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“ONE BOLD ACT OF PARLIAMENT… PUT TWO COUNTRIES ASUNDER”: SCARCE FIRST PRINTING OF THE AMERICAN PROHIBITORY ACT, 1776, BRITAIN’S REBUKE TO THE COLONIES THAT TRIGGERED FULL REBELLION
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (PARLIAMENT). (Prohibitory Act) An Act to prohibit all Trade and Intercourse with the Colonies of New Hampshire, Massachuset’s Bay [sic], Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pensylvania [sic] the Three Lower Counties on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, during the Continuance of the present Rebellion within the said Colonies respectively… London: Charles Eyre and William Strahan, 1776. Folio, period-style blue paper wrappers sidesown, text block disbound; pp. (2) 215-244. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $4800.
First printing of the incendiary Prohibitory Act, passed by Parliament in late 1775, Britain’s harsh answer to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and Bunker Hill in making American ships “fair game for the Royal Navy,” the one act of Parliament that John Adams hailed as “the dismemberment of the British Empire… [It] makes us independent.” One of 1100 copies.
As news of the Battles of Lexington & Concord and Bunker Hill reached Britain, the king proclaimed the colonies to be in “open and avowed rebellion” and warned of America’s path toward “a rebellious war which is ‘manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent empire.” Parliament followed his lead by passing, in late December 1775, the fateful American Prohibitory Act, which “ordered all trade with the colonies stopped. This statute made American ships and their cargoes fair game for the Royal Navy; all ships trading with the colonies were to be ‘forfeited to his Majesty, as if the same were the ships and the effects of open enemies’ ” (Middlekauff, 315). To John Adams and fellow patriots, the day the Prohibitory Act passed “was independence day; and accordingly as soon as the news… reached America, the open discussion of independence began” (Fisher, Struggle for American Independence I:441). As Richard Henry Lee observed, “‘the court, by one bold act of Parliament, have already put the two countries asunder”(Edgar, Campaign of 1776, 36). Delegates of the Continental Congress ultimately answered the incendiary Prohibitory Act in kind, stating that “whereas the parliament of Great Britain hath lately passed an Act, affirming these colonies to be in open rebellion, forbidding all trade and commerce with the inhabitants thereof… [It is] resolved that all ships and other vessels… belonging to any inhabitant or inhabitants of Great Britain, taken on the high seas … shall be deemed and adjudged to be lawful prize.” John Adams praised the action of Congress, writing General Gates: “I know not whether you have seen the Act of Parliament called the restraining act, or prohibitory act, or piratical act, or plundering act, or act of independency, for by all these titles is it called. I think the most apposite is the act of independence, for king, Lords and Commons have united in sundering this country from that, I think forever. It is a complete dismemberment of the British Empire. It throws 13 colonies out of the royal protection, levels all distinctions, and makes us independent” (Douglas IX:864). One month after passage of this Act, Paine’s Common Sense was published in Philadelphia and in July 1776, America declared its independence. First edition, first printing, in gothic type, from the Sessional Volumes of Parliament. Such acts printed prior to 1796 are extremely scarce, since the maximum number printed “only slightly exceeded 1100 copies” (Report of the Committee for the Promulgation of the Statutes, 1796). Sabin 52780.
A fine copy.