments. “I have acquired,” he told readers of his Letters from a Farmer, “a greater knowledge in history, and the laws and constitution of my country, than is generally attained by men of my class.”7 Even without a catalogue of his library, one can easily determine the sources he drew upon for such historical, legal, and constitutional learning. Sales slips reveal when he bought Blackstone’s Law Tracts and Commentaries. His commonplace books confirm his interest in Bolingbroke and Tacitus. His enthusiasm for reading led to the purchase in 1762 of a share in Franklin’s Library Company. As early as 1756, he was citing Rapin’s History of England in a letter to his mother, and on the eve of the Revolution he became involved in a lively exchange with the English publisher Edward Dilly over Burgh’s Political Disquisitions.8 The intellectual background which Dickinson thus provided for himself affected his political conduct.
Dickinson made his political debut, not in a defense of colonial rights, but on an intracolonial issue involving the Penn family proprietorship. Franklin and Galloway had joined forces to agitate for the overthrow of the privileged Penns and the establishment of a crown-colony status for Pennsylvania. Dickinson opposed the proposed change, and so exposed himself to violent criticism for his apparent conservatism.
Dickinson did not think the proprietary arrangement was without fault. But at least the evils of proprietary government were known evils, and these he preferred to the alternative offered—a closer attachment to the British Crown that might bring unpredictable evils. He feared the anti-Penn faction would only change things for the worse. Drawing upon his recent reading, he recalled previous examples of unwise political haste. He pointed to Robert Molesworth’s Account of Denmark, which described how “the commons of Denmark, smarting under the tyranny of their nobility, in a fit of vengeful fury suddenly surrendered their liberties to their king; and ever since … have detested the mad moment which slipt upon them the shackles of slavery.” He cited Rapin’s History of England on the precipitate uprising of the Duke of Monmouth against James II, which when compared with the gloriously successful revolution led by William of Orange, proved the wisdom of “a wise delay.”9 Dickinson was already alert to the question of political timing. History had made him acutely aware of earlier ill-timed efforts at change. He understood the need for as complete preparation for political action as possible.
Just as Dickinson sided with the Penns in 1764 rather than risk the hazards of Pennsylvania’s becoming a crown colony, so too did he oppose English legislation in 1765 which would have had equivalent consequences. The Stamp Act seemed to confirm the wisdom of his cautious historical reflections over the proprietary question, and it set the stage for a much more extensive use of the past. Dickinson based his arguments on a total acceptance of God-given natural rights as substantiated in the English constitution.10 With history as his support, he devoted himself to “the Principles of English Liberties,” which, with their legal and representative provisions, comprised “the Birthright of Englishmen, and the Safeguard of their Persons and Properties.”11 The colonists, Dickinson stressed, were Englishmen entitled to the privilege of taxing themselves. Consequently, the mother country had no legal or constitutional right to levy stamp duties on the American colonies.
This was a strong position. Dickinson’s formulation of the constitutional inheritance of all Englishmen led him to insist that Englishmen carried with them a legal right to self-government wherever they might go, a claim from which he never retreated. The only British legislation to be obeyed was that which Englishmen in America chose to accept. The only connection between the American colonies and the mother country was that of family “affection.” He likened the colonists to dutiful children of a beloved but sometimes errant mother country; if they should be punished without cause, Americans would rightfully resent it and might well be tempted to sever the fragile ties of ancestral friendship. After all, children had a habit of growing up and maturing. As Cato’s Letters had urged, the mother country had best remember that only “by using them well” could England avoid the complete independence of her colonies.12 “There can be no friendship between freemen and slaves,” warned Dickinson.13
Dickinson was not threatening England with American independence, but he made it clear that total separation was to be considered if Parliament should persist in ignoring the English privileges of the colonists. Dickinson was a proud member of the world’s greatest empire and said so: “Every drop of blood in my heart is British.”14 He wanted no change in his imperial situation; nor did he want any change in his constitutional condition. He conceived of the British empire as essentially an autonomous association of self-governing provinces linked to the mother country by a common allegiance to the King. He agreed that the colonies had historically accepted Parliamentary legislation directed toward strengthening the empire—he saw most aspects of the navigation system in this light. But Dickinson’s basic constitutional principle was the right to be taxed only by one’s own representatives. This was the most fundamental of the historical privileges of all Englishmen, and it seemed to Dickinson that the liberal whigs in the mother country should know enough of their own past to appreciate this fact.
Unhappily Parliament did not seem to subscribe to the same constitutional history as Dickinson. The Stamp Act was abandoned solely for reasons of expediency and replaced by the Townshend Acts of 1767. The colonists no longer faced a direct internal tax, but the new import duties were for revenue purposes and the result was still taxation. His Letters from a Farmer offered little new in political argument, but they presented a much more explicit discussion of the historical origins of colonial rights. The popularity of Dickinson’s Letters was immediate. Nearly every colonial newspaper ran them, and seven different editions were issued in book form by 1769.15
He began his Letters on a note of historical symbolism, dating the first of the Letters November 5, 1767, and taking pains to point out twice that this was the anniversary of the day when William III landed at Torbay to rescue England’s constitutional liberties in 1688. He then briefly reviewed British tyranny in America. There was, Dickinson charged, evidence of a consistent Parliamentary program aimed at undermining the constitutional liberties of Englishmen in America. Parliament was practicing a dubious double standard by denying to the American legislatures the rights for which Parliament had fought throughout its history. The Townshend Acts themselves were dismissed: while there was a record of and justification for colonial agreement to trade regulations for the good of all in the imperial family, colonial benevolence would not and could not stretch to the acceptance of duties which were thinly disguised taxes. The Townshend duties were as unconstitutional as the recently repealed Stamp Act. Here then was yet another British encroachment on colonial rights, another “innovation; and a most dangerous innovation” to be strenuously resisted.16
But the bulk of the Letters was devoted to an account of the vicissitudes of English liberties in England and the lessons to be learned from such trials and tribulations. He looked again at the antiquity of English liberties and the fundamentals of the English constitution. He traced the earlier efforts of Parliament to maintain representative government in England, and he praised the English insistence on retaining control of the purse strings. By denying supplies to the Crown, they had ensured the execution of the laws. English history, he said, was substantially one of popular exertion of constitutional authority against kings and ministers who sought to govern despotically. Without their power of the purse, Dickinson concluded, the House of Commons might well have failed to resist royal encroachments upon the people’s rights. The House of Commons was to be commended for making “their continual claim of their ancient freedom and birthright.”17 Colonial assemblies should emulate this ancient example.
