Portrait of John Dickinson


Jane E. Calvert, Director and Chief Editor


Now Available for Purchase


Volume One of The Complete Writings and Selected Correspondence of John Dickinson


In 1801, John Dickinson published a two-volume edition containing 14 of his most famous publications from 1764 to 1797. For the next two centuries, editors tried and failed to produce a second edition of his works. With 69 documents covering the years 1751 to 1758, this inaugural volume was ten year in the making. It includes the first unabridged and thoroughly annotated version of his letters to his parents from his legal training at London’s Middle Temple from 1753 to 1757, as well as legal notes from his first years of practice in Pennsylvania. Because they are illegible as archival documents, none of these notes have been studied before. They demonstrate Dickinson’s heretofore unknown role as lead defense attorney for William Smith during his 1758 libel trial by the Pennsylvania Assembly, and his defense in the Admiralty Court of American merchants in the flag-of-truce trade during the Seven Years’ War. These documents reveal a wealth of information about Dickinson as an idealistic young man who set the tone for the next fifty years of his legal and political career when he said, “there cannot be upon Earth, a nobler Employment than the Defence of Innocence, the Support of Justice, & the Preservation of Peace and Harmony amongst Men.” He then became the only leading founder to free all his slaves during his lifetime, write abolition legislation, provide reparations, and work to protect the rights of other vulnerable populations, including women, Indians, the poor, and criminals.




“This edition of the works of John Dickinson represents long overdue scholarly and critical attention to one of the truly pivotal figures in the early history of the United States. The significance of this project is very great, both for attention to Dickinson and for the quality of the edition itself. The introduction to this edition, which covers the critical years when Dickinson’s Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania made him a much-noticed public figure, shows that he was much more than only a significant political thinker and controversial political actor. The range of additional venues or spheres in which he exerted his influence and which are illuminated by this critical edition of his works is astonishing. Currently, the ‘Founding Fathers’ are far too often artificially limited. Among the other significant ‘founders’ who have not received nearly as much historical attention as they deserve, Dickinson stands foremost.”

—Mark Noll, Notre Dame, author of In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life


“This edition, because of John Dickinson’s own life and because of the skill with which the edition is being prepared, would make a very important contribution to deepening knowledge for an extraordinary number of important subjects in colonial and early national American history.”

—Anonymous Reviewer

Portrait of John Dickinson and manuscript image courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia