The Forging of American Independence, 1774–1776
Richard R. Beeman
Basic Books, $29.99, 492 pp.
In October 1774, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania composed the final draft of the First Continental Congress’s petition to the king, pleading with him to restore the rights Americans had long possessed. Dickinson, a wealthy lawyer, had gained renown with Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, a widely-read series of essays written in 1767–68 in response to the Townshend Duties. The essays argue that Parliament had no constitutional right to raise revenue by taxing the colonies. In the petition to the king, Dickinson combined a strong indictment of the king’s “designing” ministers for their “most desperate and irritating projects of Oppression,” with fulsome expressions of affection for George III himself. Like most other American colonists, Dickinson was not eager to break with his king and country.
To lawyer John Adams of Massachusetts, who would be perpetually at odds with Dickinson from this moment on, the appeal was too submissive. But to almost all the other delegates at the Congress, the rhetoric of loyalty and affection rang true. Endorsed by the Congress, the petition was “a nearly pitch-perfect reflection of the divided state of mind of the vast majority of American colonists in the fall of 1774,” writes historian Richard R. Beeman in...