The English had not been completely successful in their efforts to maintain their liberties. They were afflicted with a standing army, for example, and New York had recently felt the lash of an angry Parliament for failing to vote adequate supplies to a potential vehicle for her own oppression. Here was an example of the smallest beginning bringing “the most extensive consequences.” Citing Rapin as his authority, Dickinson related how Henry VII had introduced standing armies into England, beginning with a band of only fifty archers. But by 1684, when Charles II—“in order to make his people fully sensible of their new slavery”— mustered his troops, they totaled some four thousand well-armed men. It was highly dangerous to allow any accumulation of encroachments on constitutional rights because the result was either a significant loss of liberty or a bloody upheaval like that in England in the 1640s. Charles I had a head filled “with mistaken notions of his own authority,” but his dismal fate was partly brought on by the sheer weight of unremedied popular grievances. The English people concluded that “it would be as dangerous for them to allow the powers which were legally vested in the crown, as those which at any time had been by usurpation exercised by it.” Dickinson conceded that this was “putting the gentlest construction on Charles’s conduct,” but his history showed that “the rights of the subject therefore cannot be too often considered, explained, or asserted.” England should recall from her own happier past that “a people does not reform with moderation.”18
Dickinson was fascinated by the fate of Charles I, but he was no less intrigued by events following his execution. Like Algernon Sidney and Catherine Macaulay, Dickinson deplored the role of Oliver Cromwell, a usurper who based his tyranny on a standing army. The English people then made the astonishing error of inviting the Stuarts back; indeed, observed Dickinson (quoting from Rapin), the people even allowed Charles II to muster a new army. Thus had the English “delivered up these very rights and privileges to Charles the Second, which they had so passionately, and if I may say it, furiously defended against the designs of Charles the First,” just “thirty-six years after this last prince had been beheaded.”19 James II was no improvement either: he was a skillful dissembler, who “when he meant to establish popery, talked of liberty of conscience … and … thereby almost deceived the Dissenters into destruction.” And now, in the eighteenth century, there was “a LUST OF POWER in men of abilities and influence,” a growth of royal influence supported by increasing opportunities for political patronage which American taxes would only augment.20 George III and his ministers seemed as anxious to tax Englishmen in America without their consent as any of the tyrannical Stuarts had wished to tax Englishmen in England a century earlier.
For all the vigor with which Dickinson attacked contemporary English politics and government, he was for the present content to remind England of her heritage of liberty and of past efforts for its maintenance. He repeated his call for vigilance and recalled examples of the difficulty of restoring a former freedom once “any ancient law or custom” was broken. It was a comfort to remember that “our wise ancestors were so watchful of their liberty, and so successful in their struggles for it.” There was room to hope that England would retain her title to freedom. “The constitutional modes of obtaining relief, are those which I wish to see pursued on the present occasion” concluded Dickinson. Complaint about the Stamp Act had brought a measure of response, and England might still return to “her ‘old good humour, and her old good nature,’ as Lord Clarendon expresses it.” He knew that liberty was generally lost by “the decay of virtue,” that “ ‘SLAVERY IS EVER PRECEDED BY SLEEP,’ ” but he liked to think that both virtue and vigilance could still be maintained in England and America. The immediate future would decide “what reliance is to be placed in the temper of a people, when the prince is possessed of an unconstitutional power.”21 Meanwhile Dickinson had stated his political position for all to see.
Dickinson’s use of history in the 1760s was hardly unique; had it been so, he might not have been so effective a spokesman for colonial rights. He was firmly committed to “the Birthright of Englishmen,”22 and could agree completely with John Adams that American patriots “desire nothing new; they wish only to keep their old privileges.”23 “In FREEDOM we’re BORN, and in FREEDOM we’ll LIVE,” ran the lyrics to the “song for American freedom” Dickinson sent James Otis in the summer of 1768.24
The critical years that followed saw no diminution in Dickinson’s determination or patriotism; they did see increasing doubt over the recovery of political virtue in the mother country. Continued oppression led Dickinson to conclude that he may well have placed too much reliance upon the temper of the English people, and his correspondence with London publisher Edward Dilly in 1774 helped confirm this view. Dilly wrote at some length about the contemporary decadence of English political life, relating the “Bribery and Corruption … [which] engenders Swarms of Placemen and Pensioners … [who] like Leeches suck the very vitals of the Constitution.” To Dickinson these conditions sounded altogether too familiar. As a young law student he had seen at first hand the degrading spectacle of English Parliamentary elections: “Bribery is so common,” he had written his father, “that it is thot there is not a Borough in England where it is not practis’d.” This he had then considered “one of the greatest Proofs perhaps of the Corruption of the Age,” and now Edward Dilly confirmed the continued decline of England’s political virtue.25 Accompanying Dilly’s letters was James Burgh’s Political Disquisitions, which conveyed the melancholy conclusion that Dickinson’s generation was witness to “the subversion of the [English] constitution, and the ruin of the state.”26 Favorably impressed by Burgh’s arguments, Dickinson promptly subscribed to Robert Bell’s Philadelphia edition of the Disquisitions. While reading the edition which Dilly had sent, he formulated an additional argument for resistance to British tyranny: “We should be guilty of treason against our sovereign and the majesty of the people of England, if we did not oppose [it].” England’s situation seemed so unfavorable to liberty that only Englishmen in America were likely to preserve the ancient rights secured from King John in the thirteenth and from the Stuarts in the seventeenth century. “England,” Dickinson now insisted, “must be saved in America.” Eventually “she will rejoice that we have resisted—and thank us for having offended her.”27
Although Dickinson had been very hopeful in the 1760s that the Anglo-American connection would survive and flourish, by the 1770s his doubts and reservations had multiplied. There was an increasing contrast between the English liberties to which he laid claim and actual English political practice. If Americans failed to resist, they might well be degraded to a status which the English people would have reached “had James the first and his family succeeded in their scheme of arbitrary power.” Dickinson decided that if only one would substitute Parliament for the Stuarts, and Americans for the Britons, the arguments used in the seventeenth-century contests would “apply with inexpressible force and appositeness in maintenance of our cause, and in refutation of the pretensions set up by their too forgetful posterity, over their unhappy colonists.”28 Dickinson, however, was not forgetful. “We are,” he had declared firmly in 1773, “British Subjects, who are born to Liberty, who know its Worth, and who prize it high.”29
Dickinson demonstrated just how highly he prized his British liberty. As penman for the First Continental Congress in the fall of 1774 he phrased a petition to George III, appealing for “peace, liberty, and safety.” He reminded the King of the colonists’ historical correctness: “We wish not a diminution of the prerogative, nor do we solicit the grant of any new right in our favor.” But he was already entertaining grave doubts about the outcome of such petitions. England seemed too advanced in perfidy. Peace, he told Arthur Lee, “will come more grateful by being unexpected.” It was hard to realize that supposedly intelligent Englishmen would “seriously think of sheathing their swords in bosoms so affectionate to them,” or that England would be so rash as to embrace a war which would “involve her in immediate ruin.” He wondered, in fact, whether there was not a design being prosecuted by the ministry of Lord North “to make his Majesty dethrone himself by the calamities and convulsions his reign is likely to bring on his whole people.” Even Samuel Adams was agreeing with Dickinson in 1774: after a pleasant September afternoon in Dickinson’s company, Adams awarded him the highest accolade—Dickinson, he told Joseph Warren, was “a true Bostonian.”30
During the next eighteen months Dickinson apparently lost his appeal in New England. The Coercive Acts remained on the statute books, and in April and June of 1775 came the bloody fighting at Lexington, Concord, and Breed’s Hill. Where there had once been a multitude of well-publicized appeals to the King to rid himself of evil ministers and repudiate the acts of a corrupt Parliament, there was now room only for a few last doubtful petitions for harmony and reconciliation. In New England these were rendered obsolete by the recent bloodshed, and John Dickinson was tempted to agree. “What topics of reconciliation are now left for men who think as I do?” he asked dispiritedly. “Will the distinctions between the prince and his ministers wipe out the stain of blood?”31
Even so, Dickinson drafted the famous Olive Branch Petition early in July 1775, asking for an end to further bloodshed and urging royal action toward a reconciliation. Dickinson knew that the King would probably reject his Olive Branch; he had offered no concessions to the Crown and demanded “that such statutes as more immediately distress any of your Majesty’s colonies may be repealed.” But he hoped to strengthen American claims to moderation and to calm those who feared that Congress was moving with rash haste. In effect the Olive Branch gave the King one last opportunity to redress American grievances—actually his first since the debacle at Concord—and it gave an air of injured innocence to the Continental Congress, which sponsored it. As Dickinson told Arthur Lee, “our rights have been already stated, our claims made.” Here was Britain’s chance to stem the flow of British blood. If Britain ignored the petition, then “the more such treatment will confirm the minds of our countrymen to endure all the misfortunes that may attend the contest.”32
Dickinson was much more bellicose in his “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms,” adopted only a day after the petition to the King. Here Dickinson castigated the blindness and passion for power of Parliament and discussed the menace from “ministerial rapacity” and the “tyranny of irritated ministers.” He recalled the freedom inherited “from our gallant Ancestors” and the present generation’s obligation to preserve its posterity from the wretched bondage threatened by the mother country. He concluded with the magnificent short statements of colonial condition and intent: “Our Cause is just. Our Union is perfect. Our preparations nearly completed. Our internal Resources are great; and our Assurance of Foreign Aid is certain.” Death rather than slavery was now his determination.33 There was little question of Dickinson’s real expectation. Speaking to the New Jersey Assembly in December 1775, he warned that “neither Mercy nor Justice was to be expected from Britain.”34
Unfortunately there were as yet no perfected American union, no nearly completed preparations for war, and no foreign alliance. These were more than aspirations; in Dickinson’s eyes they were the prerequisites to independence. When Richard Henry Lee offered his formal call in June 1776 for an end to the Anglo-American connection, Dickinson felt obliged to voice his opposition. He “saw the impossibility that we should ever again be united with Great Britain,” but he felt a formal announcement too premature. As John Adams himself noted, Dickinson was not opposed to independence, but to “it’s being now declared.” Dickinson pleaded earnestly for prudence in timing such a decision; he wanted firmer colonial union, stronger military preparations, and he did not want to be thrown upon the diplomatic mercy of the colonists’ ancient enemies, the French. By his final abstention in the vote taken on July 2 he contributed to a form of unanimity. He neither compromised his own convictions nor did he obstruct the majority will.35
Dickinson later attempted a vindication of his position. His attachment to the history of the rights of Englishmen in America made him a Revolutionary; but history led him to hesitate over the best way to secure those rights. He had, he related, searched into the past, but could not find in history any instance “of a people, without a battle fought or an ally gained, abrogating forever their connection with a great, rich, warlike, commercial empire, whose wealth or connections had always procured allies when wanted, and bringing the matter to a prosperous conclusion.”36
Dickinson never doubted the justness or the constitutionality of the American claim to autonomy. The failure of King and Parliament to accept his interpretation of English and colonial history forced Dickinson into a position he did not seek. His hopes for England’s recovery of her ancient virtue, for a realization of the historical justice of the colonial case, did not materialize. Perhaps he suspected this would be so. Twenty years before independence Dickinson had discussed the normal course of tyranny: “When Concessions are made to Princes, tis as ridiculous to think of stopping, as for a Master of a Ship to guess at the Depth of Water in an Ebb Tide. … But there is no Flood in Power … there is no means in Nature for altering its Course but Violence: I think a moderate Acquaintance with the English History will teach one this Truth.”37
The man who knows history, James Wilson observed in 1768, “already knows mankind in theory, and, for this reason, will be in less danger of being deceived by them in practice.”38 A Presbyterian immigrant from Scotland, Wilson came to America an educated man. He had studied at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh before settling in Pennsylvania in the midst of the Stamp Act crisis. His approach to history was that of a careful lawyer; his approach to colonial politics that of a careful historian. He was always prepared to demonstrate that his political objectives were pre-established, legal, and historically sound.
Wilson studied his law in John Dickinson’s Philadelphia office before beginning his own practice in Reading in 1767. He began with Coke’s Institutes and Blackstone’s Commentaries and became familiar with such favorite authors as Rapin, Burgh, and Sidney. He enjoyed the writings of Bolingbroke, Nathaniel Bacon, Francis Sullivan, and Lord Kames.39 Good lawyers, Wilson concluded, “must pry into the secret recesses of the human heart, and become well acquainted with the whole moral world, that they may discover the abstract reason of all laws: and they must trace the laws of particular states, especially of their own, from the first rough sketches to the more perfect draughts; from the first causes or occasions that produced them, through all the effects, good and bad, that they produced.”40
Within a year of his move to Reading, Wilson began a careful study of colonial arguments against the British Parliament. Although completed in 1768, his Considerations on the … Legislative Authority of the British Parliament was not published until 1774, when it attracted attention and respect almost comparable to that accorded Adams’s Novanglus and Jefferson’s Summary View. Indeed, Wilson’s opening statements that “all men are, by nature, equal and free” and that “the happiness of the society is the first law of every government,”41 show philosophical assumptions common to Wilson and Jefferson. And like Jefferson, Wilson devoted much of his considerable energies to a discussion of the legal and historical rights of Englishmen in the American colonies.
“The Colonists are entitled to all the privileges of Britons,” ran one typical claim. “We have committed no crimes to forfeit [these privileges]. … We will leave our posterity as free as our ancestors left us.” Fundamental to the British constitution was the right to representative government: Englishmen brought this historical right with them to America; an ocean voyage did not transform freemen into slaves. The right was of extreme antiquity and related directly to “one of the most ancient maxims of the English law,” namely “that no freeman can be taxed at pleasure.”42 The American colonies were not conquered provinces; they were settled at private expense under royal charters.
Wilson then turned to an examination of Calvin’s Case, as presented by Sir Edward Coke. In 1607 this test case had decided whether a Scot born after James I ascended the English throne was entitled to the rights of English citizenship. The majority of the court held that the subject’s allegiance was due solely to the natural person of the King; thus allegiance was personal, not national, and did not require obedience to the laws of any of the King’s dominions other than that in which the subject was resident.43 The subjects of each dominion independently enjoyed their own laws and natural rights. The Irish, too, since they had their own legislature, were connected to England only through the person of the King.44 This was essentially the connection Wilson had in mind for the American colonies.
