"THAT FATAL DAY IN WHICH THE FIRST AMERICAN BLOOD WAS SPILT": RARE FIRST EDITION OF WILLIAM SMITH'S CONTROVERSIAL FEBRUARY 19, 1776 ORATION ON THE DEATH OF MONTGOMERY AT QUEBEC
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) SMITH, William. An Oration in Memory of General Montgomery, And of the Officers and Soldiers, Who Fell with Him, December 31, 1775, Before Quebec; Drawn Up (and Delivered February 19th, 1776) At the Desire of the Honourable Continental Congress. Philadelphia: John Dunlap, 1776. Octavo, rebound in 18th Century marbled boards, sheep spine; pp. [iv], -44. $1800.
First edition of the notorious February 1776 Oration by Smith, Provost of what is now the University of Pennsylvania, chosen by the Continental Congress to honor Montgomery's death at Quebec, yet surprising all by urging reconciliation with Britain, prompting John Adams to declare the Oration as "an insolent performance" and Congress withholding support for publication, forcing Smith to issue this rare first edition himself.
Smith was a "controversial figure in Pennsylvania politics" (Shaffer, 108). "During the Stamp Act crisis he privately condemned the measure and publicly praised those who defended colonial liberty," and in 1775 delivered a sermon that "was a stirring call to liberty" (Pencak, 99). In 1776, with the colonies still divided over revolution or conciliation, news came of Montgomery's death in the Quebec campaign while leading an attack. "Shouting 'Push on brave boys: Quebec is ours,' he was killed instantly" (ANB). Fearful that official mourning would heighten America's defeat, the Continental Congress appointed Franklin to oversee a tribute. On February 19 Congress adjourned to attend the ceremony where Smith would speak at Philadelphia's German Calvinist Church. His eulogy, however, quickly proved controversial in that he "favored reconciliation with Britain, and it showed in his Oration" (Drake, 189). John Adams was enraged, calling the Oration "an insolent performance " (Sabin 84633). "Congress was so annoyed… that it refused to vote Smith their thanks. He had it printed himself after omitting some of the more offensive passages" (Adams, American Independence 228a). That April Smith attacked Paine's Common Sense, calling it "the dark and untrodden way of independence" (Fruchtman, 84). First edition with "two states noted, one with 'errata' on page 44 and one without" (this copy): no priority established (Adams, American Independence 228a). Advertised in the Pennsylvania Packet in March 1776. ESTC W21511. Adams 76-143a. Sabin 84633. Evans 15084.
Text fresh with only lightest edge-wear to a few leaves not affecting text.