John Dickinson and His Concept Liberty.


Concept Liberty may appear to be too narrow for a monograph but the essence of its feeling is as deep as the meaning itself. The word itself has fascinated the scholars around the world and taken a subject of deep consideration by the English people of eighteenth century. The level at which political, social and legal commentators of English has taken the concept Liberty is commendable. Liberty is not merely independence from the sovereign rule but implies what the Richard Price maintained, “There is not a word, which expresses so much of what is important and excellent”. (Rice & Thomas 1991: 23)

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It was a word that was making the world realize who they were, what they wanted to do and above all what their rights and obligations were. It was the word, which was flowing out of every one’s mouth, immersing out from every one’s heart, flowing into the papers and was quite appealing to every supporter of the politician. In the political sphere, there were two most predominant slogans, “Liberty, Property and no Excise” and “Wilkies and Liberty” (Lincoln, & Fornieri 2004: xxi) America too the commander of the Royal Navy in American waters reported Whigs, “tumultuously assembling in the cause of Liberty.” (Lincoln, & Fornieri 2004: xxi) The same year, Henry Goodricke brought two most enchanting words, “liberty and freedom”, as contrast to the slavery and servitude that raised an instant feeling of pride and belongingness.

Along with this, the Stamp Act espoused the feeling expressed by Henry Cummings when he addressed congregation in Billerica, “The dismal dreary clouds flee away, the heavens recover their wanted serenity…. [and] reviving liberty with heightened luster and beauty, flies to our longing bosoms, while slavery, that brat of Satan, vanishes out of sight.” (Lincoln, & Fornieri 2004: xxi) But, the liberty was not merely a means of seeking freedom from subjugations and freedom of slaves but for eighteenth century people liberty itself was a law and what Reid says a legalized custom.

John Paul II on the basis of the American Experiment reciprocated that America exerted independence and right on the basis of the self evidence truths on human person and they brought about what George Washington called ordered liberty. It was the liberty for every one to exert their full right and duty towards their family, and also came along with it religious conviction advocated when the founding father of liberty John Dickinson said, “Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of preexisting rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth.” (First Things, Journal of Religion Culture and Public Life 1998: Online)

John Dickinson was one of the most influential figures as the founding father of the “liberated” America. As a colonial legislature, he was nicknamed “Penman of the legislature” (Ahren, 1998: Online) and because of his call for the colonial rights, politicians labeled his political stand a “perplexing conservatism,” and “a conservative sort of rebel” and a “negative-minded agrarian.” (Calvert 2007: Online) His liberty was more deeply profound and imbibed than the conventional approaches of liberty of England. His ‘liberty’ was also liberty from physical constraint, liberty from moral constraint and an ordered liberty as advocated by George. For Dickinson, liberty also meant attachment with the divinity and a very essential component of the civil society. It adheres to the moral laws of the nation.

He construed the people’s freedom from physical or moral constraints in his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies in 1767 and 1768. He says the real concept on the basis of which liberty is maintained should be followed. Those who have fully understood the meaning of liberty should feel it in a dignified manner, and have a fervent appeal while showing modest behavior, humanity, justice and magnanimity.

He said that when divine providence has given him mouth to speak, allowed his head to think, his lips to speak and his hands to move then he would definitely give value to those blessings. He asserted that he would not remain silent and inactive to keep watching and giving any assent to any degrading act his brothers and he would be facing. It is his birthright to be free and this freedom has been bestowed on him from heaven. (Galles 2005: Online)

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In April 1788, he gave to America his best of his promises towards constitution and liberty in his four essays “Letters of Fabius” and within his concept what constitutes constitution, he imbibes the convention of liberty. “What concerns all, should be considered by all; and individuals may injure a whole society, by not declaring their sentiments. It is, therefore, not only their right, but their duty, to declare them…. Before this tribunal of the people, let every one freely speak, what he really thinks, but with so sincere a reverence for the cause he ventures to discuss, as to use the utmost caution, lest he should lead any into errors, upon a point of such sacred concern as the public happiness”. (Fabius & Dickinson 2004: 3)

Dickinson believed that American republic, as proposed is the best possible regime, which conforms to human nature. He even went to the extent of saying that American Constitution is also an improvement upon the British constitution though no other nation has ever existed happily blended with all extreme measures such as private security of life, liberty, and property, exertion of public force on one hand and arms, arts, science, commerce, and agriculture on the other hand.

Still American Constitution is better as the President here is elected and poses no threat to liberty of people whereas Britain is ruled by monarch and can exercise whole executive powers and is in the command of whole financial and military matters. (Ahern 1998: Online)

It is an ordered liberty, which is an essential element of a democratic set up. It is an experiment whereby men and women can enshrine equality of their rights and all kind of opportunities toward the fulfillment of their goals and happiness. It beholds the service towards human race. The authors of the constitution had fully understood that their could be no freedom without moral responsibility and no accountability and no respect if there is no support from the units or groups they belonged to and sought to progress their life further.

The democracy of the American government has been a great success and millions of people across the world look at the United States to fulfill their dreams for the attainment of freedom, dignity and prosperity. The success of the American Government depends on the way each new generation of the people whether they are natives, or immigrants make their way and follow the moral truth framed by our founding fathers. The commitment and policies they advocated and wanted us to follow, United States must adhere to that to retain their glory for democracy and freedom.

Respect for religion is also the most crucial element in the democratic set up of America and is a foundation on the basis of which stands Liberty. Along with this Dickinson has also made it clear that to maintain the Liberty is in the hands of the people. If they cease to be conscientious, and permit the government to follow all unconstitutional means and they also become morally corrupt and do not choose the wise person as their representative, they will lose their liberty and what will be followed would be loss of happiness.

In his letters of Fabius, he conveys that, if individual does not get right to exert his or her sentiment he may cause injury to the society as a whole. Therefore it is a concern for all to conjure upon the right to speak and declare. But in the letter Fabius, he even cautioned that personal interests could damage whatever judgment the person makes unconsciously and the remedy to this solution he said lies in our not adhering to Unionism, as it is the “political Rock of our Salvation”. (Ahern 1998: Online)

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For John Dickinson, freedom does not mean that comes from the charter or declaration of independent rights, but it is straight from the over lord-lord of the Earth.

Reference List

Ahern, G.S. 1998. The Spirit of American Constitutionalism: John Dickinson’s Fabius Letters. Web.

Calvert, J. E. 2007. Liberty without Tumult: Understanding the Politics of John Dickinson. Web.

Fabius & Dickinson, J. 2004. The Letters Of Fabius In 1788 On The Federal Constitution. Kessinger Publishing.

First Things. 1998. John Paul II on the American Experiment. Journal of Religion Culture and Public Life. Web.

Galles, G. 2005. John Dickenson, Founder and Revolutionary. Web.

Lincoln, A. & Fornieri, J. 2004. The Language of Liberty: The Political Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln. Washington DC: Regnery Gateway.

Price. R & Thomas, D.O. 1991. Political Writings: Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Reid, J. P. 1988. The concept of liberty in the age of the American Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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