As Wilson saw it, the chief difficulty confronting imperial relations was the unconstitutional presumption of Parliament, and he feared that Parliamentary misbehavior was the product of recent English history. Since an election was the occasion for popular expression of opinion, the more frequent the election the more real the representative process. History showed that “frequent new parliaments are a part of the British constitution: by them only, the king can know the immediate sense of the nation.” It followed that infrequent elections led to a perversion of the British constitution. For example, there was the Long Parliament called by Charles I in 1640. Initially that body proceeded “with vigor and a true patriotic spirit, to rescue the kingdom from the oppression under which it then groaned.” In its first flush of recently elected fervor, the Long Parliament worked zealously “to retrieve the liberties of the people” and correct “the tyrannical exercise of prerogative” by the King. But when the King unwisely allowed them to decide their own tenure, Parliament’s conduct changed disastrously. Once independent of their electors, the Long Parliament sacrificed both the people and the throne to its love of power. “What an instructive example is this!” Wilson exclaimed. Here was proof of what happened when parliaments forgot their constitutional obligations and lost touch with the true source of political authority, the people. Here was an illustration of the dangers derived from a governing body in which the governed (such as the colonies in 1768) lacked an effective voice. Obviously “Kings are not the only tyrants,” concluded Wilson. Indeed, the Long Parliament demonstrated that kings are not even the severest tyrants.45
But this was only one “instructive example” from English history. Wilson continued his historical review and turned to the reign of Charles II. With the Restoration, he noted, great care was taken to curb Parliament’s propensity to self-aggrandizement. But Parliament now sat at the King’s pleasure, and its members again lost contact with the voters after election. A new version of the Long Parliament emerged, a Parliament utterly subservient to royal whim, a Parliament disposed “to surrender those liberties, for which their ancestors had planned and fought, and bled.” Here was another ominous illustration of what infrequent elections wrought. “Secure in their seats, while they gratified the crown, the members bartered the liberties of the nation for places and pensions.” Not until the Glorious Revolution and the arrival of William and Mary did the situation improve. In 1694 came the Triennial Act, which according to Wilson, was decidedly a step in the right constitutional direction. Unfortunately this measure was replaced in 1716 by the Septennial Act, and so a form of Long Parliament returned. Thus Americans were no more than reasonable in their suspicions of Parliamentary behavior. “Long parliaments,” Wilson repeated, “will naturally forget their dependence on the people: when this dependence is forgotten, they will become corrupt.” And corruption threatened England’s ancient constitution and liberty.46
Wilson professed unstinted admiration for the English constitution and “the glorious fabric of Britain’s liberty.”47 England’s was a magnificent achievement and would continue to be, so long as Parliament did not dominate the Crown nor the Crown dictate to Parliament. His confidence in England’s constitutional future would naturally be increased if Parliament were more frequently in communication with the people to whom it was responsible. But in any case Americans did not elect representatives to Parliament. They had their own assemblies, which did not dictate to Westminster; and there was no constitutional reason for the Parliament at Westminster to give orders to the American legislatures.
Wilson’s emphasis in 1768 was different from Dickinson’s in the Letters from a Farmer. Both agreed on the nature of the several colonies as realms in the empire of dominions; and both insisted that they were self-governing realms with charters (compacts) and allegiance to the King only. But Dickinson had conceded some imperial direction in matters of trade and allowed a regulatory role to Parliament in trade matters which Wilson would deny. Wilson questioned the need for trade regulations in the first place, but in the second assigned this task to the Crown. “If the history of the British constitution, relating to this subject, be carefully traced,” he wrote, “we shall discover, that a prerogative in the crown, to regulate trade, is perfectly consistent with the principles of law,” provided, of course, that such power be exerted for the public good.48 The public good remained Wilson’s objective. It could not be achieved by any acknowledgment of the superiority of Great Britain over the colonies. His principal message was unequivocal: the “Commons of Great Britain have no dominion over their equals and fellow subjects in America.”49
When Wilson next made a major address on Anglo-American relations, he was speaking to the Pennsylvania provincial convention of January 1775, called to approve the work of the First Continental Congress. With John Dickinson in his audience, he returned to the historical correctness of the colonial case. Colonial opposition to British encroachments, he said, “stands confessed the lovely offspring of freedom. It breathes the spirit of its parent.” Colonial resistance, he continued, was inspired by the same spirit of the British constitution which governed “the convention of the barons at Runnymeade, where the tyranny of John was checked, and magna charta was signed.” The spirit which guided the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was now at work in America. Neither Wilson nor the Continental Congress wanted revolution. But they would resist invasions of their established rights. “We know,” he declared, “that we have not violated the laws or the constitution.” It was the right of British subjects to resist tyranny: “This right is founded both upon the letter and the spirit of the British constitution.”50
He reminded his audience that despite the vicissitudes of that constitution, despite its frequent breach, “it has been often renewed: it has been often confirmed: it still subsists in its full force,” and as the sagacious Bolingbroke had noted, “ ‘it binds the king as much as the meanest subject.’ ” Just as the Parliament seemed determined to exceed its constitutional role in the 1760s, now the King himself appeared equally disposed to support Parliament’s pretensions in America. If the King and Parliament continued to behave in an unconstitutional fashion, then Americans were constitutionally correct in their opposition to violations of their rights. Wilson concluded by calling again upon Bolingbroke (although this time he failed to cite his source): “The British liberties, sir, and the means and the right of defending them, are not the grants of princes; and of what our princes never granted they surely can never deprive us.”51
Wilson ended his speech on a softer note. He now made a distinction between royal tyranny and an abuse of royal prerogative. Americans, he contended, were completely loyal to the King. Evil ministers were hiding behind the throne, ministers who “have abused his majesty’s confidence, brought discredit upon his government, and derogated from his justice.” To be sure, history showed many instances of the king forgetting his constitutional character and conspiring with iniquitous ministers. And George III might do well to recall such “examples in the English history.” In the present situation “the distinction between him and his ministers has been lost: but they have not been raised to his situation: he has sunk to theirs.” The King should know that “liberty is, by the constitution, of equal antiquity, and of equal authority with [royal] prerogative.”52
Within a year, Wilson had been elevated to the Second Continental Congress, where he and his colleagues decided they were ready to fight the just fight for “the virtuous Principles of our Ancestors.” In “an address to the inhabitants of the United Colonies” drafted in February 1776, five months before the Declaration of Independence, Wilson argued that “history, we believe, cannot furnish an Example of Trust, higher and more important than that which we have received from your hands. … The Calamities which threaten us would be attended with the total Loss of those Constitutions, formed upon the venerable Model of British Liberty, which have long been our Pride and Felicity. To avert those Calamities we are under the disagreeable Necessity of making temporary Deviations from those Constitutions.” George III “should be the Ruler of a free People,” and not “be degraded into a Tyrant over Slaves.” Denying that independence was their goal, Wilson and his fellow congressmen declared “that what we aim at, and what we are entrusting [the people] to pursue, is the Defence and Re-establishment of the constitutional rights of the Colonies.”53
But the fight to preserve “the constitutional rights of the Colonies” within the empire failed. Even before Wilson’s address was drafted, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pressed for a more radical solution, and Wilson’s address was tabled by Congress. When the vote on the Declaration of Independence came on July 2, Wilson, after painful and reluctant reconsideration, voted for the resolution declaring “the United Colonies FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES.”
