The Mind of the American Whig
FOR many colonials it was a hard and bitter choice that was thrust upon them by the political situation. They had no wish to choose between loyalty to the British Empire and love for their native land. So long as the quarrel remained a legal dispute over parliamentary encroachments, colonial sentiment was fairly united in opposition to the ministerial policy; differences of opinion arose over methods of defense, rather than the need of it. The threatened loss of home rule drew together radical and conservative. Although Governor Hutchinson asserted that the feeling against England was the work of a small populistic element— "in Massachusetts Bay the exception to the constitutional authority of Parliament was first taken, and principally supported, by men who were before discontented"  —it is clear that the active Tory party numbered at first few more than the royal officials and their beneficiaries. But when it came to the point of severing colonial relations with the mother country, comparatively few among the upper classes in the northern and middle colonies went with the party of independence. The moderate men, the conciliationists, were crushed between the two extremes, and the Tory party was greatly increased in numbers and influence.
Of this moderate party of conciliationists, the outstanding figure during the years of tedious debate was John Dickinson, of Philadelphia. His Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer, published between December 2, 1767, and February 15, 1768, created considerable stir both in America and England, and if Hutchinson may be trusted, they "formed a temporary political creed for the colonies." Later he was chief draftsman of a notable series of state papers: the Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Act Congress; the two Petitions to the King and the Address to the Inhabitants of Quebec of the first Continental Congress; and finally the Articles of Confederation. Professor Tyler has fastened upon him the title of "Penman of the Revolution"; but a juster title, and more in accord with the facts, would be "spokesman of the Colonial Whigs." From his first entrance into public life to the adoption of the Constitution, Dickinson was a consistent advocate of the political philosophy of which John Pym was the early representative, Locke the philosophical defender, and Pitt the parliamentary advocate—a philosophy which he accepted as the final embodiment of the long struggle for English freedom.
English Whiggery has been fortunate in its advocates. It has been expounded with great fervor and glossed with much eloquence. Its ends have been so persistently proclaimed as at one with the cause of human liberty, that in the mind of English-speaking people it early became synonymous with English liberalism. In so far as it represented a protest against divine right, such an interpretation was historically just. It was the expression of a rising class, and every rising class in its ostensible program professes to be liberal. But in the outcome Whiggery proved to be very different from generic liberalism. Examined critically the program of Whiggery is seen to have been compounded of substantial economic interests. Although the Whig party created the modern House of Commons and ministerial government, and wrote into the British constitution the principle of no taxation without representation, back of such revolutionary changes was a middle-class, property theory of society. It laid down as the first principle of political science the dogma that government is instituted for the protection of property; and it advanced by inevitable stages to the position that government should use its powers to extend the field of profitable operations and safeguard exploitation, the natural outcome of which was a policy of imperialism. On the pretense of furthering human liberty it carried the British flag and British goods to the ends of the earth. The great Pitt, grandson of the unscrupulous exploiter of India, completed the work begun by John Pym more than a century before; the American Revolution was the natural sequence of an imperialistic policy begun by Cromwell's Navigation Act, which, aimed immediately at the Dutch carriers, put the power of the government behind British shipping to the disadvantage of American competitors.
The philosophy of Whiggery had spread widely in America before the Revolution and numbered among its advocates probably the great majority of thoughtful Americans. Of these John Dickinson became the best known, although he was certainly not the ablest—less able, indeed, than his fellow Marylander, Daniel Dulany. Of Quaker extraction, Dickinson was a country gentleman who inherited broad acres, an honorable name, and high social position. His dignified standing was further assured by his marriage with the only surviving child of Isaac Norris, long Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and the most influential amongst a little group of wealthy merchants who had long ruled the commonwealth in patriarchal fashion. By his wife he came into possession of Fairhill, a country place of several hundred acres on the outskirts of Philadelphia, one of the show places of the city, of which the mansion with its stately façade, its waxed floors and red-cedar wainscoting, its books and paintings and statuary, its setting of gardens and fishponds and conservatories, was vastly impressive to a world that loved dignified display.
