A Pennsylvania man, Dickinson had long written in defense of the American cause against parliamentary encroachments on the traditional rights of Englishmen that the American colonists had long enjoyed. Yet, as Wilfred M. McClay writes in this fascinating review of a recent biography of Dickinson posted over at The American Conservative notes, Dickinson opposed the push for American independence for most of that summer and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. Despite this opposition, when the Crown in Parliament pressed war upon the American nation, Dickinson took to the field and fought fiercely for American liberty, honor and life.
And in the course of Providence, Dickinson's refusal to go quickly along with the rush towards independence proved essential to the success of the American cause. As Daniel Foster explains in this post over at National Review Online, Dickinson's caution provided the time necessary for the Americans to adequately prepare for war with the greatest superpower the world had yet known at that time.
So, on this 4th of July, spare a moment or two to think about John Dickinson, probably the greatest Founding Father that almost nobody has heard of. A defender of American rights, then attacked as a Loyalist, then a solider in the cause of the Revolution, always a statesman who put love of country and need for order ahead of grant schemes and personal aggrandizement. A worthy model for Americans of any stripe, but especially for conservatives. Here is a Founder who preferred the tried and the true to the novel and innovative, but who also understood that sometime reform, even radical reform, is necessary to preserve the established institutions and customs of a society based on law and traditional rights. And he was a proud patriot who shows that dissent, far from being a source of weakness to be extirpated, can give a nation an opportunity to become stronger and more able.