Having accepted independence, Wilson later sought to elucidate through his law lectures of 1790 the peculiar national characteristics of law in America. In his efforts to enhance the dignity of legal studies he emphasized law as a historical science and suggested its superiority to speculative philosophy. Wilson was not concerned with imaginary laws for imaginary commonwealths; he was interested in man, the record of his government and his significance for the independent United States.54
From his first lecture—attended by President George Washington and the chief officers of the new Federal Government—Wilson acknowledged the American debt to Anglo-Saxon ancestors. The characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race was “respect for law, tenacity for liberty.” In the lectures that followed, he discussed the original Germanic forefathers of modern Englishmen (and Americans). He turned to Tacitus—among Rome’s wisest men—for information on this “free people” who made their own laws. There had been, claimed Wilson, some changes when the ancient Germanic tribes settled in England: “instead of continuing to be hunters, they became husbandmen [and] … acquired a permanent and exclusive degree of property in land.” In England the Saxons were born free from arbitrary power and were governed by laws “made with their voluntary consent.” Citing Nathaniel Bacon’s Discourse of the Uniformity of the Government of England, Wilson described the chief features of Saxon government. All freemen voted for the Saxon witenagemot, and their monarch’s power rested firmly upon the judgment of the freemen.55 Alfred he singled out as “immortal,” an illustration of the view of the legal scholar John Selden that the Saxon King was “ ‘the choicest of the chosen.’ “56
The Saxon system was a historical illustration of Wilson’s belief in the people as the source of political authority. Wilson could hardly muster much enthusiasm for the Normans. They overthrew the Saxon allodial land tenure and introduced feudalism. William the Conqueror was “averse to the Saxon law of liberty,” which he artfully and successfully undermined gradually. Wilson agreed with those whig historians who believed the Saxon system too fine to be destroyed in a fair fight. Post-Conquest English history saw frequent efforts to restore the Saxon polity. Wilson accepted Coke’s judgment on the role of Magna Charta as merely “declaratory of the principal grounds of the fundamental laws of England,” and he praised subsequent English efforts to reclaim their pre-Norman common law.57
Wilson was interested in English common law because it was transferred to the American colonies. “The common law, as now received in America,” Wilson pointed out, “bears in its principles, and in many of its more minute particulars, a stronger and a fairer resemblance to the common law as it was improved under the Saxons than to that law as it was disfigured under the Norman government. He studied the governmental operations of his Saxon ancestors because Americans in their wisdom had restored ancient Saxon customs to modern constitutional practice. Wilson remarked, “how congenial … the principles of the constitution of Pennsylvania are to those adopted by the government of the Saxons.” After all, the Saxon freemen had a voice in lawmaking; and “the freemen of Pennsylvania, as we now see, enjoy the rights of electors.” And, added Wilson, “this is far from the only instance in which we shall have the pleasure of finding the old Saxon maxims of government renewed in the American constitutions.”58
Americans in their wisdom had realized that “great innovations should not be made: a wise and well tempered system must owe much to experience.” Thus the ancient Saxons had held regular and fixed sessions of their witenagemot, a practice which had been wrecked by the Normans. And now the Congress of the United States had a regular schedule of sessions which could not be disrupted at the pleasure of the executive, as was the case in England.59
Wilson was particularly interested in the new federal executive. The ancient Saxons had definitely elected their monarchs, no matter what William Blackstone said to the contrary. The American presidency, Wilson went on, was “a renewal, in this particular, of the ancient English constitution.” And a sidelight to this renewal was the power not given the presidency. The executive was denied the authority to declare war; instead this decision was assigned to the Congress. To Wilson this was evidence of American good sense in following an ancestral example. The power of making peace and war in Saxon England “was invariably possessed by the witenagemote,” and “on this very interesting power, the constitution of the United States renews the principle of government known in England before the conquest.” In Wilson’s view this was logical since the Saxons and their American descendants had much in common. “We have found, and we shall find, that our national government is recommended by the antiquity, as well as by the excellence, of some of its leading principles.”60 Wilson believed an essential virtue of the new United States lay in its acceptance of Saxon antecedents. “Let us ransack the Records of History,” was a typically Wilsonian remark.61 It was advice he himself followed.
When Benjamin Franklin wrote his will in 1788 he began: “I, Benjamin Franklin, printer.”62 This was his trade, his vehicle to success, his opportunity for self-education. He influenced the reading of others by his selective publishing and his role in founding and guiding the acquisitions of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Far from a systematic scholar, Franklin was no equal of John Adams or Thomas Jefferson as an omnivorous student of history. But he printed, collected, read, and admired history. “As nothing teaches,” Franklin quoted from Locke, “so nothing delights more than HISTORY.” History was the repository of “almost all Kinds of useful Knowledge.”63 When agitating for an academy in Philadelphia he recommended that Pennsylvania’s youth read such “classicks” as Cato’s Letters, Addison, Sidney, and “the best modern Histories, particularly of our Mother Country.”64
His Library was particularly well stocked with such modern histories. During his 1757–62 sojourn in London he made good use of his book-buying opportunities, purchasing volumes by James Tyrrell, Verstegan, Mascou, Sidney, and James Ralph. The purchase of the Ralph book, Of the Use and Abuse of Parliaments, was partly a sentimental gesture. Franklin and Ralph had sailed to England together in 1724, and Ralph stayed on to make an unsteady living as a political hack.65 But Ralph’s two-volume study agreed with many of Franklin’s own historical ideas. Ralph had accepted the whole fabric of whig history, starting with the original Saxon transplant of representative government and concluding with a savage indictment of the English constitutional condition of the 1740s. “It is manifest,” read Franklin, “that the Constitution is everywhere undermin’d; at the first Sound of the Trumpet, like the walls of Jericho, it will sink at once, into a Heap of Ruins.” Ralph’s recent observations of the English scene were also discouraging: “So great is the Influence of the Crown become, so servile the Spirit of our Grandees, and so deprav’d the Hearts of the People, that Hope itself begins to Sicken.” The English Parliaments, even before the American revenue legislation of the 1760s, had found “that the grand Secret of G[overnmen]t is to fleece with one Hand, and corrupt with the other.”66
After reading books such as Ralph’s, Franklin could feel at ease in the company of James Burgh and Catherine Macaulay. Like Benjamin Rush, Franklin used his visits to England as opportunities to extend his circle of literary acquaintance. He admired Mrs. Macaulay’s History and her personal society; he took pleasure in publishing Burgh’s angry Britain’s Remembrancer and in helping Burgh write the second volume of the Political Disquisitions; he enjoyed Lord Kames’s British Antiquities and his Scottish hospitality.67 Franklin knew his way in the scholar’s world. He was familiar with Molesworth’s edition of Franco-Gallia, Bishop Burnet’s History of His Own Time, Bolingbroke’s works, and the writings of Buchanan, Trenchard, and Cartwright; his second copy of Sidney’s Discourses came as a gift from Thomas Hollis.68 Franklin’s idea of “that rara Avis, a true History,” was the work of a Rapin, a Robertson, or a Macaulay.69 One of the treasured eighteenth-century colonial imprints was the edition of Henry Care’s English Liberties issued in Boston by James and Benjamin Franklin.70 These were volumes which helped crowd the shelves of his impressively large library room. When in 1787 Manasseh Cutler gazed upon Franklin’s four thousand volumes, he could be pardoned for presuming that they constituted “the largest, and by far the best, private library in America.”71
