JOHN DICKINSON was born in Talbot County. He was privately tutored in Delaware and studied law in Pennsylvania as well as at Middle Temple in London. In 1757 he began the practice of law in Philadelphia, where he also studied English constitutional history and political science. With close ties to both Delaware and Pennsylvania (where geographic boundaries were less significant than they are today and a person could hold public office in both places), he became a member of the Delaware Assembly in 1760 and was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly two years later representing Philadelphia. He was a delegate to the congress that met in Philadelphia in 1765 to oppose the Stamp Act, and he became known for authoring "The Farmer's Letters," fourteen letters signed "anonymously" by "a Pennsylvania farmer" in opposition to British taxation. However, he withdrew from his activism upon the eruption of violence, which he opposed. Dickinson was a member of the first (1774) and second (1775-76) Continental Congresses. Yet because he thought the Declaration of Independence was inopportune, he absented himself during its signing, which in turn cost him his seat in Congress. Still, when war broke out he joined the cause of independence and commanded Philadelphia battalions fighting in New York, rising to the rank of Brigadier-General in the Pennsylvania Militia. He was also a private soldier in the Delaware Militia that took part in the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, and in January 1779 he was sent to Congress from Delaware, signing the Articles of Confederation. In 1781 Dickinson joined the Delaware State Senate and was later elected President of the Supreme Executive Council (the equivalent of governor) of the state, serving for one year before becoming President of the Executive Council (the equivalent of governor) of Pennsylvania in 1782. Dickinson was a member of the convention that framed the U.S. Constitution and is credited with securing equal representation for each state in the Senate and proportional representation in the House of Representatives. He later returned briefly to the Delaware State Senate but left office due to ill health. Dickinson was a liberal donor to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 2. New York: James T. White & Company.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress