"Gentlemen of the Congress, I say 'Yea, John Dickinson.'"
He had to escape from there.
Good God, why now? Why must Adams choose now to be gracious? To be kind? To act as though - perish the thought - he had a modicum of respect for Dickinson? Why?
The echo of the heavy door slamming shut echoed through the Pennsylvania State House, closing the door on history - history of which John Dickinson, however willingly, would never be a part.
As he made his way out the front doors and past the windows of the Congress, he could faintly hear Hancock say, "Gentlemen, we are about to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper."
The very air seemed different. The humid Philadelphia air carried nothing on the wind save the rustle of leaves and the faint, ever-present stench of rotting food and unwashed bodies. But most noticeable to Dickinson was the absence of the familiar, strident tones issuing from the State House. For the first time in two years, John Adams was absolutely silent.
How ironic. He had once thought that his greatest wish. Now, though, the adversarial revolutionary's fire seemed banked, as though quenched by the enormity of what he had just instigated. Total separation from the Mother Country - total separation from everything he had ever known. Did Adams really believe a few onerous taxes worth the price of rebellion?
Yes, Dickinson realized so abruptly he very nearly had to sit on the spot. He did believe, and that was why Adams could raise Dickinson's ire in a way no other Congressman could. Adams, for all his blustery talk, believed those onerous taxes worth life and death.
Echoing from the past, his own words came back to him. "Do you expect us to forsake Hastings and Magna Carta, Strongbow and Lionheart, Drake and Marlborough?"
For what had those battles been fought and won?
For that, in short, was the entire history of the peoples of England - a battle for freedom. Freedom from the Norsemen, freedom from the Normans, freedom from French domination and tyrannical kings and Puritan dictators and the Armada of Spain.
Could John Adams truly have it aright? Could John Adams, in instigating separation from England, be upholding the truest tradition of every Englishman born? Could he, in his quest to free the Colonies from British rule, unknowingly be holding true to his heritage in a manner he had never intended?
Surely there was another option, another olive branch worth extending. After all, never in English history had the fight for freedom extended to total abandonment of King and country.
And yet - and yet, perhaps now he understood the why, if not the how.
"Penny for your thoughts." The voice, although familiar, lacked the antagonism of bygone days, and Dickinson found that perhaps the voice was not so unwelcome after all.
"I believe," Dickinson said, slowly, "I may have misjudged you."
"As I believe," replied Adams, gravely, "I may have misjudged you."
Somehow Dickinson found himself caught in blue eyes, eyes begging for understanding - for respect. For the acknowledgment that although they disagreed on many a point, they were kindred souls - merely two men caught on the cusp of history. They were not meant to be more than ordinary men of their time - Adams a New England lawyer and farmer, Dickinson a Pennsylvania gentleman. They should have passed their lives - and their deaths - in quiet obscurity.
And yet the march of history had placed them at a crossroads, a crossroads neither of them should have had to face - and all they were attempting to do, in their own way, was come out the other side of this crossroads with lives and spirits intact. They both wanted the best for their state, and for their people. As he had said two hours earlier, "...I regard America no less than does Mr Adams." And yet it had taken him until now to realize the truth of that statement - and to make sense of why.
The absolute understanding in Adams' eyes staggered him - and then a surprisingly gentle hand was on his shoulder.
"I believe," said Adams, "I respect you even more for your choice than I thought I did. Mr Wilson, after all, cast his vote out of desire for obscurity. You, on the other hand, stood by your convictions although it left you a single voice, standing alone. Next to my Abigail's valiant management of farm and family these past years, it is, I believe, the single greatest display of courage I have ever witnessed."
The prick of tears at Dickinson's eyes shocked him. "Forgive me," he said, in a voice that absolutely did not tremble, "I did not realize how much I wished to hear those words from you until this moment."
Those piercing blue eyes caught his once more, and yet again, Dickinson could only stare dumbly at the depths of the passion he could now recognize.
"You are," said Adams, quite deliberately, "going to be a great man, John Dickinson."
It is John Adams who hands him the quill, having taken up the duty after his signing as a representative of the Massachusetts delegation. The roll had continued, through New Hampshire and New Jersey, New York and North Carolina - and had now come, at last, to Pennsylvania.
As he reached for the plain quill-pen, he once again caught blue eyes.
You are going to be a great man, John Dickinson.
He saw the flash of memory in the other man's eyes, the acknowledgment, the shared communion of spirits that had yet to alter or fade after thirteen years of hardship and struggle, of blood, sweat and tears.
And, still holding the eyes of the man who had all but single-handedly brought them to this day and this moment, John Dickinson bent and signed his name to the Constitution of the United States of America.
We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility...