Mid Term Question (spring 2000)
Answer the following question
In 1768 John Dickinson wrote a letter to "his countrymen" that contained the following paragraphs:
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 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, modesty, bravery, humanity, and magnanimity.Based on your knowledge of the period in which this letter was written,
Every government at some or other falls into wrong measures. these may proceed from mistake or passion. But every such measure does not dissolve the obligation between governors and the governed. The mistake may be corrected; the passion may subside. It is the duty of the governed to endeavor to rectify the mistake, and to appease the passion. They have not at first any other right, than to represent their grievances, and to pray for redress, unless an emergency is so pressing as not to allow time for receiving an answer to their applications, which rarely happens. If their applications are disregarded, then the kind of opposition becomes justifiable which can be made without breaking the laws or disturbing the public peace.
If at length it becomes undoubted that an inveterate resolution is formed to annihilate the liberties of the governed, the English history affords frequent examples of resistance by force. What particular circumstances will in any future case justify such resistance can never be ascertained till they happen. Perhaps it may be allowable to say generally that it never can be justifiable until the people are fully convinced that any further submission will be destructive to their happiness.
1. explain why you think Dickinson wrote it. To what people or events was he reacting?An "A" answer
2. evaluate Dickinson's message. Were his views more or less representative of American sentiment at the time?
3. compare Dickinson with men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Hutchinson. With whom would he have been more likely to agree in 1768? In 1776?
1.) Dickinson most likely wrote the letter as a reaction to the Stamp and the four Intolerable Acts which were passed in Parliament around this time. Britain had enacted these laws in an attempt to generate revenue for the expenses of the Seven Years War and to control the port of Boston. These laws were seen as tyrannical acts of a far away government. It was around this time that the idea of getting representation in Parliament was introduced into American political thought.
2) Dickinson's message is very clear and probably reflects the viewpoints of the majority of Americans in 1768. Dickinson feels that liberty and freedom are important ideas and should not be taken lighty. They are to be upheld in the highest regards. He also states that governments make mistakes, like Parliament had done with the Stamp and Intolerable Acts. These mistakes, while not popular, are not permanent and can be amended. The wound that Britain has inflicted on the colonies is not enough to drive them away. They must use legal means to try and have the situation addressed. Only when it becomes totally obvious that the situation cannot be salvaged does it justify active resistance, like revolution. Dickinson is saying that America is upset with Britain, but not to the point of wanting to break away. The colonists still feel that legal redress can solve the problem. Most Americans including Dickinson cannot even imagine a situation where open rebellion would be in order.
3) All of those men would most likely agree with Dickinson in 1768. Adams shows this when he wants to represent the British soldiers who participated in the Boston Massacre. He wanted to show that mob rule does not go in America and that they still followed the laws of Britain. As we move closer to 1776 Paine, Jefferson, and Adams could all disagree with Dickinson's letter of 1768. They felt the time for revolution had come and the rift between the colonies and Britain was unbridgeable. Paine illustrates this in his attack on monarchy in the pamphlet "Common Sense." Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Hutchinson was the only man who could have continued to agree with Dickinson's letter of 1768. Hutchinson was a die-hard supporter of the monarchy and even by 1776 felt that revolution was wrong.