Ass or, the Serpent

AMERICAN REVOLUTION   |   Thomas BRADBURY

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"GREAT BRITAIN HAS NO CORD BY WHICH SHE CAN BIND DOWN THE COLONIES TO SLAVERY… IF WE PAY ONE PENNY… WE SHALL BE TAXED, SO LONG AS WE CAN PAY": 1768 EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST AMERICAN EDITION OF BRADBURY'S THE ASS OR, THE SERPENT, ISSUED BY RADICAL BOSTON PUBLISHERS EDES AND GILL SOON AFTER BRITAIN'S TOWNSHEND ACT AND ONLY TWO YEARS BEFORE THE BOSTON MASSACRE, THE FIRST EDITION WITH THE ANONYMOUSLY AUTHORED PREFACE AND EXTENSIVE NOTES IN PRINT FOR THE FIRST TIME

(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) BRADBURY, Thomas. The Ass or, the Serpent. A Comparison between the Tribes of Issachar and Dan, in their Regard for Civil Liberty. November 5, 1712. London: Printed Boston: Printed and Sold by Edes and Giles, 1768. Small octavo, period-style red crushed morocco, elaborately gilt-decorated spine and boards, black morocco spine label,marbled endpapers; pp. (1-3), 4-22.

First American edition of British pastor Bradbury’s call for rising up against tyranny in declaring, "Tyrants, who know no Justice, will allow no Mercy… Do not imagine that there's any dealing with an Arbitrary Government,” this very rare 1768 edition the first to contain the anonymously authored preface and extensive notes, calling for Americans to fight "for the Preservation of their Liberties," a bold challenge to punitive British acts, including the 1767 Townshend Tea Act, proclaiming: "The right of Taxation, must… belong solely to the People who are to pay the Tax… certain it is, that the late Act of Parliament is a Tax without our Consent."

When the British Parliament repealed the hated Stamp Act in 1766, it nevertheless reasserted its right to tax Americans with its accompanying Declaratory Act. Britain further claimed that authority in mid-1767 when it passed the Townshend Act, which Samuel Adams ranked with "the greatest political curses that could have been sent among us" (Langguth, 94). Samuel Adams and other Boston patriots, along with this work's publishers, Edes and Gill, were at the center of rising colonial fury. Even more notably, their Boston Gazette "wasn't just a newspaper… the Edes and Gill printing office served as a meeting place for the 'most distinguished revolutionary patriots in Boston'" (Slauter, "Reading and Radicalization," 17). Anonymously authored works by Samuel Adams were "published nearly weekly under a variety of pen names in the pages of the Boston Gazette" (Stoll, Samuel Adams, 57). John Adams, as well, was often found at the newspaper, and later "recorded that he had spent time in the Edes and Gill office one night in 1769… 'cooking up paragraphs' and working the 'political engine.' It is impossible to know how much editorial control Edes and Gill ceded to their friends… in any event, the collaboration between the printers and articulate radicals materialized not just in the newspaper but in the printing and reprinting of political pamphlets… they frequently offered the only printing of political tracts… [and] stood alone in reprinting and circulating older texts in political theory that had taken… new relevance" (Slauter, 18-20).

This first American edition of Thomas Bradbury's The Ass; or the Serpent is a striking record of the publishers' skill in assigning that "new relevance." Bradbury, a fiery English pastor, delivered his sermon in 1712 as a "concerted attack on the doctrines of non-resistance and passive obedience. Using the story of the tribes of Issachar and Dan from Genesis, Bradbury argued that the tribe of Dan had set a clear example to future generations by raising an army to resist tyranny, whereas Issachar sank into slavery… The sin of Issachar was the greater because they did not have to be slaves, and thus the Bible, according to Bradbury, not only condemned tyranny, it also sanctioned resistance" (Lacey, Cult of King Charles, 199). When Edes and Gill issued this timely edition, colonists "were ripe for theology that would make sense of the confusing new situation, in which Britain ruled America partly without its consent… Issachar as an image of slavish submission to unjust authority was used on more than one occasion in the sermons of the 18th-century leading up to the American Revolution" (West, Transformation of Protestant Theology, 200-203). Bradley's work would especially ring true in his warning: "Tyrants, who know no Justice, will allow no Mercy… Do not imagine that there's any dealing with an Arbitrary Government. Laws are only Shackles upon you, but no Rule to 'em… Dan shall be a Serpent by the Way, and an Adder in the Path, that bites his Horse's Heels, so that… he'll undermine the Foundations of Tyranny, so that the Rider will fall backwards" (emphasis in original).

This edition also notably contains a preface appearing in print for the first time. Dated in print, "December 14th, 1767," its anonymous author writes under the pseudonym of "Concionator" (not unlike the practices of Samuel Adams, John Adams and others), and declares: "Never was there a People whom it more immediately concerned to search into the Nature and Extent of their Rights and Privileges… It is with a Design to excite in this People a just sense of the Misery and Guilt of Slavery, and… for the Preservation of their Liberties, that the following Sermon makes its Appearance at this Time." In addition, the anonymously authored endnotes, also in print for the first time, include many bold proclamations, such as: "Great Britain has no Cord by which she can bind down the Colonies to Slavery… If we pay one Penny purely because the Parliament of G.B. have ordered us to pay it… we shall be taxed, so long as we have a Penny to pay" (emphasis in original). The endnotes also target the recent Townshend Act, stating: "The right of Taxation, must, by the Law of Nature… belong solely to the People who are to pay the Tax… the British Constitution hath borrowed from Nature this Maxim, That no Man shall be taxed without his Consent… certain it is, that the late Act of Parliament is a Tax without our Consent, a taking our Property, without so much as consulting us" (emphasis in original). Between 1765 and 1775 Edes and Gill also issued "the first printings of important pamphlets by James Otis, Jonathan Mayhew, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, the Boston Town Meeting, John Hancock, Josiah Quincy and Mercy Otis Warren" (Slauter, 19-20). First American edition, with the first appearance of the preface dated in print, "December 24th, 1767": not present in the 1712 first English edition. Preface by an unidentified author writing as "Concionator," along with extensive endnotes anonymously authored, also in print for the first time. ESTC W38319. American Revolutionary War Pamphlets in the Newberry Library 72. Evans 10845. Sabin 7208. Not in Adams.

Text generally fresh with trace of marginal dampstaining; title page restored on all margins, with only slight loss to text of last four lines of the preface on the verso.

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