Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Who is the most underrated Founding Father?

American historian extraordinaire Forrest McDonald and his wife Ellen Shapo McDonald have a very solid answer to that question: John Dickinson. Read their whole answer over at The Imaginative Conservative. I don't think there is much question that Dickinson is massively overlooked by most modern historians. Along with Samuel Adams, John Jay and Patrick Henry, Dickinson is out of fashion with the modern age. Part of this has to do with the fact that none of those men every ascended to the presidency. But part of it has to do with the intellectual fads and obsessions of our time. Thus, they are not the subject of serious study for the most part. Yet our Revolution and our constitutional order would have been impossible without those men. The fact that they are overlooked says far more about us than it does about them.

[Cross-posted over at my own blog, Libertas et Memoria.]


Tom Van Dyke said...

Gouverneur Morris. Roger Sherman. And the most erudite and brilliant of them all, James Wilson.

Hamilton of course, undone by Jefferson's lackeys by spying on him and his extramarital affair.

Did you know that one little Jeffersonian weasel sat in a carriage outside Hamilton's mistress's house to catch him? The 1790s.

His name? James Monroe, the 5th president of the United States of America.

Look it up for yourself. After Hamilton's death, President James Monroe while traveling in new York, paid a courtesy call at the widow Hamilton's residence.

She refused to see the president. Sent him away. That's how it was.

Brad Hart said...

The most underrated founder: David Barton.

Just kidding: Samuel Adams.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Dickinson was certainly one. And his religion was quite interesting. He had a Quaker background but split with them (obviously) on their pacifism. He wasn't a "theistic rationalist," but he did flirt with unitarianism. Quakers believed in the Bible but not creeds. That, for common sense reasons, led them to downplay the Trinity.

Edward J. Blum said...

Boston's black petitioners for freedom in the 1770s! With little to no power, they voiced an eloquence that would transform the nation first in their state, then in Civil War, and then with Civil Rights!

Edward J. Blum said...

Jason Pappas said...

McDonald clearly made his case. It is a cumulative argument but it has many high points. I still think Dickinson's hesitation to vote for independence will forever keep him from being recognized, with the exception of scholars in the field.

JMS said...

I agree with your choice of John Dickinson.

FYI to adherents of American Creation, I highly reccommend Jane Calvert's book, "Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson."

Here is what Professor Calvert says:

"This book argues that Quakers originated a unique strain of constitutionalism based on their theology and ecclesiology.

In the late-seventeenth century, Quakers originated a unique strain of constitutionalism, based on their theology and ecclesiology, which emphasized constitutional perpetuity and radical change through popular peaceful protest. While Whigs could imagine no other means of drastic constitutional reform except revolution, Quakers denied this as a legitimate option to governmental abuse of authority and advocated instead civil disobedience. This theory of a perpetual yet amendable constitution and its concomitant idea of popular sovereignty are things that most scholars believe did not exist until the American Founding. The most notable advocate of this theory was Founding Father John Dickinson, champion of American rights, but not revolution. His thought and action have been misunderstood until now, when they are placed within the Quaker tradition. This theory of Quaker constitutionalism can be traced in a clear and direct line from early Quakers through Dickinson to Martin Luther King, Jr."

Tom Van Dyke said...

BTW, Gordon Wood nominates James Madison. I think that's probably right---Madison's a star among us history buffs, but he has no memorial, not on any currency, and is pretty invisible to the American general public.

He used to be on $5K bill, but they don't make it any more. Jefferson is on a coin AND a bill, and frankly, if the Founding had to do without one of them, I'd pick Jefferson instead of Madison.

The D of I would happened one way or another, but the Constitution, getting the convention together in the first place, framing it so exquisitely, and then getting it ratified were each a miracle in themselves, and attributable to nobody as much as James Madison.

JMS said...

I finally found Jane Calvert's brief bio of John Dickinson online that I referred ti in my comment above.

Jane E. Calvert, “John Dickinson Biography,” The John Dickinson Writings Project Website. . Date accessed: 6/ 30/ 2012.

I eagerly await her forthcoming book on JD.

Phil Johnson said...

I have heard talk that the Founding Fathers were quite vocal on the use of cannabis.
I'm surprised there is no comment to be found at this site regarding such a controversial subject.