Posted by: Democratic Thinker | April 19, 2010

John Dickenson—United We Stand

Background of the American Revolution

John Dickinson, using Franklin’s disjointed snake device for his theme, urges his fellow citizens in Pennsylvania to unite with the other colonies in resisting Britain’s latest tax scheme.

Then join hand in hand brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;

The Liberty Song.

An Address
read at a
Meeting of Merchants
to consider

This address of Dickinson’s was printed without his name in the Pennsylvania Journal of April 28, 1768, and also as a broadside, with the head-lines: The following Address was read at a Meeting of the Merchants, at the Lodge, in Philadelphia, on Monday, the 25th of April, 1768.


John Dickinson.

YOU are called together to give your Advice and Opinion, what Answer shall be returned to our Brethren of Boston & New York, who desire to know, whether we will unite with them, in stopping the Importation of Goods from Great-Britain; until certain Acts of Parliament are repealed, which are thought to be injurious to our Rights, as Freemen and British subjects.

Before you come to any Resolution it may be necessary to explain the Matter more fully.

When our Forefathers came to this Country, they considered themselves as Freemen, and that their coming and settling these Colonies did not divest them of any of the Rights inherent in Freemen; that, therefore, what they possessed, and what they or their Posterity should acquire, was and would be so much their own, that no Power on Earth could lawfully, or of Right, deprive them of it without their Consent. The Governments, which they, with the consent of the Crown, established in the respective Colonies, they considered as political Governments, “where (as Mr. Locke expresses it) Men have Property in their own Disposal.” And therefore (according to the Conclusion drawn by the same Author in another Place) “No Taxes ought or could be raised on their Property without their Consent given by themselves or their Deputies,” or chosen Representatives.

As they were Members of one great Empire, united under one Head or Crown, they tacitly acquiesced in the superintending Authority of the Parliament of Great Britain and admitted a Power in it, to make Regulations to preserve the Connection of the whole entire. Though under Colour of this, sundry Regulations were made that bore hard on the Colonies; yet, with filial Respect and Regard for Great-Britain their Mother Country, the Colonies submitted to them.

It will be sufficient here just to enumerate some of the most grievous.

1. The Law against making Steel or erecting Steel Furnaces, though there are not above 5 or 6 Persons in England engaged in that Branch of Business, who are so far from being able to supply what is wanted, that great Quantities of Steel are yearly imported from Germany.

2. Against Plating and Sliting Mills and Tilt Hammers; though Iron is the Produce of our Country, and from our Manner of building, planting, and living, we are under a Necessity of using vast Quantities of Nails and Plated Iron, as Hoes, Stove-Pipes, Plates, &c., all which are loaded with double Freight, Commissions, &c.

3. The Restraint laid on Hatters, and the Prohibition of exporting Hats.

4. The Prohibition of carrying Wool or any Kind of Woollen Goods manufactured here, from one Colony to another. A single Fleece of Wool or a Dozen of homemade Hose carried from one Colony to another is not only forfeited, but subjects the Vessel, if conveyed by Water, or the Waggon and Horses, if carried by Land, to a Seizure, and the Owner to a heavy Fine.

5. Though the Spaniards may cut and carry Logwood directly to what Market they please, yet the Americans cannot send to any foreign Market, even what the Demand in England cannot take off, without first carrying it to some British Port, and there landing and re-shipping it at a great Expence and loss of Time.

6. Obliging us to carry Portugal and Spanish Wines, Fruit, &c., to England, there to unload, pay a heavy Duty and re-ship them, thus subjecting us to a great Expence, and our Vessels to au unnecessary Voyage of 1000 Miles in a dangerous Sea.

7. Imposing a Duty on Madeira Wines, which, if reshipped to England, are subject to the Payment of the full Duties there without any Drawback for what was paid here.

8. The emptying their Jails upon us and making the Colonies a Receptacle for their Rogues and Villains; an Insult and Indignity not to be thought of, much less borne without Indignation and Resentment.

Not to mention the Restrictions attempted in the Fisheries, the Duties laid on foreign Sugar, Molasses, &c. I will just mention the Necessity they have laid us under of supplying ourselves wholly from Great-Britain with European and East-India Goods, at an Advance of 20, and as to some Articles even of 40 per Cent, higher than we might be supplied with them from other places.

But as if all these were not enough, a Party has lately arisen in England, who, under Colour of the superintending Authority of Parliament are labouring to erect a new Sovereignty over the Colonies with Power inconsistent with Liberty or Freedom.

The first Exertion of this Power was displayed in the odious Stamp-Act. As the Authors and Promoters of this Act were sensible of the Opposition it must necessarily meet with, from Men, who had the least Spark of Liberty remaining, they accompanied it with a Bill still more odious, wherein they attempted to empower Officers to quarter Soldiers on private Houses, with a view, no Doubt, to dragoon us into a Compliance with the former Act.