With such advantages of wealth and position he could hardly fail to get on in his profession, and within a short time after his return from the Inns of Court at London, where he had his training in the law, he became one of the leaders of the Philadelphia bar and was soon deep in commonwealth politics. He was a gentleman in a society of gentlemen and preferment came easily to him. His natural parts were respectable, he had improved himself by considerable reading in history and politics, he possessed a cultivated pen and some facility in debate. He understood commercial problems, could talk trade, was ready with statistics of imports and exports, and was an advocate of the paper money which Philadelphia merchants had discovered to be a stimulus to business. Among his intimate friends were Robert Morris, Thomas Willing, and George Clymer, representatives of the younger generation of Philadelphians, whose speculative enterprises were not approved by their conservative elders. And so by consequence he became the spokesman of the mercantile interests in their remonstrance against the ministerial policies.
But Dickinson was more than a legal adviser to clients who were in trade. As lawyer and statesman he was true to the best traditions of the English law and the British constitution, faithful to what he conceived to be the larger interests of the British Empire. In all his public acts he was animated by a scrupulous sense of duty, swerving no whit from the line of conduct marked out by his principles in spite of the clamor of opposition. From first to last he seems to have been guided by a fine sense of responsible stewardship that came to him from his English heritage. Certainly the dignity of John Dickinson and the integrity of his political career suffer little by contrast with certain popular representatives who governed their conduct by expediency rather than principle. The great ideal of imperial unity possessed him completely, and he would do nothing to bring it into jeopardy. He sacrificed his great influence with the radicals by his refusal to go with the majority for independence; he would not assist in disrupting the British Empire even though he could not preserve it. The refusal was difficult and it destroyed his popularity in a moment. He withdrew from active participation in political affairs, and for years afterwards, to the eyes of former associates, his conduct seemed to have been pusillanimous.
By temperament and breeding Dickinson was a conservative, and this native bias was emphasized by his English training in the law. The lawyers of the middle and southern colonies were far better trained than those of New England. Many were from the Inns of Court, where they had steeped themselves in the Common Law and had imbibed profound respect for the orderly processes of English legal procedure. They found intellectual satisfaction in tracing the evolution of constitutional practice, and their methods of thought were too strictly legal to suffer them to stray into the domain of extra-legal political speculation. Their appeal was to the law and the constitution; never to abstract principles. If, on the other hand, the revolutionary leaders of New England—and Virginians like Jefferson and Patrick Henry—were poorer lawyers they were better political scientists, for their legal training had been too casual and too scanty to contract their minds to statutes and precedents. Jefferson and John Adams were alike in this respect; their interests were speculative rather than legal; and they wrote more convincingly when defending the principles of Locke than in expounding Coke.
But John Dickinson remained always the lawyer. The English political thinkers of the seventeenth century scarcely touched the fringe of his mind. In consequence his writings are a long constitutional argument. He rarely refers to political authorities. The philosophy of Locke—whom he had read—is largely ignored, and Hume—"this great man whose political speculations are so much admired"—is quoted only in support of a constitutional interpretation. "The constitutional modes of relief are those I wish to see pursued on the present occasion," he insisted in reply to the natural-rights advocates, and the attitude is eloquent of the man. This scrupulous legalism he carried to such lengths that when the new constitution for Pennsylvania was adopted he refused to take office under it because he doubted the legality of the convention that framed it.
With such temperament and training Dickinson would seem to have had the making of an excellent Tory in him. What cause had he to quarrel with Great Britain, and why should he have risked his lot with the party of protest? It was not because he denied the ministerial theory of parliamentary sovereignty in America, for he acknowledged both the fact and the necessity for such sovereignty:
He, who considers these provinces as states distinct from the British Empire, has very slender notions of justice, or of their interests. We are but parts of a whole and therefore there must exist a power somewhere to preside, and preserve the connection in due order. This power is lodged in the parliament; and we are as much dependent on Great-Britain as a perfectly free people can be on another. 
Nor was it because of old trade grievances—shipping restrictions, the spying of customs officers, prohibitions laid on manufactures, and the like. He accepted without challenge the English mercantile view of the economic relations of colonies to the mother country, and he professed to see in existing trade regulations only the incidental and necessary burdens of a system both salutary and just; he had no protest to urge against the principle of the Navigation Acts.
