Journal of the First Session of the Senate

BILL OF RIGHTS   |   CONSTITUTION

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A FOUNDING WORK OF EXTRAORDINARY RARITY AND IMPORTANCE: ONE OF THE EARLIEST OFFICIAL PRINTINGS OF THE PROPOSED BILL OF RIGHTS, IN THE 1789 SENATE JOURNAL, THE RECORD OF THE START OF OUR NEW GOVERNMENT UNDER THE CONSTITUTION, ONE OF ONLY 700 COPIES PRINTED FOR THE GOVERNMENT

(BILL OF RIGHTS) UNITED STATES SENATE. Journal of the First Session of the Senate of the United States of America. Begun and Held at the City of New-York, March 4th, 1789, and in the Thirteenth Year of the Independence of the Said States. New-York: Thomas Greenleaf, 1789. Folio (8-1/2 by 13-1/2 inches), modern paper covers with the original title-wrapper laid down, uncut; pp. 172. Housed in custom clamshell box. $95,000.

The exceptionally rare and important first edition of the 1789 Journal of the Senate, the record of the crucial start of our new government under the Constitution, containing one of the earliest official printings of the proposed Bill of Rights—the original twelve amendments to the Constitution proposed by Congress, of which only ten were later ratified by the states. This is the official account of the daily proceedings of the first session of the United States Senate from March 4, 1789 to September 27, 1789, one of only 700 copies printed for members of government—an uncut copy.

On March 4, 1789, the U.S. Constitution took effect, the new government began, and the first Congress convened in New York City. The first Congress had a crucial role— to implement and interpret the new Constitution and pass the seminal legislation to establish and run the new government. At the close of the first session, this Senate Journal was printed by order of Congress, documenting these historically important proceedings. Foremost among these was the proposed Bill of Rights. The Journal contains one of the earliest official printings of the 12 amendments passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification (pages 163-164), as well as the 17 amendments originally proposed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate (pages 103-106). Numerous references to the Bill are made throughout pages 107-160. This volume also contains a number of other notable items, including the tally of electoral votes in the first presidential election, President Washington's first address to Congress, the first rules of the Senate, the debate on the Judiciary Bill, and other important "firsts" in legislation.

The Constitution ordered that the Senate and the House each "shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and, from time to time publish the same…." On May 28, 1789, Congress passed a resolution directing that "600 copies of the Acts of each session, [and] 700 copies of the Journals of each house,… [be printed and] distributed to the members and to the executive, judiciary, and heads of the departments of the United States government, as well as the executive, legislative and judicial branches of every state. This would practically exhaust the 600 and 700 copies, you will note, in official distribution, and leave none for public purchase" (Powell, The Books of a New Nation, 85).

The final text of the proposed Bill of Rights appeared in two official 1789 printings, this Journal of the First Session of the Senate (printed by Thomas Greenleaf) and the Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States… (printed by Childs and Swaine). Both were published in October 1789, shortly after the close of the first session, in very small editions for government use, and both are of exceptional rarity and importance.

"The Constitution is not a self-executing document. Even before they won the struggle for ratification, the Federalists confronted the staggering task of putting the new system of government into effect and making it work… The new national government… faced a daunting array of old problems and new challenges. It would have to find some way to deal with the crushing national and state debts dating back to the earliest days of the Revolution, and to create a national revenue system and a national system of trade regulation and customs duties. It would have to flesh out those parts of the structure of government deliberately left vague or incomplete in the Constitution— the executive departments, which would become the roots of a federal administrative structure, and, for the first time in American history, a federal court system. And it would have to take action on the Federalists' campaign pledge that in several states had been the price for ratifying the Constitution: the proposing of constitutional amendments, including a declaration of rights…" (Bernstein, Are We To Be A Nation?, pp. 243-267).

"The decision to omit a federal bill of rights almost proved fatal to the new Constitution… [and it] became the single most important issue during the year-long debate over ratification of the Constitution. Federalists primarily justified the lack of a bill of rights by arguing that the Constitution created a federal government with strictly delegated powers… [so] rights would not be endangered. Federalists also argued that… bills of rights were necessary against kings, but not in republics where the people could elect new representatives, senators, and even a new president if these government officials threatened liberties. Parchment barriers, Federalists asserted, provided no protections… Furthermore, if certain rights were in fact protected in the Constitution, that would indicate that the government had implied powers over these rights, and that any right not listed might be considered as unprotected… Antifederalists drew on history and human nature to justify the need for a bill of rights. The corrupting nature of power required written protections for liberties specifying the boundaries which government could not cross… Antifederalists argued that the Constitution would create a government with dangerous, infinite powers" (Schechter, Roots of the Republic, p. 425-7). Some states refused to ratify the Constitution without the promise of a bill of rights, and though he had previously opposed it, Madison promised during the ratification debate that he would work for the adoption of a bill of rights.

"Madison had been swayed by Thomas Jefferson's appeals for the adoption of a bill of rights, which Jefferson described as something that 'the people are entitled to against every government on earth… and [that] no government should refuse…" Madison proposed his amendments in the House on June 8, 1789. They were sent to committee in July, regrouped into 17 propositions, and fiercely debated. The Senate made changes to the House version, and the amendments were reduced from 17 to 12. On September 9, the Senate sent the proposals back to the House, and a House-Senate conference committee was called to resolve the differences between the two versions. "Madison served on this committee, and under his leadership the House members managed to restore stronger and more definite language, especially regarding the separation of church and state. Congress adopted the version produced by the conference committee and sent it to the states on 25 September 1789. Two of the proposed amendments, dealing with modes of apportioning the House and with congressional salaries, were not adopted. The remaining ten were ratified and are now known as the Bill of Rights" (Bernstein, pp. 243-267). "It took two and a half years for the necessary three-fourths of the states to ratify ten of the twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution" (Lutz, 43). ESTC lists 33 copies in institutions. Evans 22207. Grolier American 100 20. Eaton, "Bill of Rights," New Colophon Vol. II, Part 7, 282. Contemporary signature of D.A. White on the title page.

Title page mounted. Only very light scattered foxing. Overall an excellent uncut copy. An extraordinarily rare and important landmark in the early history of the United States.

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