"WE HAVE OVERSHOT OUR MARK… IT IS IMPOSSIBLE WE SHOULD SUCCEED”: FIRST EDITION OF EPISTLES, 1796, CONTAINING SEVEN FORGED REVOLUTIONARY-ERA LETTERS ATTRIBUTED TO WASHINGTON
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (WASHINGTON, George) (BACHE, Benjamin Franklin). Epistles Domestic, Confidential, and Official. New-York: G. Robinson / J. Bull, 1796. Octavo, original blue-gray boards rebacked, later paper spine label, uncut; pp. (1), (i-iii), iv-xiv, (blank), (1) 2-303 (1). $1400.
First edition of a signal volume of Washington’s correspondence featuring seven infamous forgeries that lead this otherwise authentic collection in an attempt to tarnish his legacy with early political propaganda. Washington repudiated the Revolutionary-era forgeries for the first time on publication of Epistles, charging “he had never seen or heard of them until they appeared in print," with engraved frontispiece portrait, an exceptional uncut copy in original boards.
Epistles is a fascinating record of propaganda in American presidential politics. In its early pages are printings of seven forged letters (4-66) that initially appeared in the Revolutionary era. In the first letter, for example, Washington seems to voice doubts about the Revolution, saying: "we have overshot our mark… [and] I am far from being sure that we deserve to succeed." After that letter appeared in newspapers, it was "bound together with six other letters and printed first in London in 1777 and then in New York in 1778 as a Loyalist pamphlet." But America's victory and Washington's election "did not put an end to the embarrassment that the letters created for him" (Castronovo, Propaganda 1776, 117). This 1796 appearance of Epistles came at a signal point of divisiveness between Federalist and Anti-Federalists. Its publication at that juncture also echoes the impact of the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath, as well as uproar over a revolution closer to American shores—the 1791 Haitian Revolution, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, that "sounded the death knell for the European slave trade" (Slate).
While the author of this collection was never fully verified, Washington believed the Loyalist journalist James Rivington to be the source. Washington had initially "remained silent concerning the letters imputed to him… When the forged letters reappeared in pamphlet form in 1795 and 1796 and in the Philadelphia Aurora, Washington, on his final day in office, wrote a letter to Timothy Pickering, describing the forgeries and instructing him to deposit the letter in the State Department records. On 9 March, Pickering sent Washington's letter to the Gazette of the United States where it was published the next day" (Founders Online). There Washington asserted "he had never seen or heard of them until they appeared in print" (Evans 30392). Aside from the seven forged letters, the lengthy remaining authentic portion of Epistles features Washington's correspondence from 1778-83, including instructions to Cornwallis on the terms of Britain's surrender, as well as correspondence with Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, and a printing of Washington's Farewell Orders to the army. With frontispiece portrait engraved by Rollinson from a painting by Savage. Complete with blank leaf following page xiv. Mispagination of pages 206-208 as issued without loss of text. Precedes the later English edition. Howes W133. Sabin 101742. Evans 30392. Allibone 2596. ESTC T130678.
Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing, front board with expert restoration to paper covered boards. A very good uncut copy, rare in original boards.