"WE HAVE BEHELD AMERICA DISCOVERED… WE HAVE SEEN THE DAWN OF LIBERTY ON THE WILDERNESS": FIRST EDITION OF CHALMERS' POLITICAL ANNALS OF THE PRESENT UNITED COLONIES, 1780
CHALMERS, George. Political Annals of the Present United Colonies, from their Settlement to the Peace of 1763: Compiled chiefly from Records, and authorized often by the Insertion of State-Papers. London: Printed for the Author: And sold by J. Bowen, 1780. Tall quarto (9-/12 by 11-1/2 inches), period-style fiull mottled calf gilt, red morocco spine label. $4200.
First edition of Chalmers' landmark work, published during the Revolution, on British constitutional history and its impact on the American colonies, preceding "the first published 'American' effort at a full history of the Revolution" (Boorstin), with John Adams, as Vice President, calling its British author "a very bitter Tory… of the scornful fastidious temper of his nation." Yet despite Chalmers' claim that "American colonies had always had a subversive desire for independence and that parliament had the right to tax the colonies without their consent” (ODNB), his Annals proved vital to America's early historians—"valuable for the distinctness of its details, the authenticity of its documents, and the elegant manner in which it is written" (Sabin).
Chalmers, a dedicated Loyalist, arrived in America in the 1760s. Amidst fury over British rule, the British lawyer carried pistols to protect against threats and returned home in 1775. "In 1780 he published his Annals, in which he insisted that the American colonies had always had a subversive desire for independence and that parliament had the right to tax the colonies without their consent" (ODNB). Yet Annals—"valuable for the distinctness of its details, the authenticity of its documents, and the elegant manner in which it is written" (Sabin)—soon became a chief source for colonial history in America, preceding the "first published 'American' effort at a full history of the Revolution." Despite Chalmers' disdain for "miserable provincials… [who] always think with detestation of their superiors," he cited "weaknesses of British imperial policy, the long New England struggle for independence, and the importance of testing American Revolutionary claims by the evidence of recent British constitutional history" (Boorstin, Americans, 367-8).
Chalmers' Annals was essential to American historians such as Jeremy Belknap when "the surge of ardent nationalism that swept across the new United States after the close of the Revolution made the study of American history a matter of vital interest." At the time fundamental documents "were scattered, incomplete, occasionally lost and woefully disorganized" (Nye, George Bancroft, 141-42). In 1789 when Belknap, founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, "was deep into writing the second volume of his History of New Hampshire, a sprawling trilogy [1784, 1791, 1792]… he felt thwarted by a lack of access to key documents… [and] asked Vice President John Adams for some help" (Massachusetts Historical Society). In a July 18, 1789 letter to Adams, Belknap wrote: "Not till this Week have I met with the political annals [sic] of George Chalmers printed in London 1780… From what little I have as yet had Opportunity to read of the work, I conceive the author to have the spirit of indefatigable enquiry which is necessary in a historian… The reason of my mentioning him to you is to introduce an enquiry whether you know the Man… When I observe his having had access to the papers in the Plantation Office, I feel a regret that an Ocean seperates [sic] me from such a grand repository—how necessary to form a just judgment of the secret springs of many American transactions!" (Founders Online). "Despite Adams' duties presiding over the Senate in the first session of the federal Congress, he prioritized Belknap's query, firing off a reply on 24 July" (Massachusetts Historical Society). There Adams wrote: "George Chalmers I have seen in London… He has much of the scornful, fastidious temper of his nation; has been a very bitter Tory." Adams went on to observe that Britain's defeat is "now ranking in the hearts and tingling in the veins of the English nation" (Belknap Papers, 437-38). Chalmers had planned another volume to prove "the colonies were in the wrong; but, soon after the volume was printed, the capitulation at Yorktown afforded a more convincing proof that, right or wrong, they had succeeded" (Preface, History of the Revolt). While ESTC N66484 references a 1779 London edition, it is most probably a ghost entry. Sabin, Howes, and Adams cite only the 1780 edition; no 1779 edition has ever appeared in auction records. ESTC T149593. Howes C266. Adams, 80-18. Sabin 1176. Small stray ink line to one page.
Text with a few dozen pages expertly cleaned. Beautifully bound.