Franklin’s reading in history illuminated for him in a special way the colonies’ relation with England. Well aware of the German origin of the English Saxons, he used this as a point of departure for his satirical “Edict By the King of Prussia.” Referring to the “first German settlements made in the Island of Britain” by Hengist and Horsa, he suggested that by the logic of England’s claim to rule America, Prussia could claim to rule England. Surely, argued Franklin, England should pay tribute and taxes to the Prussian monarch. Surely Prussia had the right, as the source of original migration to England, to dispatch unwanted Prussian convicts as bondservants to the German settlements in England. In the name of historical consistency, continued Franklin, England should be subjected to Prussian Navigation Acts, to Prussian Wool, Hat, and Iron Acts. “Britain was formerly the America of the Germans,” he declared. Like the Saxons from ancient Germany, the Saxons from modern England had migrated at their own expense. They had come to America at their own risk, and “therefore supposed that when they had secured the new Country, they held it of themselves, and of no other People under Heaven.”72 In the margin of one of his books, Franklin scribbled in the question: “Have not all Mankind in all Ages had the Right of deserting their Native Country when made uneasy in it? Did not the Saxons desert their Native Country when they came to Britain?”73
His version of Saxon history gave Franklin a political argument he loved to pursue. He was unswerving in his devotion to the principle of freedom to emigrate. When the ancient Saxons left Europe for England, they not only achieved an independent English settlement but brought with them their habits of representative government and established that government in their new land. It followed that “British subjects, by removing into America, do not thereby lose their native rights.”74 Like their ancestors, Englishmen in America had brought with them their habits of self-government, which included “the undoubted right of Englishmen, not to be taxed but by their own consent.” To deny the colonists’ rights as Englishmen would be to treat them “as a conquered people, and not as true British subjects.”75 In no way could America be identified with either Ireland or Wales, which Franklin and many constitutional historians regarded as conquered provinces; and yet both were better treated by the mother country than were the American colonies, to whom England was “incomparably more obliged.”76
Recent English history gave Franklin little satisfaction. The English tradition of freedom, he knew, demanded “an actual share in the appointment of those who frame the laws.” But, “a very great majority of the commonalty of this realm [England] are denied the privilege of voting for representatives in Parliament; and consequently, they are enslaved to a small number, who do now enjoy the privilege exclusively to themselves.” If this situation continued, it must “speedily cause the certain overthrow of our happy constitution, and enslave us all.” Insufficient attention was paid to “the ancient and sacred laws of the land”; elections were no longer annual on the original Saxon pattern; Parliament had become too oligarchic and unrepresentative for Franklin’s peace of mind.77
As early as 1755 he had reported on the growing “Corruption and Degeneracy of the People” and questioned the future of English liberties. “I know,” he told Richard Jackson, “you have a great deal of Virtue still subsisting among you; and I hope the Constitution is not so near a Dissolution, as some seem to apprehend.”78 But corruption did not subside. Twenty years later, he reviewed English conditions from his London vantage point: there was, he told Joseph Galloway, an “extream Corruption prevalent among all Orders of Men in this old rotten State.” Only mischief could come from a closer colonial union with such a decadent mother country.
Franklin now argued that a continued connection with England would inevitably destroy the luster of “the glorious publick Virtue so predominant in our rising Country.” England would surely drag America with her into “the plundering Wars, which their desperate Circumstances, Injustice, and Rapacity, may prompt them to undertake.” As for these desperate circumstances, Franklin was quite explicit: “Here Numberless and needless Places, enormous Salaries, Pensions, Perquisites, groundless Quarrels, foolish Expeditions, false Accounts or no Accounts, Contracts and Jobbs, devour all Revenue, and produce continual Necessity in the Midst of natural Plenty.” Franklin agreed with Burgh that less luxury and corruption and more economy would reduce the need to tax the American colonies. And any American compliance with English revenue requests would only add to England’s self-made moral and political disintegration. For the virtuous colonies to maintain any union with their unvirtuous mother country could only “corrupt and poison us also.”79 In fact, Americans were already acquiring an unhealthy taste for luxury, and Franklin’s barbed pen once suggested that if only the American colonists would save for two or three years the money now spent on “Fineries and Fopperies,” they would have enough to bribe the entire British government.80
As Franklin saw it, seventeenth-century English Whiggism had miscarried. The political Whigs now in office were successors only in name to the Whigs of the 1680s; he agreed with the observation made in Cato’s Letters that Whigs in power behaved like their Tory predecessors. Englishmen in America were the Real Whigs in the seventeenth-century tradition, determined that “whenever the Crown assumes Prerogatives it has not, or makes an unwarrantable Use of those it has, they will oppose as far as they are able.”81
He was not only disturbed over the failure of Parliament to restrain royal prerogative; he was also alarmed at the political pretensions of Parliament. It sought to govern the King’s dominions as though they were part of the realm of England, a form of tyranny comparable to that attempted by the Stuarts within the mother country. Franklin agreed with the English pamphleteer who inquired, “Is it not … most egregious folly, so loudly to condemn the Stuart family, who would have governed England without a parliament, when at the same time, we would, almost all of us, govern America, upon principles not at all more justified?”82 Efforts at Parliamentary tyranny were the more frightening to Franklin because he knew “a single Man may be afraid or sham’d of doing Injustice. A Body is never either one or the other, if it is strong enough.” A body of men, Franklin explained, “cannot apprehend Assassination; and by dividing the shame among them, it is in so little apiece, that no one minds it.”83
So long as Franklin could confine his political criticisms to Parliament, he could protest his devotion to his monarch. “All the Difficulties,” he once noted, “have arisen from the British Parliament’s Attempting to deprive [the colonists of] their just rights.”84 He had no reason to think of himself as an imperial secessionist, as some of his political enemies charged. He could hardly dismember what had never been legitimately united. The colonies were self-governing dominions of George III, and Franklin hoped they would always be. His abiding affection for England and his numerous friends in the mother country meant that Franklin’s final decision for total separation was reached reluctantly. But in his view historical obligations made independence imperative in the face of British oppression by Parliament and King. If Franklin’s monarch was “the Sovereign of all,” he was also a king who should not misuse his prerogative. Franklin concluded that George III was at least condoning the persistent encroachments of Parliament. If it was easy to “throw Dust in the eyes of a good King,” it was apparently not so easy to get it out again.85
It is ironic that these three from Pennsylvania should contribute so much to a revolution they did not want. Franklin, Wilson, and Dickinson did not see themselves as radicals, as theoreticians of rebellion. Franklin spoke for his colleagues when expressing his distaste for “metaphysical reasonings” — “I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory.”86 They assumed the happiness and security of mankind as the object of political society, and they turned to law and history to illustrate that assumption. The British constitution was a historical reality for all three men. The rights to which they laid claim inhered in a constitution which was theirs by descent; they argued for rights affirmed by common law (“founded on long and general custom”) and restated in such liberty documents as Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights. Fundamental was the “right to resist force employed to destroy the very existence of law and of liberty.” They subscribed to what Wilson called the indisputable “Maxims of the English Constitution, and with reluctance took up arms to preserve “the virtuous Principles” of their ancestors.87 If their premises were wrong, then, Franklin drily reminded England,” ’tis their misfortune, not their fault. Your most celebrated writers on the constitution, your Seldens, your Lockes, and your Sidneys, have reasoned them into this mistake.”88
[1.]Moses Coit Tyler, The Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763–1783, 2 vols. (N.Y., 1897), II, 24.
[2.]Dickinson to Thomas McKean, Mar. 4, 1801, McKean Manuscripts, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, Ford, ed., Writings of Dickinson, 324.
[3.]John H. Powell, “John Dickinson and the Constitution,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 60 (1936): 5.
[4.]Dickinson, Farmer’s Letters, Ford, ed., Writings of Dickinson, 326.
[5.]This phrase, derived from Sallust, was a particular favorite of Dickinson’s. He used it in his May 24, 1764, Speech and in concluding his Farmer’s Letters, ibid., 9, 406.
[6.]Dickinson to his father, Samuel Dickinson, Mar. 8, 1754, Colbourn, ed. “Dickinson’s London Letters,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 86 (1962): 257.
[7.]Dickinson to his father, Mar. 29, 1754, ibid., 265; Farmer’s Letters, Ford, ed., Writings of Dickinson, 307. One must necessarily make some allowance for Dickinson’s purposeful exaggeration in his public writings; and yet his apparent immodesty concerning his library is quite in keeping with the tone of his surviving private correspondence, and, indeed, reminiscent of the bibliophilic boasting of John Adams.
[8.]The first edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries was published in 1765–69, and Dickinson was billed for the third volume on Jan. 26, 1769. See Logan Papers, XXXIV, 54, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. A bill for Blackstone’s Law Tracts (Oxford, 1762) was sent to Dickinson by David Hall on Sept. 3, 1763, ibid., XXXIV, II. Dickinson’s commonplace books repose in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; they were sparsely entered. Dickinson to his mother, Mary Cadwalader Dickinson, June 6, 1756, Colbourn, ed., “Dickinson’s London Letters,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 86 (1962): 448. The Dilly letters began in Mar. 1774. James Burgh sent Dickinson a set of his Political Disquisitions “as a small Token of Respect for His Patriotic Virtue”; the volumes and letters are in the Library Company of Philadelphia.
[9.]Dickinson, Speech, May 24, 1764, Ford, ed., Writings of Dickinson, 24.
[10.]Dickinson’s Resolutions Adopted by the Assembly of Pennsylvania relative to the Stamp Act, Sept. 21, 1765, ibid., 173–74.
[11.]Dickinson, A Petition to the King from the Stamp Act Congress, Oct. 19, 1765, ibid., 195.
[12.]Dickinson, The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies (Philadelphia, 1765), in ibid., 242–45. See also the Farmer’s Letters, ibid., 343 n.
[13.]Dickinson, An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados (Philadelphia, 1766), in ibid., 268.
[15.]John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania ‘ …, ed. R. T. H. Halsey (N.Y., 1903), xix. Dickinson soon earned eager toasts in Boston, where he was linked with Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, and John Wilkes. See Boston Evening-Post, Aug. 22, 1768. He also gained an excellent notice in the London Monthly Review 59 (July 1768): 18, where the Farmer’s Letters were called “a well-connected chain of close and manly reasoning … founded upon laudable principles.”
[16.]Farmer’s Letters, Ford, ed., Writings of Dickinson, 312, 348, 316.
[17.]Ibid., 364–65, 329 n.
[18.]Ibid., 308–12, 390–91, 387.
[19.]Ibid., 393. Dickinson had quoted this same passage from Rapin to his mother on June 6, 1756; see Colbourn, ed., “Dickinson’s London Letters,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 86 (1962): 448–49. His quotation is from Rapin, History of England, II, 733–34. Dickinson’s arithmetic was fallible.
[20.]Farmer’s Letters, Ford, ed., Writings of Dickinson, 346, 379–81.
[21.]Ibid., 382, 388, 326–27, 393. Dickinson concluded his Letters on a hopeful note, however: he looked to “the strongest probability” that if the colonists expressed their opposition with sufficient vigor, they would have “the same success now, that they had in the time of the Stamp-Act.” Ibid., 406.
[22.]Dickinson, Stamp Act Congress Petition, Oct. 19, 1765, ibid., 195.
[23.]Boston-Gazette, Mar. 13, 1775.
[24.]Dickinson, “Liberty Song,” Pennsylvania Chronicle (Philadelphia), July 11, 1768.
[25.]Edward Dilly to John Dickinson, Mar. 7, 1774, and Dickinson to his father, Jan. 25, 1755, Dickinson Manuscripts, Library Company of Philadelphia.
[26.]James Burgh, Political Disquisitions, I, viii, xxii–xxiii.
[27.]Dickinson, An Essay on the Constitutional Power of Great-Britain (Philadelphia, 1774), 62.
[29.]Dickinson, A Letter from the Country … (Philadelphia, 1773), n.p. (Broadside).
[30.]Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, 34 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1904–37), I, 119; Dickinson to Arthur Lee, Aug. 20, 1774, Duane Manuscripts, American Philosophical Society; Samuel Adams to Joseph Warren, Sept. 25, 1774, Cushing, ed., Writings of Samuel Adams, III, 158.
[31.]Dickinson to Arthur Lee, Apr. 29, 1775, in Peter Force, comp., American Archives …, 9 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1837–53), 4th ser., II, 444–45.
[32.]The Second Petition, July 8, 1775, Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, II, 161; Dickinson to Arthur Lee, July 7, 1775, in Force, comp., American Archives, 4th ser., II, 1604.
[33.]Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, John Dickinson’s Composition Draft, in Boyd et al., eds., Jefferson Papers, I, 204–12.
[34.]William A. Whitehead, Frederick W. Ricord, and William Nelson, eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, 10 vols. (Newark, N.J., 1880–86), X, 691. Dickinson represented the Congress in urging that New Jersey not undertake any fresh petitions of its own to George III; Dickinson referred to French jealousy of England and offered the comforting opinion that “France will not sit still and suffer Britain to conquer.” Dickinson apparently did not voice a fear that this could lead to a French rather than an English tyranny in America.
