"THAT THESE AMERICAN STATES MAY NEVER CEASE TO BE FREE": FIRST EDITION OF A 1776 ORATION—A REMARKABLE "LONDON FORGERY"
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) ADAMS, Samuel. An Oration Delivered at the State-House, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Printed; London, Re-printed for: J.Johnson, 1776. Slim octavo, contemporary three-quarter red morocco and marbled boards; pp.(2), 1-42. $6750.
First edition of a fascinating Revolutionary work of deliberate political misdirection, misattributed to Samuel Adams, firebrand of the Boston Tea Party, published in the wake of the Declaration "to show that the colonies were bent on independence," issued in London despite the imprint of a fictional Philadelphia printing.
This first edition of a 1776 Revolutionary War pamphlet, with its forged misattribution to Samuel Adams and issued in the wake of the Declaration of Independence, is an intriguing example of a key turning point in political rhetoric. It stands out from similar strategies of misdirection—even at a time when there was a rise in "the volume of propaganda emitted during the years 1763 to 1776, much of it pseudonymous and anonymous" (Alden, 530). As such this is an exemplary work of calculated political misdirection.
Even in the 1800s, questions lingered about this London printing of an Oration, said to be delivered by Samuel Adams on August 1, 1776, in Philadelphia. There would have been no immediate reason to doubt his authorship, given Adams' stature and evidence that "the British kept close watch on his activities" (Stoll, Samuel Adams, 185). As rumors continued to circulate, Adams' grandson, Samuel Adams Wells, wrote to Thomas Jefferson for clarification—for Jefferson himself had once "emphatically attested that, if there was a helmsman of the American Revolution, 'Samuel Adams was the man'" (Alexander, Samuel Adams, 156).
In Wells' April 14, 1819 letter to Jefferson, he spoke of a planned biography of his famous grandfather and hopes of preserving "the existing facts… In my investigations," he wrote, "I have met with contradictory accounts… and in some instances with oral narratives entirely at variance with written contemporaneous statements." In particular, he asks Jefferson if he could confirm: "that [Adams] delivered an Oration at Philadelphia in 1776. If so what were its merits and effects?" Jefferson responded to Wells in a May 12, 1819 letter that answered many of Wells' other questions, but with respect to the alleged Oration, simply noted: "neither memory nor memorandums enable me to give any information" (Founders Online).
Since then, however, historians have provided an answer. "Of this Oration (never delivered), there was no Philadelphia edition (in spite of its being indicated by title-page); it was, in fact a London forgery designed to show that the colonies were bent on independence" (Howes A72). The misattribution to Samuel Adams indicates he was viewed as "the single most important individual in establishing the Revolution's public voice" (Bradley, xiv-xv). The still-anonymous author of the Oration, clearly versed in revolutionary rhetoric, "extols the merits of the newly independent colonies, but overtones suggest that it was actually written in England. W.V. Wells, in his Life… of Samuel Adams, points out that this is spurious. None of the recent writers who have dealt with Samuel Adams have included this among his writings' (Adams 76-106a). First edition: "There is no Philadelphia edition" (Sabin 344). Without scarce half title. Adams 76-106a. Howes A72. ESTC T83257. Preliminary blank with bibliographic marginalia in an unidentified hand. One page with small bit of early marginalia and several words underlined.
Text very fresh and clear, minor rubbing to board edges.