FIRST ENGLISH EDITION OF BRITISH PAMPHLETEER WILLIAM COBBETT'S THE AMERICAN RUSH-LIGHT, 1800, CONDEMNING THE LIBEL JUDGEMENT LEVIED AGAINST HIM IN A CASE INVOLVING FOUNDING FATHER BENJAMIN RUSH
COBBETT, William, under the pseudonym PORCUPINE, Peter. The American Rush-Light; By the Help of Which, Wayward and Disaffected Britons May See a Complete Specimen of the Baseness, Dishonesty, Ingratitude, and Perfidy of Republicans, and of the Profligacy, Injustice, and Tyranny of Republican Governments. London: J. Wright, 1800. Octavo, disbound. $950.
First English edition of this collection of writings attacking Benjamin Rush, the founding father and physician, to whom the author had just lost a libel case after calling him "Dr. Sangrado."
A soldier in the British Army during the late 1700s, William Cobbett began pamphleteering in response to a House of Commons' debate on whether to raise taxes to pay soldiers three shillings per week. Technically, the soldiers were already being paid that sum, but relentless corruption meant that they only saw half in their final wages. Cobbett, as a veteran, was incensed and issued a pamphlet attacking the government. His publisher was imprisoned for four years and Cobbett fled the country for America. Unfortunately, America failed to live up to the utopia Cobbett had been promised. He hated the land, the people, and even the government. The experience turned him angrily pro-British. He opened a print shop and, "under the byline 'Peter Porcupine,' wrote such rabble-rousing commentary as calling democracy 'a despotism of the many over the few'… His cantankerous and rabidly pro-British, pro-Federalist Porcupine's Gazette quickly became North America's most widely read periodical" (Nelson, 3). As Cobbett spared no one his acid tongue, he decided to attack Benjamin Rush, a founding father and physician known for his indiscriminate use of blood-letting (a practice often blamed for killing both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington; Rush was associated with both cases, though directly responsible for neither). He attached the moniker "Dr. Sangrado" to him and was promptly sued for libel. Cobbett lost the suit and was determined to owe a life-ruining amount to Rush. Cobbett shut down Porcupine's Gazette and tried to replace it with The American Rush-Light, a multi-part screed against Rush. The court was not happy with this and Cobbett fled its jurisdiction, finishing the The American Rush-Light after a short run and moving on to a slew of other print endeavors. The American first edition, titled The Rushlight, precedes this work, though the exact publication date is unknown and no copies are listed on Worldcat. Sabin 13872.
Only minor scattered foxing, slight soiling to title page, minor spots of text damage to the first few leaves not affecting legibility. An extremely good copy.