[35.]Jefferson’s Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress, June 8, 1776, Boyd et al., eds., Jefferson Papers, I, 309, 310. Dickinson’s speech against independence has been carefully reconstructed from the original rough notes by John H. Powell; see “Arguments Agt. the Independence of these Colonies—in Congress,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 65 (1941): 468–81.
[36.]Dickinson’s Vindication, in Charles J. Stillé, The Life and Times of John Dickinson, 1732–1808 (Philadelphia, 1891), 369; this lengthy apologia was first published in the Freeman’s Journal (Philadelphia), Jan. 1, 1783.
[37.]Dickinson to his mother, June 6, 1756, Colbourn, ed., “Dickinson’s London Letters,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 86 (1962): 449.
[38.]Quoted by Charles Page Smith, James Wilson; Founding Father, 1742-1798 (Chapel Hill, 1956), 35. Smith’s biography has helped rescue Wilson from an undeserved obscurity; a new and accurate edition of Wilson’s papers has helped even more.
[39.]Wilson was unusually generous in acknowledging his sources; this partial listing is drawn from his published writings; specific citations follow.
[40.]“Lectures on Law” (1790), James De Witt Andrews, ed., The Works of James Wilson …, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1896), I, 38–39.
[41.]Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament (Philadelphia, 1774), in Randolph G. Adams, ed., Selected Political Essays of James Wilson (N.Y., 1930), 49.
[42.]Ibid., 50, 59.
[43.]See Charles H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (Ithaca, N.Y., 1958), 92–109. For Wilson’s discussion of Calvin’s case and its application to Englishmen in America, see Considerations, Adams, ed., Essays of Wilson, 66–80.
[44.]Ibid., 67. Wilson was to return to this theme in his Law Lectures where he cited William Robertson’s History of Scotland in arguing that “Two sovereign states [England and Scotland] may employ the same executive magistrate, or bear allegiance to the same prince, without any dependence on each other; and each may retain all its national rights, free and undiminished.” See Andrews, ed., Works of Wilson, I, 323.
[45.]Considerations, Adams, ed., Essays of Wilson, 55–57.
[46.]Ibid., 57. Here Wilson cites Montesquieu and Blackstone to buttress his contentions.
[48.]See Wilson’s note, ibid., 81–82.
[50.]An Address Delivered in the Convention of the Province of Pennsylvania, Jan. 1775, ibid., 91–92.
[52.]Ibid., 101, 94.
[53.]An Address to the Inhabitants of the Colonies …, Feb. 13, 1776, ibid., 112–14.
[54.]“Lectures on Law,” in Andrews, ed., Works of Wilson, I, 3.
[55.]Ibid., 1 n, 3 n, 372, 350; II, 176, 492–93, 61.
[56.]Ibid., II, 104; I, 70. Wilson also cited Francis Sullivan, whom he termed “a very accurate inquirer,” ibid., 62; Wilson and Sullivan agreed on the elective character of the Saxon monarchy.
[57.]Ibid., I, 451–52; II, 155, 255. Coke’s Institutes, observed Wilson, “are a cabinet richly stored with jewels of law: but are not those jewels strewed about in endless and bewildering confusion?”
[58.]Ibid., I, 445; II, A.
[59.]Ibid., II, 144, 36–37.
[60.]Ibid., 61, 57; I, 382–91; II, 58.
[61.]Wilson Manuscripts, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; see Smith, James Wilson, 301.
[62.]Smyth, ed., Writings of Franklin, X, 493.
[63.]Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth (Philadelphia, 1749), in Labaree and Bell, eds., Franklin Papers, III, 410, 411–12.
[64.]Ibid., 405–6, 415.
[65.]John G. Shipley, “Franklin Attends a Book Auction,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 80 (1956): 37–45; Robert W. Kenny, “James Ralph: An Eighteenth-Century Philadelphian in Grub Street,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 64 (1940), 218–42.
[66.]Ralph, Of the Use and Abuse of Parliaments, I, 13, 79; II, 716–17.
[67.]Verner W. Crane, ed., Benjamin Franklin’s Letters to the Press, 1758–1775 (Chapel Hill, 1950), 90–91, 286–287. Franklin published Burgh’s Britain’s Remembrancer in Philadelphia, 1748.
[68.]Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Brand Hollis, Oct. 5, 1783, Smyth, ed., Writings of Franklin, IX, 104.
[69.]Franklin to the Printer of the Public Advertiser (London), May 20, 1765, ibid., IV, 370.
[70.]Henry Care, English Liberties (Boston, 1721).
[71.]Quoted by George Simpson Eddy, “Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s Library,” American Antiquarian Society, Proceedings 34 (1924): 206.
[72.]“Edict by the King of Prussia,” Sept. 5, 1773, in Smyth, ed., Writings of Franklin, VI, 118–24. This was first published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of Oct. 1773.
[73.]Franklin to the Printer of the Public Advertiser (London), Mar. 16, 1773, Crane, ed., Franklin’s Letters to the Press, 226–29; and Franklin’s marginal comment in his copy of Allan Ramsay’s Thoughts on the Origin and Nature of Government … (London, 1766), 51. Franklin’s copy is in the Rare Book Room, Library of Congress.
[74.]Franklin, “A Dialogue … concerning the present state of affairs in Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), Dec. 18, 1755.
[75.]Franklin to Governor Shirley, Dec. 18, 1754, Smyth, ed., Writings of Franklin, III, 233–34.
[76.]Franklin to the Public Advertiser (London), Jan. 8, 1770, Crane, ed., Franklin’s Letters to the Press, 121.
[77.]“Some Good Whig Principles,” was Franklin’s comment on these views; see Smyth, ed., Writings of Franklin, X, 130–31.
[78.]Franklin to Richard Jackson, May 5, 1753, ibid., III, 141.
[79.]Franklin to Joseph Galloway, Feb. 25, 1775, ibid., VI, 311–12.
[80.]Franklin to Thomas Cushing, Oct. 10, 1774, ibid., 251–52.
[81.]Franklin to a friend of Lord Hillsborough, Sept. 1772, Crane, ed., Franklin’s Letters to the Press, 224.
[82.]An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Present Disputes (London, 1769), 26. Franklin inscribed much marginalia on this page; his copy is in the New York Public Library. Franklin’s remarks here indicate he was once far from hostile to the idea of American representation in Westminster; see ibid., 23.
[83.]Franklin’s marginal commentary, ibid., 26.
[84.]Franklin’s marginal commentary, ibid., 21, 24.
[85.]Franklin to a friend of Lord Hillsborough, Sept. 1772, Crane, ed., Franklin’s Letters to the Press, 224.
[86.]Franklin to Benjamin Vaughan, Nov. 9, 1779, Smyth, ed., Writings of Franklin, VII, 412.
[87.]Wilson, Address, Jan. 1775, Adams, ed., Essays of Wilson, 96, 112.
[88.]Franklin, “Rejoinder to Tom Hint,” Gazetteer (London), Dec. 27, 1765, reprinted in Crane, ed., Franklin’s Letters to the Press, 41.