Colonies have been settled by the nations of Europe for the purposes of trade. These purposes were to be attained, by the colonies raising for their mother country those things which she did not produce herself; and by supplying themselves from her with things they wanted. These were the national objects, in the commencement of our colonies, and have been uniformly so in their promotion. . . . The parent country, with undeviating prudence and virtue, attentive to the first principles of colonization, drew to herself the benefits she might reasonably expect, and preserved to her children the blessings, on which those benefits were founded. She made laws, obliging her colonies to carry to her all those products which she wanted for her own use; and all those raw materials which she chose herself to work up. Besides this restriction, she forbad them to procure manufactures from any other part of the globe, or even the products of European countries, which alone could rival her, without first being brought to her. In short, by a variety of laws, she regulated their trade in such a manner as she thought most conducive to their mutual advantage, and her own welfare. 
Not only did Dickinson concede to the mother country the right to regulate the entire system of colonial trade and industry to the primary advantage of British merchants, even going so far as to justify it by a false historical explanation of the rise of the colonies; not only did he profess to believe that such regulation had been exercised in a spirit of unselfish concern for the well-being of the empire; but he professed a faith in the King and the English people that suggests Hutchinson and Bernard. Consider such naïve adulation as the following:
We have an excellent prince, in whose good dispositions towards us we may confide. We have a generous, sensible and humane nation, to whom we may apply. They may be deceived. They may, by artful men, be provoked to anger against us. I cannot believe they will be cruel or unjust; or that their anger will be implacable. Let us behave like dutiful children, who have received unmerited blows from a beloved parent. Let us complain to our parent; but let our complaints speak at the same time the language of affliction and veneration. 
With so much conceded, what ground of serious quarrel remained? What was there to justify an American protest against the parliamentary program? Nothing less than the vital principle of taxation. In this matter the ministerial policy overrode the fundamental tenet of Whiggery. The situation was critical, for if the Tories denied the validity of the Whiggish principle in dealing with the colonies, they might deny it at home and the old battle of 1688 must be fought over. The right of control of the public purse by a chamber in which the property owners were represented, and which they would dominate, was a principle too vital to be yielded, and the English Whigs in Parliament, led by Pitt and Camden, took vigorous issue with the ministerial tax proposals. To American Whigs the proposed innovation was a calamity. To suffer control of the American purse to pass out of their hands into those of a group beyond their reach meant a return to a system of Tory spoliation; it meant that property and the rule of property in America were threatened. To the colonial Whig the constitutional representative chamber could be no other than the assembly of the commonwealth of which he was a taxpayer. The English Parliament was alien if not hostile to his interests; and if the right of imposing taxes upon the colonies were held to lie in this overseas body, the colonials would find themselves in the identical position of their ancestors of the days of King Charles. No longer masters of their property, they would not be a free people.
All this John Dickinson understood perfectly, and as a large property owner he hastened to the defense of the principle of self-taxation. He proposed to show that the policy of the ministry, in advancing the new tax program, was a usurpation of power and a violation of the constitutional rights of American property owners; and that as such it should be resisted on constitutional grounds. This is the burden of the celebrated Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer. In arguing their case the American debaters were embarrassed by a long series of precedents which seemed to prove that Parliament possessed sovereignty over the colonies; that such sovereignty had in fact been repeatedly acknowledged; and that a hundred years of fiscal legislation, unchallenged heretofore, had clearly established the parliamentary right of taxation. To this difficult point Dickinson directed his argument. The real point at issue, he contended, lay in the fundamental distinction between a tax and an imposition; Parliament possessed the constitutional right to impose the latter, but not the former. An imposition, he pointed out, is a fiscal arrangement made by the proper representatives, primarily "for the regulation of trade," and with a view to the general interests of the whole; whereas a tax is a "gift of the people to the crown, to be employed for public uses." The one is regulatory in intent, imposed in a paternal spirit; and though the result may lessen or increase the opportunity of the individual or the community to acquire property, it does not take away what has already been got; whereas a tax reaches into the pocket of the individual and takes from him what belongs to him alone. Unless the subject "give and grant of his own free will," such a tax had long been held unconstitutional. Of necessity, every tax must be internal, and since by their charter governments the colonies were granted the right to impose "internal taxes," Parliament has no right to impose them.
