A Cool, Cool, Considerate Man
Disclaimer: I am an aspiring historian of the American Revolution and an avid fan of musical theater, neither of these facts; however, give me ownership of the musical 1776 or any of the characters, situations, or music in it.
Summary: To the congress he is cool, calm, and collected, only to his wife does he let his true feelings be known. A collection of moments between John Dickinson and his wife.
Note: a few things, one John Dickinson married Mary 'Polly' Norris in July of 1770, she was thirty he was thirty eight, they had five children, although only two survived to adulthood. I also do not own the quote about beliefs and hobbies - that is by one of my favorite modern people Jon Stewart, who like Thomas Jefferson, graduated from the College of William and Mary. As a side, random fact, I will be attending graduate school in the fall beginning my Masters (I'll eventually get my PhD… I hope) my research interests revolve around loyalists, loyalism, conservatism in the American revolution and the role of women. So while my favorite founding father is John Adams I have a particular intellectual affinity for John Dickinson and particularly for depictions of John Dickinson.
Sally was settled into bed with minimal fuss, the wee lamb. Little John was another matter entirely. Even though there was nothing he could do and he really needed to get some work done he still felt bad. Guilty. He was their father damnit, yet he never had time to help his wife with their children. He never had time to see his children – awake anyway. A kiss at bedtime and that was it. His time with Polly did not fare better. The reading and the writing, the writing and the reading, his time at home was just time in his office punctuated by fitful attempts at sleep. In some ways he envied the other delegates, far from home. They were truly separated from their families, the longing must be maddening for them, and John knows that everyone is jealous of him in this one respect. He lives here. He is home. He sleeps beside his wife each night. Ned Rutledge once commented on such a privilege as they exited Congress together one muggy evening, John on his way to Fairhall, Ned to the boarding house he had made his northern home.
"I often have wondered how you remain so cool and collected during session when some in our number erupt at every opportunity." He drawled, one side of his mouth turning up in a smirk. "But then I recall that while I return to my room to sleep alone you return to your home and your wife each night."
Yet what should be his paradise is his hell. At least if he was away he would be gone, but no he is home and yet not really there. He sees and hears all that he is missing but cannot join in.
There is work to be done. Angrily he crumpled up the paper he had been writing, the last line was blotted and he noticed at least three simple words he had misspelled. It would never do. He lobbed the hateful thing into the hearth before burying his face in his hands.
War. If he failed the country, his home, everything would be consumed and destroyed and who would know when the fighting would stop – if it would stop. Even if they threw off the yoke of England and Parliament's tyranny, they had no government. They had no plan for a government. They had a room full of lawyers and politicians day in and day out who could not agree if they wanted to open a window. After they fought England what would stop them from fighting one another? What would stop another imperial power from stepping in and enslaving them? The terrifying possibilities kept him awake at night.
He'd not noticed Polly enter his office until he felt his wig be lifted from his head and the cool of her hands running through his short cropped hair sooth him. She ran her hand through his hair a few times before working her fingers lower, massaging his neck and shoulders through his linen shirt.
"If these knots you call shoulders become any tighter they could secure a merchant vessel." Polly commented, her tone not as light as her words. "You need to take better care of yourself, John, I am worried. Will you come to bed before midnight tonight?" he felt his shoulders loosen under his wife's skillful hands. She was an angel and her touch heaven.
"There is much left to be done Polly. I-I am sorry." His shoulders began to tighten again as each regret on his long list bubbled toward the surface. He felt like crying. Oh if Ned Rutledge could see him now. Or Mr. Adams. Or any of the men at Congress. He was anything but a cool, cool confident man. Polly gripped his shoulders tightly.
"Don't you dare apologize to me. Not for crying. Never for crying. You are trying to save the world – my world – our world." A tear did fall hat her words and he buried his face deeper into his hands. All of his walls crumbled to the ground as his pretenses strained and snapped under the pressure.
"Hardly. All I am doing is neglecting our children and you." There was a little space between himself and the desk but somehow she fit herself into his lap, taking his face in her hands. Her eyes were as green as pine and her gaze was as sharp as its needles. She stared into his face, open and honest.
"Our children are three and one, John. They do not notice how long you are gone, they only care when you come home and they will certainly not remember any of this when they get older. They do know that Daddy loves them however. And they know that because you love them so much you are trying to save them from a civil war. Give yourself some credit Love." She smiled and caressed his cheeks with her thumbs, wiping away his frustration and the few tears that had worked their way past his defenses.
"Civil war looms more and more with each passing day. Adams is unyielding in his demands and unrelenting in voicing them. Independency is the popular opinion; the question now is how to articulate it." All of New England was for the war as was half of Pennsylvania. The south was willing provided their interests were maintained and 'Independence' was only extended to the whites of their states and not the vast number of African slaves on their farms. He could see the sympathy in his bride's eyes, the love and the support. And when she kissed him he could taste salvation. He clung to her, his arms wrapping around her soft, slender waist, his lips parting hers so they might seal together better. In his heart he thanked God for the love of this woman, she was so much more than he deserved. Slowly, eventually, she pulled away from his lips. Resting her forehead on his she found her tongue again.
"If they are so excited to fight give them one. You must follow your conscious, John. If you do not hold to your beliefs then they are not really beliefs, they are hobbies." She kissed his forehead before wrapping him in her embrace and holding him close, his chin resting atop her chestnut hair.
"I love you John Dickinson and I trust you. You will do what you believe is right. Now, do I need to go down to the congress tomorrow and knock skulls together?" John began to laugh. Polly joined in. He could just see his darling slip of a wife, barely over five feet tall striding into congress and taking Mister Adams or Mr. Hopkins by the ear and sharing a rather large piece of her mind with them.
"Would you like to bring the children into bed tonight for a cuddle?" Normally Polly was firm that the children needed to sleep in their own beds and not be allowed to trespass in with their parents. Her willingness to break her own rule for his piece of mind brought the first true smile to his lips in days. Nonetheless he shook his head and instead leaned in for another kiss. A breath away from her lips he replied,
"Another time perhaps, a cuddle from their mother, on the other hand, is a different matter." She giggled happily and buried her fingers in his short hair as he kissed her.