“ONE OF THE SOURCES OF JEFFERSONIAN THOUGHT”: FIRST EDITIONS IN ENGLISH OF BURLAMAQUI’S PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL LAW AND PRINCIPLES OF POLITIC LAW, CONTAINING THE GENESIS OF JEFFERSON’S CONCEPT OF THE “PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS”
BURLAMAQUI, Jean Jacques. The Principles of Natural Law. WITH: The Principles of Politic Law: Being a Sequel to the Principles of Natural Law. London: Printed for J. Nourse, 1748, 1752. Together, two volumes. Octavo, period-style full red morocco with elaborately gilt decorated spine and boards, black morocco spine label, raised bands, marbled endpapers.
First editions in English of Burlamaqui’s Principles of Natural Law and his Principles of Politic Law, two seminal works with a profound influence on America’s Founders, in particular on Alexander Hamilton and on Thomas Jefferson’s use of “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.
“Burlamaqui formulated the principles of popular sovereignty, of delegated power, of a constitution as fundamental law, of a personal and functional separation of powers into three independent departments… and finally, he provided for an institutional guardian of the fundamental law” (Bassani, 178-9). Scholars have noted that Jefferson’s concept of the “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence can be chiefly traced to Burlamaqui’s Principles of Natural Law, where he refines a theory of ideal happiness that is linked to reason and the social contract, saying that “if it be true that man does nothing but with a view of happiness, ‘tis no less certain that reason is the only way he has to attain it” (49). In 1769, as Jefferson’s interests turned increasingly toward political history, he “ordered from London a list of 14 books, every one of them dealing with theories of government… [Of these] the books that were to be at the core of Jefferson’s studies of government were John Locke’s Two Treatises, Burlamaqui’s Natural Law” and several others (Randall, 206). “In pamphlet after pamphlet the American writers cited Locke on natural rights… [and] Burlamaqui and Vattel on the laws of nature and of nations, and on the principles of civil government.” Of these, “Locke, Montesquieu, Vattel, Beccaria, Burlamaqui, Voltaire, or even Rousseau” were never disputed and consistently treated as authoritative. Alexander Hamilton, for example, “seeking to score points against his venerable antagonist Samuel Seabury, recommended with arch condescension that his adversary get himself at the first opportunity to some of the writings of… Burlamaqui to discover the true principles of politics” (Bailyn, 27-8).
In his profound influence on the Founding Fathers, “Burlamaqui is a writer of the most humanely moral principles, and his works are deservedly held in high esteem” (Marvin, 162). Initially published in French in 1747, Principles of Natural Law first appeared in English in 1748. Its sequel Principes du droit politique (Principles of Politic Law) was first published posthumously in French in 1751. This set brings together the first separate editions in English of each work. With woodcut ornamental intials, head- and tailpieces. Sweet & Maxwell I:592. See Graesse I:576; Sowerby 1408-9. Light occasional early marginalia (Politic).
Interiors generally fresh, small bit of marginal wormholing not affecting text (Natural Law).