“SO NEAR TO PERFECTION… I THINK IT WILL ASTONISH OUR ENEMIES”: SCARCE 1792 BRITISH PRINTING OF PLAN OF THE NEW CONSTITUTION
(AMERICAN CONSTITUTION). Plan of the New Constitution for the United States of America, Agreed Upon in a Convention of the States. With a Preface by the Editor. A New Edition, Corrected. London: J. Debrett, 1792. Slim octavo, period-style gray paper-covered boards, printed paper spine label, renewed endpapers; (1-3), 4-32. Housed in a custom half morocco folding case. $4200.
1792 British printing of Plan of the New Constitution for the United States, affirming the “rise of a new Empire in the World,” handsomely housed in a custom half morocco folding case.
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,” giving clear notice to the British of the “rise of a new Empire in the World” (Rapport, “Printing the Constitution,” 80). Third English edition. Preceded by the 1787 and 1791 English editions, which also contained this edition’s Preface correcting an erroneous report by London newspapers that Washington had been appointed president of the Constitutional Convention only by “a majority of one vote.” Howes P413. Sabin 63294. ESTC T42431. OCLC lists 28 copies; including the British Library, American Philosophical Society, Yale, Harvard and the University of Virginia. Early owner signature above title page. Tiny library inkstamp to terminal leaf not affecting text. Bookplate to inner front box cover.
Text very fresh with small expert archival repair to title page minimally affecting one letter. An extremely good copy of this important early constitutional printing.