Senior Honors Theses
History Department Honors Program

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

May 2008


A Senior Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Honors in History.
Faculty Advisor: Richard Beeman


The thesis, "Reading Under the Folds: John Dickinson, Gordon’s Tacitus, and the American Revolution" examines the effects that one of the most important radical Whig texts had on one of the leading figures of the American Revolutionary movement. John Dickinson is often overlooked in histories of the American Revolution despite being a strong force from the time of the Stamp Act Congress through the Second Continental Congress, penning many of the resolves that came out of these meetings along with the highly influential Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer. This thesis examines Dickinson's personal copy of Thomas Gordon's translation of the works of the Roman historian, Tacitus, published with Gordon's Discourses on the translation. This radical Whig text was revered by almost all of the American Founders, Dickinson included. Dickinson provided future readers of his copy of the text a unique insight into exactly what he took note of as he read the five volume work. He made no notes in the margins of his copy of the text, but rather folded literally hundreds of pages to mark particular passages throughout the work. Thus, he allowed future readers to literally read along with him. It turns out that almost every fold had a purpose. This thesis analyzes exactly what Dickinson highlighted through his folds and looks at the influence that these highlights had on some of the most crucial moments of his Revolutionary career, including how they very well might have been one of the factors that led to his fateful decision to not sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776.


John Dickinson, American Revolution, Thomas Gordon, Tacitus



Date Posted: 12 May 2008