“A BOOK OF THE GREATEST RARITY”: EXTRAORDINARILY RARE FIRST ISSUE OF THE FIRST FULL ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, THE 1774 JOURNAL OF THE PROCEEDINGS…, ONE OF THE EARLIEST PUBLICATIONS OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT, INCLUDING THE “DECLARATION OF RIGHTS,” THE FOUNDATION OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, AND WITH THE FIRST ATTEMPT TO “REPRESENT EMBLEMATICALLY A UNITED NATION,” IN CONTEMPORARY CALF
(CONTINENTAL CONGRESS). Journal of the Proceedings of the Congress, Held at Philadelphia, September 5, 1774. Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford at the London Coffee-House, 1774. Octavo, contemporary full brown calf rebacked, raised bands, marbled endpapers; pp. (2), 132. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $65,000.
First edition, first issue, of the first official journal of the Continental Congress, one of the earliest publications of the American government, “a book of the greatest rarity.” Also presenting for the first time an attempt to design a seal to “represent emblematically a united nation” in America. An excellent copy in contemporary calf with half title.
In response to the Coercive or Intolerable Acts, enacted by Parliament from March to June 1774, the colonies united together and sent delegates to the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia from September 5 through October 26, 1774. Their objective was 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 is the first publication of the full account of these extraordinary proceedings, 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, immediately after the adjournment of Congress. This is also one of the earliest publications of the new government, preceded only by pamphlets containing partial extracts of the proceedings "printed in separate parts and issued as the acts and resolutions occurred. Later they were collected either by sewing together the existing separate publications without alteration or… repaging standing type." (Adams, American Controversy, 244).
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… It took a while longer for the Bradfords to prepare the text of the Journal which was made available to them by Charles Thomson. This was the full report of the actions of the Congress, including, of course, all the documents which had appeared in the Extracts… One touch was added by the printers on the title-page of the Journal. They had a seal designed for the United Colonies. Upon the Magna Charta stands 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" (Edwin Wolf 2nd, introduction, Journal of the Proceeding of the Congress).
"On that same busy day after Congress' adjournment, October 27,… [the Bradfords] issued what is today a book of the greatest rarity, Journal of the Proceedings of the Congress, an octavo of 132 pages, not to be confused with the later serial volumes bearing the same title. If we are to believe the Bradfords' dating, it was… certainly started that day and continued at a fierce pace. In the Pennsylvania Packet for November 21 is the announcement that the Journal will be published 'this afternoon… but already one delegate had written back on October 31 that Congress' proceedings 'are now in the press, part of which is published.' And another sent the Journal home as early as November 7. Someone has called this first volume to bear the title Journal the 'original edition… it contained so much new material, so much new setting of previously printed stuff, that we may believe the Bradfords received Thomson's minutes as the full record they had been waiting for and building toward, the climax of their astonishingly busy week" (Powell, Books of a New Nation, 45).
The First Continental Congress "evolved 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, pp. 207-8). Foremost in the proceedings was the "Declaration of Rights," which clearly defined and asserted 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. Congress also adopted a non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption agreement called The Association, virtually cutting off imports to and from Britain if the Coercive Acts were not repealed, and agreed to reassemble on 10 May 1775 if colonial rights and liberties had not been restored. This first issue is quite rare. The second (and more common) issue of the Journal contains two additional documents, General Gage's letter and the Petition to the King, which were separately printed by the Bradfords early in 1775, with pages numbered 133-144, and added without a separate title page to the copies on hand of the Journal. Howes J263; notes only 3 copies located. Evans 13737. Small perforated stamp of Library of Congress on title page, marked duplicate on verso. Contemporary owner inscription on half title.
Only occasional light foxing and embrowning. A bit of expert restoration to corners of handsome contemporary calf. A most desirable copy of an American Revolutionary landmark of the utmost rarity and importance.