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Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson Hardcover – 8 Dec 2008


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“In exploring Dickinson, Quaker theology, Revolutionary political thought, and the relationships between them, Calvert has invited us into fresh territory, and she has done so with graceful style.” —Emma Lapsansky-Werner, Journal of Law & Religion

“Jane E. Calvert’s book is the culmination, to date, of that collective effort [to take Quakers seriously], the keystone in an arch of scholarly writings that opens the way to a thoughtful and stimulating reconsideration of Quakerism. …This is a scholarly accomplishment of note and it will, I hope, generate some restating of revolutionary history.” —Alan Tully, American Historical Review

"The volume is well organized, leading the reader progressively through sections on Quakerism in general..." -Stuart B. Jennings, Church History

"In a provocative monograph, historian Jane E. Calvert puts the Quakers and John Dickinson back into the story of America's constitutional founding and American political history writ large." -Kyle G. Yolk, Journal of the Early Republic

“Calvert’s reassessment of John Dickinson’s role in the revolutionary and founding era of the United States is so much more than another ‘founding father’ biography. It is instead one of the most thorough treatments of American Quakerism in general and Quaker politics and resistance in particular. …[H]er book is essential reading to anyone interested in American reform in general, as well as the history of civil disobedience theories.” —Beverly C. Tomek, Pennsylvania History

“In a clearly argued and well researched thesis, Professor Calvert contributes greatly to the discussion [of Quaker reform] by compiling a synthesis of previous research and her own unique findings. The conclusions, though clearly developed, are not without controversy, but any future discussion will have to address many of the issues she had clearly articulated and for that we can only be grateful.” —Stuart B. Jennings, Church History

“In a provocative monograph, historian Jane E. Calvert puts the Quakers and John Dickinson back into the story of America’s constitutional founding and American political history writ large. Challenging readers to shelve preconceptions of Quakers as apolitical quietists, Calvert convincingly shows Quakers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries pioneering a then unique tradition of constitutional thought and political action….[C]onstitutional and political historians should join scholars of Quakers and colonial and revolutionary Pennsylvania in wrestling with Calvert’s bold claims about the Quaker influence on American popular sovereignty.” —Kyle G. Volk, Journal of the Early Republic

“Jane E. Calvert’s study is narrow and deep, showing the relationship between religion and politics within an examination of Pennsylvania Quakers and their intellectual influence on Founder John Dickinson.” —Ellen Holmes Pearson, William and Mary Quarterly

Book Description

This theory of a perpetual yet amendable constitution and its concomitant idea of popular sovereignty are things that most scholars believe did not exist until the American Founding. This book traces the theory of Quaker constitutionalism from the early Quakers through Founding Father John Dickinson to Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very good book 12 Mar. 2010
By Ann Dubuisson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I got the book because I thought it was all about John Dickinson. The last l/3 was about Dickinson and certainly did not disappoint. The first 2/3 is about Quaker thought and action - religious, civil and social - and is truly fascinating. An an attorney and history buff, I found Quaker influence on our early American history, law, constitution and political thought extremely interesting. Jane Calvert is a gifted writer. I highly recommend this book.

Ann Sturgill
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating; Great Contribution 17 Jun. 2013
By Learning New Ways - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I found this book fascinating. About 25% of my ancestry is Quakers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the Colonial era and so their cultural legacy still had some life in it even into the 20th Century in my family.

With this background as well as other books I've read on Quaker history, such as Albion's Seed, and also being a lawyer who has studied the Constitution, I found many of the assertions of this book to be true.

I think that the populations of this region were serious-minded, hard-working, loathed violence and unmanaged lust, hated feudalist and religious privilege, respected flexible authority, hated authoritarianism, and had a concept of child-nurture (by both parents) and child development. I think they had a long history of seeing women and men as separate people, and women were more accustomed to taking responsibility for themselves.

What surprised me was the author's claim that this was based entirely in religion and that it had a "great man" focus, like on John Dickinson. I think that it is more cultural in origin, and I think they were suspicious of "great men"; it's likely not a coincidence that John Dickinson is the founding father "no one has heard of". The early Quakers were Scandinavian-descended people from a region in England, the north Midlands that had resisted the Norman Conquest. They may have looked different enough physically that they were an oppressed ethnic group. Their cultural values were neither Anglo-Saxon nor the Catholic/Anglican views institutionalized in the Norman Conquest. The Norman Conquest was based in French Roman Catholicism and the Scandinavians of the North Midlands were well-equipped to resist it since it was their own countrypeople, the Norse, who had adopted the culture of French Catholicism who sought to control England in the Conquest. It is like seeing your brother after he has left home and learned some new ideas; if you think these ideas are bunk you can say that to him better than someone who doesn't have common history with him.

In any event, the choice Dickinson apparently made as one of the central drafters of the Articles of Confederation and the early draft of its conversion into the Constitution to build the document around a concept of "Person", rather than "Man" as was used in the Declaration of Independence or in the contemporaneously drafted French Constitution is very interesting and seems to reflect this cultural background and humility combined with thoughtful foresight and legal skill. The culture of the Quakers was one where men and women were seen as separate people even within marriage, women were leaders often in ways that were on a par with men, both men and women nurtured children, women could pass personal property to children, etc. These all were somewhat at odds with the common laws of England that had been imported in the French Norman Conquest, such as the laws of coverture where a femme sole (or single woman) could own property and hold the status of a man, but a femme covert (or married woman) had to give all her property to her husband and had no rights. Consistent with the Quaker alternative to this common law view, women in New Jersey could vote in the early years of the US, provided that they could meet the property requirement.

While a lot of the common law of coverture (and similar Napoleonic code laws of head-and-master marriage) did get imported to the US and the Quakers were trying to function in this world of these laws, they didn't seem to agree with them.

Dickinson's use of the term "Person" therefor seems to me to reflect a view that for the country to succeed, men and women needed to see themselves as Persons first and their gender second. It seems to reflect a hope that the oppression of the French common law and Napoleonic code could be repealed over time. And, in fact, it was. The last coverture laws were repealed in the late 1800s and the last head-and-master law was repealed in 1970.
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