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The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John…

The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson (Lives of the Founders)

by William Murchison

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This entry in the "Lives of the Founders" aka Forgotten Founders series is less forgotten than some of the others, but as the author repeatedly protests, Dickinson is popularly remembered chifly for his opposition to the Declaration of Independence, as dramatized in the musical "1776" and the TV series on John Adams. Murchison argues rather heatedly that Dickinson (unlike his sometime Pennsylvania political rival Joseph Galloway) was not against independence --he simply felt July 2, 1776 was not the right time for declaring it, given that the colonies were not yet well organized to fight and France was not yet willig to help tem (as the agonizing wait of the next 2 years proved).
Serious scholars know him better as author of the "Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer" which played a major role in making the American case against British tax policy before the revolution and creating the climate which led to the revolution.
After the crisis over the declaration, Dickinson served briefly in the American army in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, then was governor of both Delaware and Pennsylvania (briefly simultaneously, though mostly earlier for Delaware an later for Pennsylvania), took a role in the Constitutional Convention (chiefly defending the power of the states in selecting the US Senate), but was lss active then and thereafter due to declining health, though he lived long enough to become, rather oddly for on who had supported the wealthier side in Pennsylvania politics, a strong partisan of France and an enthusiastic Jeffersonian Democratic Republican, enthusiastically hailing Jefferson's election as president. In this he was quite different from most of the others in this series who tended to be Federalists. ( )
  antiquary | Aug 29, 2017 |
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The Cost of Liberty offers a sorely needed reassessment of a great patriot and misunderstood Founder. It has been more than a half century since a biography of John Dickinson appeared. Author William Murchison rectifies this mistake, bringing to life one of the most influential figures of the entire Founding period, a principled man whose gifts as writer, speaker, and philosopher only Jefferson came near to matching. In the process, Murchison destroys the caricature of Dickinson that has emerged from such popular treatments as HBO's John Adams miniseries and the Broadway musical 1776. Dickinson is remembered mostly for his reluctance to sign the Declaration of Independence. But that reluctance, Murchison shows, had nothing to do with a lack of patriotism. In fact, Dickinson immediately took up arms to serve the colonial cause - something only one signer of the Declaration did. He stood on principle to oppose declaring independence at that moment, even when he knew that doing so would deal the "finishing blow" to his once-great reputation. Dubbed the "Penman of the Revolution," Dickinson was not just a scribe but also a shaper of mighty events. From the 1760s through the late 1780s he was present at, and played a significant role in, every major assemblage where the Founders charted America's path - a claim few others could make. Author of the landmark essays Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, delegate to the Continental Congress, key figure behind the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, chief executive of both Pennsylvania and Delaware: Dickinson was, as one esteemed historian aptly put it, "the most underrated of all the Founders." This lively biography gives a great Founder his long-overdue measure of honor.… (more)

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