A Great—and Greatly Misunderstood—Founder
The Cost of Liberty offers a sorely needed reassessment of a great patriot and misunderstood Founder.
It has been more than a half century since a biography of John Dickinson appeared. Author William Murchison rectifies this mistake, bringing to life one of the most influential figures of the entire Founding period, a principled man whose gifts as writer, speaker, and philosopher only Jefferson came near to matching. In the process, Murchison destroys the caricature of Dickinson that has emerged from such popular treatments as HBO’s John Adams miniseries and the Broadway musical 1776.
Dickinson is remembered mostly for his reluctance to sign the Declaration of Independence. But that reluctance, Murchison shows, had nothing to do with a lack of patriotism. In fact, Dickinson immediately took up arms to serve the colonial cause—something only one signer of the Declaration did. He stood on principle to oppose declaring independence at that moment, even when he knew that doing so would deal the “finishing blow” to his once-great reputation.
Dubbed the “Penman of the Revolution,” Dickinson was not just a scribe but also a shaper of mighty events. From the 1760s through the late 1780s he was present at, and played a significant role in, every major assemblage where the Founders charted America’s path—a claim few others could make. Author of the landmark essays Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, delegate to the Continental Congress, key figure behind the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, chief executive of both Pennsylvania and Delaware: Dickinson was, as one esteemed historian aptly put it, “the most underrated of all the Founders.”
This lively biography gives a great Founder his long-overdue measure of honor. It also broadens our understanding of the Founding period, challenging many modern assumptions about the events of 1776 and 1787.
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“John Dickinson’s vigorous defense of Americans’ rights as Englishmen won him renown throughout the colonies in the 1760s, but his refusal to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776 diminished his reputation and came to be unfairly seen as his defining moment. . . . With The Cost of Liberty, a brisk, admiring biography, journalist William Murchison provides a fuller portrait.”
—Wall Street Journal
“John Dickinson is perhaps the most neglected and least understood of the Founders of our nation. A man of principle and wisdom, Dickinson influenced the course of events and shaped the outcome in critical ways. William Murchison has brought him to life and cleared up some vital areas of the Founding. This book is truly a must read.”
—Forrest McDonald, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the University of Alabama, author of Novus Ordo Seclorum
“The Cost of Liberty is a delightful book—lively, warm, amusing, and intelligent. It brings a brave and wise man splendidly back to life.”
—Richard Brookhiser, author of James Madison and What Would the Founders Do?
“John Dickinson is the most neglected of the true giants of the American War for Independence. Bill Murchison has written a book finally, and fully, worthy of the author of more of our nation’s founding documents than any other man. This biography will stand for the ages.”
—John Willson, professor emeritus of history at Hillsdale College
“Like his biographical subject, John Dickinson, William Murchison possesses wisdom, a felicitous prose style, and a shrewd understanding, as Murchison puts it, of ‘the value of no in political affairs.’ The Cost of Liberty is a gem.”
—Bill Kauffman, author of Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin
“This splendid new account of John Dickinson represents the perfect marriage of subject and author. It is hard to think of a Founder more deserving of a second and third look than the admirable Dickinson. And it is hard to think of a writer more worthy of our admiration than Bill Murchison, a master of the English language.”
—Wilfred M. McClay, Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma
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