Cool, Considerate Man


I have always loved the musical 1776, although I recognize that the actual history and what is depicted in the musical often part company.  Perhaps the greatest divergence is in the case of John Dickinson, a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, who is represented in the play as an arch reactionary and  Tory.

The song Cool, Cool Considerate Men featuring Dickinson was a scarcely veiled attack on modern conservatives in general and President Nixon in particular.  That raises lots of ironies.  Conservatism in a political context was first used in 1818.  Our modern political divisions would have been largely meaningless to the men of the Revolution.  Although cordially hated by the Left in America, Nixon was mostly a fairly liberal Republican on domestic matters.  Most of the Broadway and film cast of 1776 were fairly Left wing, but both the play and the movie have been embraced by contemporary conservatives as a celebration of America.  Works of art tend to transcend their time of creation, and the passions of the day, and get away from their creators as time passes.


Dickinson, as the play rightly indicates at the end, enlisted to fight in the Revolution, and had the odd military career of serving  first as a militia Brigadier General and then as a militia Private.  During the War he also served as President (Governor) of Delaware and as President (Governor) of Pennsylvania.  After the war he served as a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention, and supported the ratification with a series of articles written under the pen name Fabius.

Dickinson mainly opposed an immediate declaration of independence in 1776 because he wished the Articles of Confederation, which he had largely drafted, to be first sent to the 13 colonies and ratified by them, and for the colonies to obtain a powerful foreign ally before such a declaration was made to the World.  Dickinson was a firm patriot willing to risk his own skin in the War, so his opposition to the Declaration of Independence did no long term damage to his reputation during his life.

On July 1, he made a speech against immediate independence.  The debate was apparently fierce while he spoke, and thus the speech has a fragmentary quality: (more…)

Published in: on May 17, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)