"OF THE GREATEST RARITY": EXCEPTIONALLY IMPORTANT EDITION OF THE FIRST FULL ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, 1774, ONE OF THE EARLIEST PUBLICATIONS OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT, INCLUDING THE "DECLARATION AND RESOLVES" ON COLONIAL RIGHTS, A PRECURSOR OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
(CONTINENTAL CONGRESS). Journal of the Proceedings of the Congress, Held at Philadelphia, September 5, 1774. Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, 1774. Octavo, period-style three-quarter brown calf and marbled boards. Housed in a custom folding chemise and full morocco clamshell box. $60,000.
First edition, exceedingly rare first expanded issue of the first official Journal of the Continental Congress—the first to contain the Petition to the King and Gage's October 20, 1774 letter—published in Philadelphia by the Bradfords soon after their virtually unobtainable first issue, one of the earliest publications of the American government—"of the greatest rarity"—containing the seminal "Declaration of Rights and Resolves" to the King and Parliament on colonial rights, and featuring the famous woodcut design on the title page that represents the first attempt to create a seal to "represent emblematically a united nation" in America, one of the most fundamental documents of the American Revolution.
In response to the Coercive or Intolerable Acts enacted by Parliament from March-June 1774, the colonies united and sent delegates to the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia from September 5 through October 26, 1774. The delegates, including George Washington, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Jay and John Dickinson, were gathered to compose a statement of colonial rights, identify the British government's violation of those rights, and provide a plan that would convince Britain to restore those rights. This very rare first edition, second issue, of a Journal of the Proceedings of the Congress contains the full account of these extraordinary days. It was published by order of the Congress from the official minutes taken by Secretary Charles Thomson, and printed by William and Thomas Bradford, the official printers to the new government. This is one of the earliest publications of the new government, with this rare expanded first edition preceded only by the 132-page issue of late 1774, and pamphlets containing partial extracts of the proceedings "printed in separate parts and issued as the acts and resolutions occurred" (Adams, American Controversy:244).
This rare expanded issue is also the first to add the twelve highly important pages of text, consisting of General Gage's October 20 letter to Peyton Randolph, and the famous Petition to the King, which reasserts the colonists' objections to unjust "duties imposed on us… useless and oppressive restrictions," the violation of civil and property rights, and much more. This text of the Petition was agreed upon and voted on in executive session on October 1, 1774, and probably reached England in early November. It does not appear in the 132-page issue of the Journal that was likely published in Philadelphia that November because at that time the Petition was still secret. While it certainly reached Lord North in England, it is unclear whether the King ever saw it. By mid-January 1775, when it seemed unlikely the Americans would receive a response (there never was one), the Petition was included in this expanded issue of the Journal, possibly published on January 17, 1775.
The deliberations of the First Continental Congress "were to be confidential; no news of votes and proceedings was made public. But as the work of the Congress gathered momentum, resolutions, declarations and addresses intended for wide circulation were ordered to be printed. "An eager and excited American public was anxious to learn what the unprecedented Congress had accomplished. The printers immediately began to put together the most important public statements, at first consisting of the separate pamphlets they had printed brought together under the title, dated October 27, Extracts from the Votes and Proceedings of the American Continental Congress, and then, to meet the demand, reprinted it as an entity." The title page of this expanded issue of the Journal features the same seal of the United Colonies that appears on the title page of the 132-page issue. It displays the Magna Carta as the base for "a pillar held by twelve hands and topped by a liberty cap; a motto reads: 'Hanc Tuemur, Hac Nitimur,' or, 'this we defend, by this we are protected'… it stands as the first attempt to represent emblematically a united nation" (Wolf, Introduction, Journal of the Proceeding of the Congress).
With the First Continental Congress quickly evolving "into a federal government of a nation at war… Congress faced a delicate task. America as a whole did not want independence; every path to conciliation must be kept open. But Congress had to do something about the Coercive Acts, and also to suggest a permanent solution of the struggle between libertas and imperium" (Morison, 207-8). Foremost in the proceedings was the Declaration and Resolves, to the King and Parliament, objecting to the Coercive Acts and asserting the fundamental rights of the colonists, including: "life, liberty, and property"; the rights and liberties granted to English citizens; representation and participation in legislation and government, especially in issues of taxation and internal policy; trial by jury; "a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the King," etc. These important rights and liberties were the defining issues of the revolution and became the foundation of the Declaration of Independence. "The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress was the direct precursor of the declarations of rights contained in the Revolutionary state constitutions… In the 1774 declaration, the American is emerging from his colonial status… In declaring that the rights of the colonists are natural rights, the Declaration and Resolves anticipates the more famous statement on this issue in the Declaration of Independence and prepares the way for the elevation of the rights involved to the constitutional plane" (Schwartz, 64). Also herein is the Address to the People of Great Britain, an Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec, and an agreement called The Association that called for cutting off imports to and from Britain if the Coercive Acts were not repealed.
Congress further passed the resolution to reassemble on 10 May 1775 if colonial rights and liberties had not been restored. Those hopes went unfulfilled. "By the time the Second Continental Congress opened on Wednesday, May 10, 1775, American blood had already been shed on Lexington Green and Concord Bridge" (Chorlton, First American Republic, 590). With that everything changed, and "the point of no return had been reached" (Johnson, History of the American People, 149). Rare first edition, second issue with same title page imprint as the 132-page first issue. With half title, "List of the Deputies or Delegates," errata (p.3). General Gage's letter and the Petition were separately printed by the Bradfords with pages numbered 133-144, and added without a separate title page to the copies on hand of the first-issue Journal. "Some copies on thick paper with Charles Thomson's holograph signature on p. 132 rather than a printed signature [this copy]" (Adams, American Controversy 74-84b). Howes notes copies with a variant title page "erroneously dated 'DCC, LXXIV'" (J263), no priority established. The Petition and Gage's letter were also issued separately in Boston by Isaiah Thomas. Evans 13737, 13738. ESTC W20577. Howes J2673,"aa." Adams, American Controversy 74-84a; 74-84b.
Text very fresh and clean with only very lightest scattered foxing. A most rare and desirable near-fine copy.