By the Interposition of the American Agents and of some London Merchants who traded to the Colonies, this Clause, was dropt, but the Act was carried, wherein the Assemblies of the respective Colonies were ordered at the Expence of the several Provinces, to furnish the Troops with a Number of Articles, some of them never allowed in Britain. Besides, a Power is therein granted to every Officer, upon obtaining a Warrant from any Justice, (which Warrant the Justice is thereby empowered and ordered to grant, without any previous Oath) to break into any House by Day or by Night, under Pretence (these are the Words of the Act) of searching for Deserters.

By the spirited Opposition of the Colonies, the first Act was repealed; but the latter continued, which, in its Spirit differs nothing from the other. For thereby the Liberty of the Colonies is invaded and their properly disposed of without their Consent, no less than by the Stamp-Act. It was rather the more dangerous of the two, as the Appearance of the Constitution was preserved, while the Spirit of it was destroyed, and thus a Tyranny introduced under the Forms of Liberty. The Assemblies were not at Liberty to refuse their Assent, but were to be forced to a litteral Compliance with the Act. Thus, because the Assembly of New-York hesitated to comply, their Legislative Power was immediately suspended by another Act of Parliament.

That the Repeal of the Stamp-Act might not invalidate the Claims of Sovereignty now set up, an Act was passed, asserting the Power of Parliament to bind us with their Laws in every respect whatever. And to ascertain the Extent of this Power, in the very next Session they proceeded lo a direct Taxation; and in the very Words in which they dispose of their own Property, they gave and granted that of the Colonies, imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, &c., imported into America, to be paid by the Colonists, for the Purpose of raising a Revenue.

This Revenue when raised, they ordered to be disposed of in such a Manner as to render our Assemblies or Legislative Bodies altogether useless, and to make Governors, & Judges, who hold their Commission during Pleasure, and the whole executive Powers of Government; nay, the Defence of the Country, independant of the People, as has been fully explained in the Farmer’s Letters.

Thus with a Consistency of Conduct, having divested us of Property, they are proceeding to erect over us a despotic Government, and to rule us as Slaves. For “a despotical Power,” says Mr. Locke, is over such as have “no Property at all.” If, indeed, to be subject in our Lives and Property to the arbitrary Will of others, whom we have never chosen, nor ever entrusted with such a Power, be not Slavery, I wish, any Person would tell me what Slavery is.

Such then being the State of the Case, you are now, my Fellow-Citizens, to deliberate, not, whether you will tamely submit to this System of Government—That I am sure your Love of Freedom and Regard for yourselves and your Posterity will never suffer you to think of—But by what Means you may defend your Rights and Liberties, and obtain a Repeal of these Acts.

In England, when the Prerogative has been strained too high, or the People oppressed by the executive Power, the Parliament, who are the Guardians and Protectors of the People’s Liberties, always petition’ for Redress of Grievances, and enforce their Petitions, by withholding Supplies until they are granted.

Our Assembly, who are the Guardians and Protectors of our Liberties, I am told, has applied for Relief from their Acts of Parliament. But having nothing left to give, they could not enforce their Application by withholding any Thing.

It is, however, in our Power, in a peaceable and constitutional Way, to add Weight, to the Remonstrance and Petition of our Representatives, by stopping the Importation of Goods from Britain, until we obtain Relief and Redress by a Repeal of these unconstitutional Acts.

But this, it may be said, is subjecting ourselves to present Loss and Inconvenience.

I would beg Leave to ask, whether any People in any Age or Country ever defended and preserved their Liberty from the Encroachment of Power, without suffering present Inconveniences. The Roman People suffered themselves to be defeated by their Enemies, rather than submit to the Tyranny of the Nobles. And even in the Midst of War, the Parliament of England has denied to grant Supplies, until their Grievances were redressed; well knowing that no present Loss, Suffering, or Inconvenience, could equal that of Tyranny or the Loss of Public Liberty. To cite an Example, which our own Country furnishes; you all remember that in the very Heighth of the late terrible Indian War, our Assembly and that of Maryland chose rather to let the Country suffer great Inconvenience, than immediately grant Supplies on Terms injurious to the public Privileges and to Justice.

As then we cannot enjoy Liberty without Property, both in our Lives and Estates; as we can have no Property in that which another may of Right take and dispose of as he pleases, without our Consent; and as the late Acts of Parliament assert this Right to be in them, we cannot enjoy Freedom until this Claim is given up, and until the Acts made in Consequence of it be repealed. For so long as these Acts continue and the Claim is kept up, our Property is at their Disposal, and our Lives at their Mercy.

To conclude, as Liberty is the great and only Security of Property; as the Security of Property is the chief Spur to Industry, (it being Vain to acquire what we have not a Prospect to enjoy); and as the Stopping the Importation of Goods is the only probable Means of preserving to us and our Posterity this Liberty and Security, I hope, my Brethren, there is not a Man among us, who will not chearfully join in the Measure proposed, and with our Brethren of Boston and New-York freely forego a Present Advantage; nay, even submit to a present Inconvenience for the Sake of Liberty, on which our Happiness, Lives, and Properties depend. Let us never forget that our Strength depends on our Union, and our Liberty on our Strength.

“United we conquer, divided we die.”