John Dickinson Writings Project

  • Calvert, Jane (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


The John Dickinson Writings Project (JDP) is directed by Jane E. Calvert, who is also the chief editor. The project will produce The Complete Writings of John Dickinson in an estimated three print volumes and a student course reader, Selected Writings of John Dickinson, both of which will likely be published by the University of Delaware Press. The JDP will also produce an open-access on-line digital edition of Dickinson’s complete writings, which will be hosted by the University of Kentucky. The total corpus is an estimated 800 documents, 500 of which are Dickinson’s, and 300 of which are public writings to Dickinson or about his writings by his contemporaries. Among Dickinson’s works include many of America’s first state papers, such as the Stamp Act Resolutions (1765), the First Petition to the King (1774), the Bill of Rights and a List of Grievances (1774), Letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec (1774), the Olive Branch Petition (1775), the Declaration for Taking Up Arms (1775), and the first draft of the Articles of Confederation (1776). Yet Dickinson directed most of his work to the American people, encouraging them to become active and responsible citizens. The purpose of Dickinson’s writings, which is also the purpose of the JDP, was to lay before the American people the foundational principles and practices of a free society. From before the Revolutionary era through the period of the Early Republic, Dickinson was an ardent defender of American liberties—economic, political, and religious—and promoter of robust citizenship. His Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767–68), followed shortly by America’s first patriotic song, “The Liberty Song” (1768), launched him to international fame as the spokesman for the American cause. “Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds,” he proclaimed, “that we cannot be happy without being free—that we cannot be free without being secure in our property— that we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away.” Yet with liberty, Dickinson believed, came individual responsibility. His initial acts as president of first Delaware and then Pennsylvania were to issue proclamations “for the suppression of vice and immorality,” stating that “regularity of manners is essential to the tranquility and prosperity of society” and exhorting citizens to educate their children, attend their church of choice, and “to love piety and virtue.” Dickinson’s writings demonstrate that he was was unique among his peers. Where the other major Founders were deists, Dickinson was the only one who was strongly motivated by principles of Christian morality; the language of Christian and republican virtue permeates his works. He was one of the few major figures to write directly and repeatedly to ordinary Americans to inform them of the political issues of the day and their civic duty to engage in the debates. Because of his clear, direct, and impassioned prose, Americans then and now respond enthusiastically to his writings. So powerful was Dickinson’s belief that it was his Christian duty to promote liberty for all was that he was the only major figure to free all his slaves during his lifetime and write abolition legislation. Believing also that women could be excellent examples of virtue, advocated constitutional protections for women’s religious liberty, encouraged women to publish their political views, and promoted the publication of works about exemplary women. Dickinson’s writing also show he was a committed philanthropist, especially in the area of education. His gifts established several education institutions, some of which remain today. His philosophy of education is captured in his speech to the trustees of Dickinson College where he wrote “Doctrina & Pietate tuta Libertas”— “freedom is made safe through piety and learning,” which found its way onto the college seal. Making Dickinson’s complete writings available to scholars and the public for the first time will serve as a strong and unambiguous reminder of the principles of liberty, the individual rights, and the corresponding duties—what Dickinson called the “inestimable Truths”—upon which our nation was founded.
Effective start/end date1/1/146/30/15


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