"SO NEAR TO PERFECTION… I THINK IT WILL ASTONISH OUR ENEMIES": RARE FIRST BRITISH PRINTING OF THE PLAN OF THE NEW CONSTITUTION FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1787
(AMERICAN CONSTITUTION). Plan of the New Constitution for the United States of America, Agreed Upon in a Convention of the States. London: J. Debrett, 1787. Slim octavo, modern full polished brown calf gilt, raised bands, red morocco spine label, renewed endpapers; pp. (i-ii), (1), 2-30, blank leaf, (1), 2-8. $26,000.
Very rare first printing in England of the American Constitution, printed shortly after news arrived in London in early November 1787, an exceptional document in Anglo-American history, beautifully bound in full polished calf.
On September 17, 1787, the United States Constitution was signed and Americans wrote their new nation into history. "Other than perhaps the Bible or the Koran, it is hard to think of any single document… that has been more fully interpreted, analyzed, parsed and dissected than America's Constitution" (Wood, New York Review of Books). That extraordinary inclination for analysis first emerged over a long, hot summer during which 55 delegates argued in "the gunmetal-gray East Room of the redbrick State House, where the Declaration of Independence had been signed." To assure open discussion, it had been decided that "nothing spoken in the House be printed, or otherwise published or communicated without leave. Journalists and curious spectators were forbidden to attend, sentries were stationed at doors, and delegates, sworn to secrecy, remained tight-lipped to outsiders" (Chernow, 228). In his closing address however, Benjamin Franklin spoke of the convention's hard won achievement—America's new Constitution—as one of which he did "not entirely approve." It was the creation, he said, of men who were wise, without doubt, but who were also united by "their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?" Despite the difficulties slyly noted, Franklin declared the final document "so near to perfection… I think it will astonish our enemies" (Isaacson, 458).
With the Constitution signed and "the injunction on secrecy lifted, the delegates themselves wasted little time in making copies available… Phineas Bond, the British consul in Philadelphia, enclosed a copy in a letter of September 20 to Lord Carmathan, the Foreign Secretary" (Rapport, "Printing the Constitution," 80). Here, in this 30-page document printed shortly after news arrived in London at the beginning of November 1787, the British received clear notice of "the sudden rise of a new Empire in the World, constituted on principles of government essentially different from the old." This is the very elusive first printing with Washington's September 17, 1787 Letter to Congress, along with the Preface that corrects an erroneous report by London newspapers that Washington had been appointed president of the Constitutional Convention only by "a majority of one vote… The fact is," the author observes, "that General Washington was elected with one voice, and not by a majority of one." With rear advertisements, often lacking. Howes P413. Sabin 63294. ESTC T138351.
Mere trace of marginal paper flaws. An especially handsome copy in fine condition.