Dickinson carried forward into the constitutional era a great deal of the moral concern expressed by many of the anti-Federalists, a concern grounded in classical republicanism, and he thereby provides a good example of a major debate that remained—and, one hopes, remains—contested. He did not celebrate the Constitution as a well-oiled Rube Goldberg mechanism, cleverly designed to make ambition counteract ambition and render virtue optional, but as a “plain-dealing work,” designed to give “the will of the people a decisive influence over the whole, and over all the parts.” He clearly linked the flourishing of political liberty with a high regard for “that perfect liberty better described in the Holy Scriptures.” His sense of history, prudence, and religion all came together in these words, placed in the mouth of Fabius: “History sacred and profane tells us, that, corruption of manners sinks nations into slavery.” The sole antidote to such corruption was “soundness of sense and honesty of heart.”Read it all, and get a glimpse at the work of one of the most overlooked of the American Founding Fathers, and one of the great conservative minds of the late colonial and early republican periods. It may be too much to hope for, but perhaps some enterprising young historian might be interested in resurrecting John Dickinson from obscurity to the rightful place of prominence he deserves among the Founding Generation?
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
John Dickinson as fusionist thinker
Over at The Imaginative Conservative Wilfred McClay posts this review of William Murchison's book The Cost of Liberty: the Life of John Dickinson: The Anti-Jefferson. In his review, McClay notes that Dickinson often incorporated and fused differing strands of thought into his approach to practical politics. Of particularly interest to those interested in constitutional theory is McClay's observation that Dickinson incorporated critical aspects of anti-federalist theory into his defense of the Constitution, notably the need for a virtuous citizenry in order for the American republic to survive and thrive: