SGA Historical Materials

The American Revolution – Primary Source document

John Dickinson

The "Popular Tyranny" of a Republic

Philadelphia – July 1, 1776

It too often happens, fellow citizens, that men, heated by the spirit of party, give more importance in their discourses, to the surface and appearance of objects, than either to reason or justice; this evincing that their aim is not to appease tumults, but to excite them; not to repress the passions, but to inflame them, not to compose ferocious discords, but to exasperate and imbibe them more and more. They aspire to please the powerful, to gratify their own ambition, to flatter the caprices of the multitude, in order to captivate their favour.

I invite the attention of those who hear me, since my opinion may differ from that of the majority, but I dare believe it will be shared by all impartial and moderate citizens, who condemn this tumultuous proceeding, this attempt to coerce our opinions, and to drag us, with so much precipitation to the most serious and important of decisions.

Now it is an established fact, that America can be well and happily governed by the English laws, under the same king and the same parliament. Two hundred years of happiness furnish the proof of it; and we find it also in the present prosperity, which is the result of these venerable laws and of this ancient union. It is not as independent, but as subjects; not as republic, but as monarchy, that we have arrived at this degree of power and of greatness.

What then is the object of these chimeras, hatched in the days and discord and of war? Shall the transports of fury have more power over us than the experience of ages? Shall we destroy, in a moment of anger, the work cemented and tested by time?

I know the name of liberty is dear to each one of us; but have we not enjoyed liberty even under the English monarchy? Shall we this day renounce that to go and seek it in I know not what form of republic, which will soon change into a licentious anarchy and popular tyranny?

Still inexperienced and in our infancy, what proof have we given of our ability to walk without a guide? None, and if we judge the future by the past, we must conclude that our concord will continue as long as the danger and no longer.

Hitherto, in our intercourse with the different nations of the world, England has lent us the support of her name and of her arms; we have presented ourselves in all the ports and in all the cities of the globe, not as Americans, a people scarcely heard of, but as English; under the shadow of this respected name, every port was open to us, every way was smooth, every demand in our favor.

From the moment when our separation shall take place, everything will assume a contrary direction. The nations will accustom themselves to look upon us with disdain; even the pirates of Africa and Europe will fall upon our vessels, will massacre our seamen, or lead them into cruel and perpetual slavery.

Independence, I am aware, has attractions for all mankind; but I maintain, that, in the present quarrel, the friends of independence are the promoters of slavery, and that those who desire to separate us, would but render us more change the condition of English subjects for that of slaves to the whole world, is a step that could only be counseled by insanity.

The English cherish the liberty we defend; they respect the dignity of our cause; but they will blame, they will detest, our recourse to independence, and will unite with one consent to combat us.

The English constitution seems to be the fruit of the experience of all anterior time; in which monarchy is so tempered, that the monarch finds himself checked in his efforts to seize absolute power; and the authority of the people is so regulated, that anarchy is not to be feared. But for us it is to be apprehended, that when the counterpoise of monarchy shall no longer exist, the democratic power may carry all before it, and involve the whole state in confusion and ruin. Then an ambitious citizen may arise, seize the reins of power, and annihilate liberty forever; for such is the ordinary career of ill-balanced democracies, they fall into anarchy, and thence under despotism.

Primary Source excerpt and adaptation via:

Hezekiah Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America (Baltimore: William Ogden Niles, 1822), pages 493-495.