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John Dickinson was born November 8, 1732, in Talbot County, Maryland. He was educated at the College of New Jersey (today known as Princeton University), where he earned a doctor of laws degree in 1768. He also pursued legal studies at the Middle Temple, Inn of the Court, England.
After his admission to the Philadelphia bar in 1757, Dickinson established a prestigious legal practice in that city and subsequently entered politics on the state level.
In 1760, Dickinson served in the Assembly of Lower Counties, Delaware, and performed the duties of speaker. Two years later, he participated in the Pennsylvania legislature, representing Philadelphia until 1764, and again, from 1770 to 1776. In 1765, Dickinson wrote a pamphlet titled The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies on the Continent of America Considered, which protested the passage of two unjust acts of taxation, the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act, by England. In the same year, he also served at the Stamp Act Congress and drafted a series of requests to King George III. Although he opposed many of the policies enforced by England, Dickinson favored conciliatory action over violence.
England passed the unpopular Townshend Acts in 1767, which levied tariffs on colonial imports of certain items. Dickinson composed another publication in protest, known as "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania"; these letters advocated nonimportation of the taxed materials, rather than a violent reaction to the passage of the act.
Dickinson continued to serve in pre-Revolutionary War activities, including the Committee of Correspondence in 1774 and the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776 and from 1779 to 1781. He still hoped for reconciliation with England and, as a result of this sentiment, opposed the Declaration of Independence. However, with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Dickinson served a tour of military duty.
"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 1781 to 1785, Dickinson was a participant in state government activities, acting as administrator of the Supreme Council of Delaware in 1781 and performing the same duty for the Supreme Council of Pennsylvania from 1782 to 1785.
Dickinson was instrumental in the formation of the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781, by serving as presiding officer of the committee appointed to compose the document and creating the outline that became the foundation of the articles. In 1787, he represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention and advocated the ratification of the Constitution through a series of letters published under the name of Fabius.
In addition to his achievements as a statesman, Dickinson also contributed to the field of education as a founder of Dickinson College, located at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Dickinson died February 14, 1808, in Wilmington, Delaware.