“OUR CAUSE IS JUST: OUR UNION IS PERFECT… RESOLVED TO DIE FREEMEN, RATHER THAN TO LIVE SLAVES”: EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE 1775 JOURNAL OF THE SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, DETAILING THE DRAMATIC EVENTS OF THE SUMMER OF 1775, INCLUDING JEFFERSON’S CAUSES AND NECESSITY OF TAKING UP ARMS, DICKINSON’S OLIVE BRANCH PETITION, AND MUCH MORE
(CONTINENTAL CONGRESS). Journal of the Proceedings of the Congress, Held at Philadelphia, May 10, 1775. Philadelphia: William and Thomas Bradford, 1775. Octavo, early 20th-century three-quarter brown calf gilt, marbled boards, brown morocco spine label, uncut; pp. , iv, 239. $60,000.
Extraordinarily rare first edition of the Journal of the Second Continental Congress, recording the pivotal events and resolutions from its convening the month after Lexington and Concord, on May 10, 1775, through its adjournment on September 5, 1775, meeting in “strictest secrecy behind closed doors because of the number of British agents” in Philadelphia, with delegates including Founding Fathers Jefferson, Washington and Franklin, published by order of Congress and printed in Philadelphia by William and Thomas Bradford, official printers to the new government. Produced in very limited quantities, copies are quite rare and desirable. This copy belonged to Moses Marshall, prominent 18th-century Philadelphia botanist and horticulturist. An uncut copy complete with half title.
“The 15 months between the shots fired at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775 and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 can justifiably claim to be both the most consequential and the strangest year in American history. It was consequential because the rationale for American independence and the political agenda for an independent American republic first became explicit at this time. It was strange because while men were dying… the official posture of what called itself ‘The United Colonies of North America’ remained abiding in loyalty to the British crown.” This exceedingly rare first edition of the Journal of the Second Continental Congress, spanning May 10-September 5, 1775, captures this “quite remarkable feat of making an explosion happen in slow motion… a creative act of statesmanship that allowed the United States to avoid the bloody and chaotic fate of subsequent revolutionary movements” (Ellis, American Creation, 20 21). When John Adams, John Hancock, John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and their fellow delegates met in Philadelphia, every session was “conducted in strictest secrecy behind closed doors because of the number of British agents in and about Philadelphia” (McCullough, John Adams, 88). While “it is hard to pinpoint precisely when America crossed the threshold of deciding that complete independence from Britain was necessary,” it was during that sweltering summer, with news that June of the bloody Battle of Bunker Hill and the British burning of Charleston, that Franklin, Adams and others fully realized “the point of no return had been reached” (Johnson, History of the American People, 149).
This Journal, printed in Philadelphia by the Bradfords, records that powerful turning point in history. Among the important works included is the July 6, 1775 Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, written by Jefferson with revisions by Dickinson. This important precursor to the Declaration of Independence eloquently pronounces: “Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great… the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties, being with one mind resolved, to die Freemen rather than to live as slaves.” “Like all of Jefferson’s writings about the imperial controversy, this paper burns with a sense of injustice… As Jefferson said and Dickinson repeated, the actions of the British government had compelled the Americans to change the ground of opposition and to accept the appeal from reason to arms” (Malone, Jefferson the Virginian, 204-6).
Of comparable importance is the Journal’s printing of the Olive Branch Petition of July 8, 1775, which sought the King’s intercession in preventing “the further destruction of the lives of your Majesty’s subjects.” The petition was sent to England for presentation to George III but the colonies ultimately received no response. “The slight was not forgotten, as one of the overarching injustices decried in the Declaration of Independence was the British government’s refusal to hear the colonists’ petitions: ‘In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress…. [and] have been answered only by repeated injury…. To the colonists, the right to petition…. was so fundamental that denial of the right was an act of tyranny and grounds for revolution” (Krotoszynski, Reclaiming the Petition, 108).
The Journal additionally includes eyewitness reports of Lexington and Concord, a printing of the Address to the Inhabitants of Canada, and much diplomatic correspondence, including the printing of an earlier circular letter from Franklin, Arthur Lee and William Bollan, written while serving as diplomats abroad, that bluntly states: “we understand that three regiments of foot, one of dragoons, 700 marines, six sloops of war, and two frigates are now under orders for America.” The Journal also notably contains an April 26 letter from Massachusetts patriot Dr. Joseph Warren to Franklin that describes the dire situation in British-occupied Boston, stating: “we are at last plunged into the horrors of a most unnatural war.” Warren was killed within weeks at the Battle of Bunker Hill, his body mutilated by British bayonets and seemingly shot at close range after a British officer ordered “his troops to summarily execute all the wounded Americans” (Ellis, 28).
As the Second Continental Congress further readied itself for independence, its delegates prepared, in June 1775, a lengthy Articles of War that details the “Rules and Regulations for the government of the Army.” Overall these delegates, “besides creating a provincial army and navy and sending diplomatic agents to Europe… adopted the militia besieging the redcoats in Boston as the ‘Army of the United Colonies,’ appointed Colonel George Washington commander in chief, sent Benedict Arnold across the Maine wilderness in the expectation of bringing in Canada as the fourteenth colony, and authorized other warlike acts” (Morison, Oxford History, 215-16). The momentous events recorded in this Journal surely affirm John Adams’ sense, on arriving that May in Philadelphia, “that ‘such a vast Multitude of Objects, civil, political, commercial and military, press and crowd upon us so fast, that We know not what to do first” (Maier, American Scripture).
Copies of the Journal
have been found with the names of John Hancock and Charles Thomson inadvertently omitted from the foot of page 239, apparently requiring a stop-press correction. This copy is the corrected state, with the names in place. Evans 14569. Hildeburn 3229. Howes J264. Ford 74. Adams, American Controversy
75-151a. Contemporary signature of botanist Moses Marshall, whose most significant contributions were in assisting his uncle Humphry Marshall in producing his Arbustrum Americanum (1785), and in planning numerous scientific expeditions sponsored by the American Philosophical Society.
Expert paper repair to half title, not affecting text, dampstain to first few leaves and loss of margin to last few leaves, also not affecting text. An American Revolutionary landmark of exceptional rarity and importance.