Landmark Books in All Fields
ItemID: #66572
Cost: $9,500.00

Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States

United states congress


(UNITED STATES CONGRESS). Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America, Begun and Held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, in the Year M,DCC,LXXXIX: and of the Independence of the United States, the Thirteenth. Published by Authority. Philadelphia: Printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine, [1791]. Folio, original self-wrappers, stitched as issued, uncut. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $9500.

Rare second folio edition of the collected Acts passed at the First Session of the First Congress, containing an early printing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with its original 12 amendments, this rare association copy twice signed by the Secretary and Acting Governor of the Michigan Territory, Reuben Attwater, along with a laid-in 1804 invitation to a cotillion. One of only 600 copies printed exclusively for governmental use, a volume of landmark legislation in “the most uncharted era in American political history,” seldom seen in original self-wrappers.

This extremely rare second folio edition of the bound Acts passed at the First Session of the First Congress records key legislative events during “the most uncharted era in American political history. Precisely because the new national government was new, every major decision set a precedent and every initiative in domestic or foreign policy threatened to establish a landmark principle.” This volume notably contains an early printing of the nation’s new Constitution (v-xii), whose distinguishing feature “was its purposeful ambiguity about the relationship between federal and state jurisdiction and about the overlapping of the respective branches of the federal government. The Constitution, in short, did not resolve the long-standing political disagreements that existed within the revolutionary generation so much as establish a fresh and more stable context within which they could be argued out… Nothing less was at stake than the true meaning of the American Revolution” (Ellis, American Sphinx, 121).

The First Session (March 4-September 29, 1789) of the First-and longest-Congress, in which James Madison “was indisputably the ‘first man’ of the House” (Banning, 294), is especially distinctive for its official ratification of the Constitution and its lengthy deliberation of a draft of the Bill of Rights, printed herein (92-3). "A majority of the framers of the Constitution believed a Bill of Rights unnecessary… The people felt otherwise and Massachusetts, Virginia, New York and other states ratified with a recommendation that a Bill of Rights specifically safeguarding individual rights should also be added” (Grolier American, 57). Jefferson, then on diplomatic duties in France, maintained “‘a Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth” (Banning, 283). Madison needed to be convinced, however, that such a document would ever “control a fixed, tyrannical majority of voters. ‘Wherever there is an interest or power to do wrong, wrong will generally be done” (Banning 284). Nevertheless “Madison, at the opening session of the First Congress of the new government, introduced 12 amendments to the Constitution, of which the first was a temporary measure only, and the second was rejected by more than a third of the states” (Grolier, American, 57). “If Madison had had his way entirely, the Bill of Rights would have been different in significant respects from the amendments that were finally approved. The alterations would have been incorporated in the body of the Constitution, not tacked to its end… The Senate’s alterations and deletions sharply tested Madison’s good temper. Even in the House, the tedious, extended process was a trial.” Yet ultimately there was nothing in the final Bill of Rights markedly different from what Madison had originally proposed. “The 12 amendments offered to the states [of which only ten were ever ratified], were very much the ones that he had drafted” (Banning, 287-9). This volume contains all of the acts passed by the First Session of the First Congress, including legislation on the Departments of State, War and Treasury, duties on imported goods, governance of western territories, salaries for the various branches, judicial courts and the negotiation of treaties. Second folio edition, preceded by a 1789, New York, Childs and Swain first folio edition and the same year’s New York octavo edition. Childs and Swaine were engaged to publish congressional Acts in June 1789, the middle of this First Session, and officially contracted to print only “600 copies of the Acts of each session… The bound volumes of the Acts of Congress, issued at the end of each session by Childs & Swaine… came to be very hard to get. They were always in short supply… [leaving] none for public purchase” (Powell, 85-92). Similarly, this second folio edition is likely one of only 600 copies, for it was printed to align with Childs and Swaine’s 1790-91 folio editions, each limited to 600 copies, of the Acts of the Second and Third Sessions. With errata leaf, usually lacking. NAIP locates two copies; OCLC lists one copy. Evans 23842. See Harvard Law Catalogue, 802; Howes A35; Sabin 15493. This especially rare association copy is from the library of Reuben Attwater, who notably served as Secretary of the Michigan Territory and as its acting governor during British occupation in the 1800s. Signed by Attwater on A3 and B1, and containing a laid-in card (2-1/2 by 4 inches), printed and completed in manuscript hand, inviting “R. Attwater & Lady” to an “Assembly Ball… [at] Pettes’s Hall” in Windsor on “Friday Jan,y 24, 1804.”

Tiny bit of wormholing to title page, A3 & B1, not affecting text, and small hole to two final leaves (Aa, Table of Contents and errata), with slight loss of text. An extremely good copy of one of the founding documents in American history, very scarce in original wrappers and entirely uncut.

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