A "TAX" means an imposition to raise money. Such persons therefore as speak of internal and external "TAXES," I pray may pardon me, if I object to that expression, as applied to the privileges and interests of these colonies. There may be internal and external IMPOSITIONS, founded on different principles, and having different tendencies, every "tax" being an imposition, tho' every imposition is not a "tax." But all taxes are founded on the same principles; and have the same tendency. External impositions, for the regulation of our trade, do not "grant to his Majesty the property of the colonies." They only prevent the colonies acquiring property, in things not necessary, in a manner judged to be injurious to the welfare of the whole empire. But the last statute respecting us, "grants to his Majesty the property of the colonies," by laying duties on the manufactures of Great-Britain which they MUST take, and which she settled on them, on purpose that they SHOULD take. What tax can be more internal than this? Here is money drawn, without their consent, from a society, who have constantly enjoyed a constitutional mode of raising all money among themselves. 
This line of argument was not original with Dickinson. It had earlier been elaborated by Daniel Dulany of Maryland, in an able pamphlet,  which had provided argument to Pitt for his speech on the repeal of the Stamp Act.  Dickinson in turn quoted from Pitt's speech in support of his position.  How intimate was the connection between English and American Whigs, and how like was their reasoning, is made clear from a passage of a later speech by Pitt which Dickinson quoted in the preface to a collected edition of his works issued in 1801:
This universal opposition to your arbitrary system of taxation, might have been foreseen; it was obvious from the nature of things, and from the nature of man, and above all . . . from the spirit of WHIGGISM flourishing in America. The spirit which now pervades America, is the same which formerly opposed loans, benevolences, and ship-money in this country; is the same spirit which roused all England to action at the revolution, and which established at a remote era, your liberties, on the basis of that grand fundamental maxim of the constitution, that no subject of England shall be taxed, but by his own consent. To maintain this principle, is the common cause of the WHIGS, on the other side of the Atlantic, and on this. It is liberty to liberty engaged. In this great cause they are immoveably allied. It is the alliance of God and nature, immutable, eternal, fixed as the firmament of heaven. As an Englishman, I recognize to the Americans, their supreme unalterable right of property. As an American, I would equally recognize to England, her supreme right of regulating commerce and navigation. This distinction is involved in the abstract nature of things; property is private, individual, absolute: the touch of another annihilates it. Trade is an extended and complicated consideration; it reaches as far as ships can sail, or winds can blow; it is a vast and various machine. To regulate the numberless movements of its several parts, and combine them into one harmonious effect, for the good of the whole, requires the superintending wisdom and energy of the supreme power of the empire. On this grand practical distinction, then, let us rest: taxation is theirs, commercial regulation is ours. As to metaphysical refinements, attempting to shew, that the Americans are equally free from legislative controul, and commercial restraint, as from taxation, for the purpose of revenue, I pronounce them futile, frivolous, and groundless. 
How characteristic of Pitt is the shrewd purpose, covered over with pretentious rhetoric, to seize the imperialistic substance of trade control for the London merchants, and graciously yield the name of liberty, the shadow of taxation!
Discussion of abstract rights interested Dickinson no more than it did Pitt; but he cared greatly for English liberty, by which he meant the rights of propertied gentlemen recognized by the British constitution, for which his ancestors had struggled. He had no wish to enlarge those rights, for he believed they were adequate to the well-being of Englishmen. No thought of a republican form of government crossed his mind. He had no sympathy with democracy; he believed in a "mixed government" as exemplified in the British system; and while he was not an outspoken advocate of an American peerage, he would have approved of its institution. Like so many upper-class Americans, he was English as well as colonial; he could not conceive that the heritage of England to her sons was circumscribed by geographical lines, and he habitually thought and spoke in terms of the British Empire, and never in local terms. What he most feared was a misunderstanding that would widen into rupture. There is more than a hint of the doctrine of passive resistance in his counsel of moderation:
The cause of liberty is a cause of too much dignity to be sullied by turbulence and tumult. It ought to be maintained in a manner suitable to her nature. Those who engage in it, should breathe a sedate, yet fervent spirit, animating them to actions of prudence, justice, modesty, bravery, humanity, and magnanimity. . . . I hope, my dear countrymen, that you will, in every colony, be on your guard against those, who may at any time endeavour to stir you up, under pretense of patriotism, to any measures disrespectful to our Sovereign and our mother country. Hot, rash, disorderly proceedings, injure the reputation of a people, as to wisdom, valour, and virtue, without procuring them the least benefit. I pray GOD, that he may be pleased to inspire you and your posterity, to the latest ages, with a spirit of which I have an idea, that I find a difficulty to express. To express it in the best manner I can, I mean a spirit, that shall so guide you, that it will be impossible to determine whether an American's character is most distinguishable, for its loyalty to his Sovereign, his duty to his mother country, his love of freedom, or his affection for his native soil. 
In these earlier years of the controversy Dickinson seems to have remained placidly unaware of the sordid realities of parliamentary huckstering, the details of which Franklin was daily noting in his letters. He seems honestly to have believed in the justice and good intentions of the King and his ministers, and he felt little sympathy for the New England malcontents. But as the debate dragged on, and the English politicians in whose rectitude he had professed confidence, clearly were playing into the hands of British trading interests, going so far as to seek to bolster up the falling fortunes of the East India Company at the expense of colonial merchants, he was impelled to speak with plebeian warmth. His Two Letters on the Tea Tax, written in November, 1773, are as vigorous in denunciation as Samuel Adams could have penned.
Five Ships, loaded with TEA, on their Way to America, and this with a View not only to enforce the Revenue Act, but to establish a Monopoly for the East-India Company, who have espoused the Cause of the Ministry; and hope to repair their broken Fortunes by the Ruin of American freedom and Liberty! No Wonder the Minds of the People are exasperated . . . to a degree of Madness. . . . Pray have you heard, whether they and the Ministers have not made a Property of us, and whether WE, our WIVES and CHILDREN, together, with the HARD EARNED FRUITS OF OUR LABOUR, are not made over to this almost bankrupt Company, to augment their Stock, and to repair their ruined Fortunes? Justice seems to have forsaken the old World. . . . The Rights of free States and Cities are swallowed up in Power. Subjects are considered as Property. . . . Are we . . . to be given up to the Disposal of the East-India Company? . . . . Their conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given ample Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain . . . hackneyed as they are in Murders, Rapine, and Cruelty, [they] would sacrifice the Lives of Thousands to preserve their Trash, and enforce their measures. 
The ideal of a beneficent British Empire, extending English freedom through the world, appealed to the imagination of Dickinson; but the reality of British imperialism, "hackneyed in murders, rapine and cruelty," seeking to extend its exploitation to America, striking at the trade interests of Philadelphia and his merchant friends, was enough to disturb his legal calm. What fate awaited American rights and liberties if the London imperialists were permitted to prey upon them, he began to comprehend. The bones would be picked clean, and America would become another India. It was the deepening fear of such a possibility that sapped Dickinson's loyalty, and reconciled him to independence after the thing was done.
The later years of Dickinson were happier than those of the middle period. The conservative reaction that set in with the conclusion of peace carried the emerging party of nationalism back to the position of Whiggery, which Dickinson had tenaciously occupied. The leaders of that party were coming to agree on the necessity for a closer alignment in defense of property rule, and they gladly accepted Dickinson as an ally and co-worker. He was chosen a member of the Constitutional Convention, and there found a congenial audience for the exposition of his political principles. In the debates he spoke as a high Federalist who would like to go further toward the model of the British system than the state of the public mind rendered expedient. A strong and stable government, he believed, depended upon a just balance of king, lords, and commons.
A limited monarchy lie considered as one of the best governments in the world. He was not certain that the same blessings were derivable from any other form. It was certain that equal blessings had never yet been derived from any of the republican forms. A limited monarchy, however, was out of the question. The spirit of the times, the state of our affairs, forbade the experiment, if it were desirable. Was it possible, moreover, in the nature of things, to introduce it, even if these objects were less insuperable? A house of nobles was essential to such a government. Could these be created by a breath, or by a stroke of the pen? No. They were the growth of ages, and could only arise under a complication of circumstances none of which existed in this country. But, though a form the most perfect, perhaps, in itself, be unattainable, we must not despair. 
