"THE MOST LEARNED STATEMENT OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL GROUNDS FOR COLONIAL RESISTANCE": FIRST EDITION OF JOHN ADAMS' REVOLUTIONARY NOVANGLUS LETTERS, COMPLETE IN BOOK FORM FOR THE FIRST TIME, RARE UNCUT IN ORIGINAL BOARDS
((AMERICAN REVOLUTION) ADAMS, John and LEONARD, Daniel). Novanglus, and Massachusettensis; or Political Essays, Published in the Years 1774 and 1775, on the Principal Points of Controversy, between Great Britain and Her Colonies…. To Which Are Added a Number of Letters, Lately Written by President Adams, to the Honourable William Tudor. Boston: by Hews & Goss, 1819. Octavo, original paper spine and blue-gray paper boards, uncut. $4200.
First edition of John Adams' Novanglus letters, a series of essays that appeared under his pseudonym in a Boston newspaper just prior to Lexington and Concord, together complete in book form for the first time—"Adams' expansive defense of the colonies' autonomy would play an important role in America's intellectual justification for declaring independence from Great Britain"—uncut in original boards.
"The Continental Association and the Bill of Rights of the First Continental Congress turned American against American as never before… men debated the wisdom of extremist leadership, the prudence of the steps taken by the Congress, and the nature of the proper relationship between colonies and mother country. Especially intense in Massachusetts, this debate gave rise to the famous exchange of pseudonymous newspaper letters between John Adams as Novanglus and Daniel Leonard as Massachusettensis" (Massachusetts Historical Society: Papers of John Adams V2). Leonard's defense of British policies appeared in a series of 17 letters printed in Massachusetts newspapers from Dec. 12, 1774 to April 3, 1775. Adams responded with 12 letters that appeared in the Boston Gazette from Jan. 23 to April 17, 1775 (a final letter never appeared in newspapers at the time, due to a suspension of printing after Lexington and Concord).
Adams' Novanglus letters, which are highly detailed essays, became "the most learned… statement of the strictly constitutional grounds for colonial resistance… If there was some supreme judiciary, mundane or divine, before which the principal actors in the dispute between Great Britain versus English America might be called to present their respective viewpoints, the American cause could find no better spokesman" (Smith, John Adams, 190). Here Adams presented "the most thorough examination of America's constitutional relationship with Great Britain published before Independence." By asserting that the bond between Britain's monarch and British American colonists was a voluntary compact, and by redefining a view of republics, Adams "achieved one broad objective, the building of an extensive legal and historical defense for the assertion by Britain's North American colonies that they were beyond the authority of the British Parliament."
He drew on works by James Harrington, John Locke and Grotius but, ultimately, it would be Lexington and Concord that "had a direct impact on… the ideas he developed in those essays. Adams' expansive defense of the colonies' autonomy would play an important role in America's intellectual justification for declaring independence from Great Britain, and his renewed interest in republican government would become fundamental both to America's embrace of republicanism and to his own political thought" (Ryerson, John Adams' Republic, 152, 138, 155). This first edition contains the first complete printing in book form of Adams' Novanglus letters; it was issued by Boston printers Abraham Hews Jr., and Sylvester Gross, who had obtained Adams' consent, and reprinted the letters "directly from the original newspapers with minor changes in punctuation… the preface, wrongly identifying Jonathan Sewall as Adams' antagonist, describes the relationship between the two men and their last meeting. The appendix contains letters, published as well as unpublished, from Adams to William Tudor, William Wirt and Hezekiah Niles, describing the opening stages of the American Revolution." Without Adams' knowledge, in 1775 highly edited portions of five of his letters appeared serialized in London in John Almon's Remembrancer. In 1784 English printer John Stockdale reprinted Almon's text in a pamphlet titled, History of the Dispute with America. Adams' 13th Novanglus letter would not appear in print until The American Colonial Crisis (1972) edited by Bernard Mason: "Mason is the first to print, if only in part, Adams' 13th letter" (Massachusetts Historical Society). Howes A63. Sabin 263. Early owner signature of Jonathan Hastings, reportedly the son of the Revolutionary-era figure whose "house served as headquarters for the Committee of Safety at the start of the Revolutionary War. Following the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Committee met in Hasting's house to discuss the proper course of action against the British. It was here that General Artemas Ward was selected to be the Commander-in-Chief of the arriving New England militias that had begun assembling on the Cambridge Common following the battle" (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts). His brother Walter Hastings "was a surgeon in the Revolutionary Army and may have accompanied Dr. Joseph Warren to Bunker Hill" (drawn from Paige, History of Cambridge; Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, and other sources). Later signature of George F. Richardson.
Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing, expert restoration to original paper spine and original boards, boards with minimal edge-wear.