English Liberties

Benjamin FRANKLIN   |   Henry CARE   |   William NELSON

add to my shopping bag

Item#: 109760 price:$13,500.00

English Liberties
English Liberties
English Liberties
English Liberties
English Liberties


CARE, Henry. English Liberties, or The Free-Born Subject's Inheritance: Containing Magna Charta, Charta De Foresta… Compiled first by Henry Care, and continued, with large Additiions, by William Nelson, of the Middle-Temple, Esq. Providence, Rhode-Island: Printed and Sold by John Carter, 1774. Small octavo (5 by 7-1/4 inches), contemporary full brown blindstamped sheep, raised bands; pp. viii, (1) 2-350, (6). Housed in a custom clamshell box. $13,500.

1774 American edition of Care's immensely influential English Liberties, preceded only by the 1721 Boston edition, issued not long after the Boston Tea Party and the same year as the First Continental Congress, with printings of the Magna Charta, the Habeas Corpus Act (1769)—"a second Magna Charta"—and foundational texts on jury trials, "principally designed for America," containing printing of the preface to the 1721 edition proclaiming "when liberty is once gone, even life itself grows insipid," with rear list of Subscriber's Names.

This important second American edition of Care's English Liberties, preceded only by the 1721 Boston edition, came at a turning point in America's path toward independence. This timely edition was printed in Rhode Island shortly after the Boston Tea Party and the same year Britain enacted the despised Intolerable Acts (alt. Coercive Acts), which were passed "in the expectation that other colonies would come to heel once they realized what might be their lot if they continued recalcitrant… 'The die is cast,' wrote the King, 'the colonies must either submit or triumph." Defying Britain, "in Rhode Island and in Virginia, as well as Massachusetts, calls were made for a meeting of the colonies' various representatives" to the First Continental Congress, which met that September in Philadelphia (Hibbert, 25-6).

"Care intended his English Liberties to provide uneducated and inexperienced English persons with documents and information about the law and their rights… praising England's 'fundamental laws [as] coeval with government' and describing the Magna Charta as 'Declaratory of the principal grounds of the Fundamental Laws and Liberties of England.' Celebrating law in another piece as second only to the gospel, he described it in English Liberties as 'the Best Birthright the Subject hath… Care regarded the essence of this birthright as the 'privilege not to be exempt from the law of the land, but to be freed in Person and Estate from Arbitrary Violence and Oppression" (Morrison & Zook, Revolutionary Currents, 46-7). First issued in England in 1680, English Liberties had a "longer and more significant reach in the American colonies… It played an important role in spreading concepts about English law, history, government, liberties and especially juries… Colonists found in Care's English Liberties support of their views about the Saxons, Magna Charta as a reaffirmation of old laws guaranteeing the rights of all freemen, and ways to protect themselves against oppression… William Penn silently lifted a sizable portion of English Liberties… into his Excellent Priviledge [sic] of Liberty and Property, which was printed in Philadelphia in 1687. English Liberties was reprinted in the colonies by James Franklin in Boston in 1721… and by John Carter in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1774 [this copy]" (Schwoerer, Ingenious Mr. Henry Care, 231-5). English Liberties "had more to do with preparing the minds of American colonists for the American Revolution than the larger but less accessible works of Coke, Sidney and Locke" (Hudson, William Penn's English Liberties, 580-85).

The same year James Franklin published the 1721 Boston edition, Benjamin Franklin, his young half-brother, was working in the print shop. "It is quite probable that Benjamin Franklin worked on [that] edition" (Church 880), and English Liberties might well have been among those included when "the precocious young teen devised for himself a self-improvement course" (Isaacson, 21-8). "The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1731 by Franklin, acquired the 1719 [English] edition of English Liberties in 1764… Jefferson added two copies of English Liberties to his library and arranged that it be included in the library of the University of Virginia… Care's vocabulary and ideas appeared in the writings of the founding fathers of the United States—Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Dickinson and Alexander Hamilton. In their speeches and writings may be found exactly the same language that Care used in English Liberties when he praised the 'two main pillars of the British Constitution,' identifying those pillars as parliament and trial by jury… Americans started with Care's statement that the 'two Grand Pillars' of an Englishman's birthright shone 'most conspicuously in Parliament and juries' and reasoned from it that since the Constitution was 'founded in the Common Rights of Mankind,' and since the 'Rights of Nature' were 'happily interwoven' in its 'ancient fabrick,' the right to parliament and juries was 'properly the birthright of free men everywhere… Care's ideas, like those of William Penn and John Locke, which they profoundly resemble, were ahead of their time" (Schwoerer, 231-5).

Philadelphia-born publisher John Carter, who issued this pivotal 1774 edition, was apprenticed to Benjamin Franklin and David Hall's Philadelphia printing firm in the 1760s, and assumed publication of Rhode Island's Providence Gazette in 1767 (Brigham II:1003-4). In 1774 Rhode Island led the colonies in making "the first instance of agitation for a continental congress by a public body," and it also paved the path toward Revolution by appointing delegates to the First Continental Congress that June; "in the subsequent weeks every province of the 13 designated representatives, in one fashion or other, except Georgia" followed suit (Schlesinger, Colonial Merchants, 326, 396). Carter also served as Postmaster of Providence for 20 years: "His Commission was dated September 25, 1775, and was signed by his former employer, Benjamin Franklin, then Postmaster-General. As a member of the Committee of Correspondence during the Revolutionary period he discharged the duties of the position with credit and distinction" (Rhode Island Historical Society Collections XI:101-4). Scholars have alternatively credited William Penn with authoring substantial portions of English Liberties (see Hudson, "William Penn's English Liberties"). "This sixth Edition being principally designed for America, a few Particulars are omitted, which were in the former Editions, such as concerning Constables, Churchwardens… But to compensate amply for these Omissions, and make the Work as truly valuable, and more serviceable in America, a Number of Excellent Forms for Justices of the Peace, &c. are added, as also some Extracts from several late celebrated writers on the British constitution" (viii). Six-page list of "Subscribers Names" at rear. Evans 13185. Harvard Law Catalogue, 335. Sabin 10819. ESTC W31881. Sweet & Maxwell I:154-5. Sowerby 2702-3. Viorst, Great Documents of Western Civilization, 112. Bailyn, 44n. See Church 880; Sowerby III:2702, 2703. Early owner signatures to preliminary blank.

Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing, inner hinges expertly reinforced, slight rubbing to boards. A very desirable copy in contemporary sheep boards.

add to my wishlist ask an Expert

This Book has been Viewed 3405 Time(s).

Author's full list of books

FRANKLIN, Benjamin >