Granted the necessity of a republican form of government, the question so vital to Whiggery remained, how could property secure and maintain a commanding position in the government? The reply was obvious; it must be through limitation of suffrage rights. If the vote could be restricted to property holders, even though small freeholders were included, the common rights of property would be secure.
Mr. Dickinson had a very different idea of the tendency of vesting the rights of suffrage in the freeholders of the Country. He considered them as the best guardians of liberty; And the restriction of the right to them as a necessary defence agst. the dangerous influence of those multitudes without property & without principle, with which our country like all others, will in time abound. 
A further safeguard offered in the proper constitution of the Senate. As a representative of a small state, Dickinson was concerned that the several states should enjoy a parity of power in the upper house, as he was concerned that the Senate should provide a safeguard for property interests. It must be rendered secure from factional unrest and democratic aggression. He was very likely at one with his friend George Clymer, in holding that "a representative of the people is appointed to think for and not with his constituents"; and to the end that the right persons should be chosen to do the national thinking, he laid down the principle that, "In the formation of the Senate, we ought to carry it through such a refining process as will assimilate it as nearly as may be to the House of Lords in England."  Such expressions throw sufficient light upon Dickinson's opinions of democratic government, but they do not prepare us for a curious inconsistency that marked his last years, namely, his friendship for Jefferson and his sympathy with the Jeffersonian program. The reasons for this strange shift are not clear, but it is generally attributed to his fear of consolidation that might end in subordinating the small states to the greater ones. It certainly was not due to any sympathy with agrarianism.
Dickinson was in no sense a serious political thinker. He was a cultivated lawyer who defended with skill and grace a ready-made philosophy, unconcerned about the social significance of that philosophy. Scarcely anywhere else in his writings does he show to such poor advantage as in the nine Letters of Fabius written in defense of the Constitution during the great debate. There is in them not a single illuminating comment. His most anxious concern is shown in his reply to George Mason's direct charge, that the "government will commence in a moderate aristocracy; it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy, or a corrupt oppressive aristocracy."  After searching the records of the past he concludes that "the uniform tenor of history . . . holds up the licentiousness of the people, and turbulent temper of some of the states, as the only causes to be dreaded, not the conspiracies of federal officers."  The argument had been somewhat staled by Federalistic repetition, but Dickinson soberly accepted it as sound historical interpretation. His cleverest defense he found in an appeal to the analogy of the British constitution, which has only one democratic branch, and that "diseased" by inadequate representation, to withstand the power and influence of king and lords; if English liberty has been thus safeguarded, what danger can threaten America with "a constitution and government, every branch of which is so extremely popular"? 
However greatly the writings of Dickinson, from the Farmer's Letters to the Letters of Fabius, may have appealed to Whiggish lawyers, it is inconceivable that they should have appealed to the rank and file of Americans. As an eighteenth-century gentleman he little understood the spirit of liberalism that was stirring in many minds; he did not sympathize with the turbulent forces that were driving towards a different social order; and in consequence his technical arguments seem today curiously old-fashioned. Franklin's common sense kept him a realist; but Dickinson's loyalty made him an idealist, incapable of understanding current economic forces either in England or America. The colonial was so ingrained in his habits of thought that it was hard for him to become an American. So long as it was politic to profess loyalty to England while remonstrating against minesterial policies, John Dickinson was the man for the business. But when it became necessary to throw aside the mask of loyal professions, to stand up and fight, he was thrust aside to make room for more vigorous spokesmen. No doubt there were desirable things which the radicals overlooked; no doubt the ideal of imperial unity, of a worldwide federation of the several bodies of Englishmen, possessed a grandeur which ardent patriots held too cheap. But that ideal did not prevail, despite Dickinson's earnest endeavors; and in the new order which arose he probably never felt quite at home, or was free from a lingering regret. He belonged still in that older world in which he was bred.
 History of Massachusetts Bay, Vol. III, p. 257.