The John Dickinson Writings Project

Grants and Contracts Details


John Dickinson (1732-1808), known today as the "Penman of the Revolution," contributed more writings to the American Founding than any other figure. He is best known for his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-68), the first resounding and successful call for colonial unity to resist British oppression. Yet this was just one of around 150 published and unpublished works over the course of 42 years that he wrote for the American cause, including America's first patriotic song, "The Liberty Song" (1768) and many of the official issuances of the Congresses, such as the Stamp Act Resolutions (1765): the First Petition to the King (1774), Letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec (1774), the OlIve Branch Petition (1775), the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (1775), and the first draft of the Articles of Confederation (1776). While he was not always the sole author of the state papers, the published versions were based on his drafts. Dickinson played a primary role in the creation of these seminal documents because he was one of the most talented lawyers and writers in the colonies and he wielded more authority and influence both in Congress and over public opinion than perhaps any other figure before independence. Indeed, he was America's first political hero and internationally recognized champion of the people's rights. After independence he continued to write on matters concerning peace negotiations, military matters, the Confederation government, the two states of which he was president (Delaware and Pennsylvania), the creation and ratification of the Constitution, and foreign relations in the early Republic. Despite the central role Dickinson and his works had in the founding of the nation, there have only been two partial collections. The first edition, two volumes containing 14 documents, was collected by Dickinson himself after popular demand and published in 1801 by Bonsai and Niles. The second, a single volume containing 21 documents, was compiled by Paul Leicester Ford for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1895. Neither is scholarly in the modern sense, and only the first volume of Dickinson's edition is reprinted in facsimile form. A few of the best known documents have been published or reproduced in scattered sources. The Evans Digital collection contains about 14 publications, but these are inaccessible to those unaffiliated with an academic institution that possesses a subscription. None of Dickinson's writings that were not published during his lifetime have been published since. Yet in addition to pamphlets, petitions, newspaper articles, broadsides, odes, and more, Dickinson also wrote many manuscript essays that elucidate his thinking on the most important issues of his time. His first known essay, "Reflections on the Flag of the Truce Trade" (c. 1761), argued for the legality of trade with the enemy during the Seven Years' War, highlighting early tensions between America and Britain. Another written around 1775 advocated using Quaker methods of peaceful resistant to deal with Britain. He wrote essays and notes for speeches in Congress, such as "Arguments against the Independence of these Colonies" (1776). Other works include an address at Dickinson College (c. 1783), his compromise for a national-federal government in the Constitutional Convention (1787), and his objections to moving the nation's capital to the Potomac (c. 1790). Like his published works, most of these manuscripts have yet to be examined and used by scholars. The goal of the Project is to assemble the entire corpus of Dickinson's political works into three printed volumes, an abridged college-level course reader, and a Web-based digital version, freely accessible to both scholars and non-academics. The print edition will be published by an academic press and will contain a full scholarly apparatus for contextualization and interpretation of the materials. The Web version will have the same textual contents and apparatus as the printed volumes, with added feat~res available through the interlinking and advanced searching possible in an online publication envIronment. This first complete and scholarly edition of Dickinson's writings will be an indispensible resource for sc~?lars of the foundin~ in a variety of disciplines-history, politics, legal studies, religion, economics, mllItar~ and peace s~ud~es, d:plom.acy, literature, rhetoric, communication, and digital humanities. More than thl~, be~au~e Dlckm.son s ~am concern was to advise ordinary Americans about virtuous citizenship, t~e publIc wIll fmd practIcal advIce for how to engage productively and peacefully in the national dIscourse.
Effective start/end date7/1/1012/31/12


  • National Endowment for the Humanities: $200,000.00


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