"THE MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL WRITING OF THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD": RARE FIRST ENGLISH EDITION OF DICKINSON'S LETTERS FROM A FARMER, 1768, ONE OF ONLY 500 COPIES, WITH FIRST PRINTING OF FRANKLIN'S PREFACE, NOT IN THE SAME YEAR'S AMERICAN EDITION
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (FRANKLIN, Benjamin) (DICKINSON, John). Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, To the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. London: Printed for J. Almon, 1768. Octavo, modern half green calf gilt, marbled boards; pp. (2), (i), ii-iii, (iv), (1), 2-118. $8500.
First English edition of the famed revolutionary work by John Dickinson, "Penman of the Revolution,” the work that helped spark repeal of the Stamp Act by calling it "pernicious to freedom," one of only 500 copies, featuring the first appearance in print of Franklin’s prefatory British Editor to the Reader, not in the same year’s first American edition or the 1774 second English edition, with Franklin calling for restraint, urging Britain to never be “so angry with her colonies as to strike them."
Philadelphia patriot John Dickinson, a leading member of the Continental Congress, authored several of the most important political writings of the Revolution, especially this highly influential Letters from a Farmer, which fundamentally "helped to repeal the Stamp Act" (Langguth, 175). Here Dickinson singles out the 1765 Stamp Act as "pernicious to freedom" and contests "Parliament's power with greater acuity than any writer had shown before" (Bailyn, 215). With this and his l775 Causes of Taking Up Arms, Dickinson became "known as the 'Penman of the Revolution'… until 1776 his writings had made him better known by his fellow countrymen than any American except Franklin. His biographer writes: 'By 1773 Dickinson was recognized as the leading champion of American liberty throughout the colonies… [the Letters are] the most important political writing of the revolutionary period… a critical source to understand if one seeks to comprehend the political thought of the American Revolution'" (Webking, American Revolution, 41-3). When first published anonymously in America in 1768, Dickinson's Letters immediately "created a sensation… excepting the political essays of Paine, which did not begin to appear until nine years later, none equaled the Farmer's Letters in immediate celebrity and in direct power upon events" (Grolier, American 100:13).
This rare first English edition was published "at the insistence" of Benjamin Franklin, then in London (Ford 303). Franklin, who was not aware Dickinson was the author on reading the anonymously issued American edition of the Letters, had once urged moderation over the hated Stamp Act, but ultimately agreed with his fellow Americans "that Parliament had no authority to tax the colonies" (Isaacson, 249). He wrote in hope that Britain would resist calls to crush American "discontent" by sending "over an army or a fleet… and will never be so angry with her colonies as to strike them" (emphasis in original). On publication in London, the Monthly Review hailed Dickinson's Letters as "a calm yet full enquiry into the right of the British Parliament to tax the American colonies; the unconstitutional nature of which attempt is maintained in a well-connected chain of close and manly reasoning." Dickinson's "12 letters appeared first in the Pennsylvania Chronicle between November 30, 1767 and February 8, 1768" (Adams 54a), and were first issued separately in the virtually unobtainable March 1768 Philadelphia edition. In London, "in June of 1768 Strahan recorded Almon's order for 500 copies… The British Editor to the Reader, pp. i-iii, is by Benjamin Franklin" (Adams, American Controversy 68-7b). It appears here in print for the first time and was not present in either the first American edition, or the 1774 second English edition. Bound without half title, rear blank. Adams 54f. Sabin 20044. Howes D329. ESTC T62910. With the distinctive bookplate of prominent bibliophile and publisher, James Strohn Copley, renowned as well for his dedication to freedom of the press. Small contemporary notation in an unidentified hand above leaf titled, "The British Editor…"
Text generally fresh with mild scattered soiling, foxing, title page with tiny gutter-edge holes from original stitching not affecting text, mild edge-wear to spine. A desirable extremely good copy, handsomely bound.