Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce

Alexander HAMILTON   |   Malachy POSTLETHWAYT   |   Jacques SAVARY

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THE MOST "INFLUENTIAL SOURCE" FOR ALEXANDER HAMILTON'S CRAFTING OF AMERICA'S FINANCIAL SYSTEM: POSTLETHWAYT'S DICTIONARY OF TRADE AND COMMERCE, RARE 1774 EDITION WITH "ADDITIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS, ADAPTING THE SAME TO THE PRESENT STATE OF BRITISH AFFAIRS IN AMERICA"—INCLUDING HIS SPECULATION ON "A REVOLUTION IN THE BRITISH PLANTATIONS AND COLONIES IN AMERICA"

(HAMILTON, Alexander) POSTLETHWAYT, Malachy. The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, With Large Additions and Improvements, Adapting to the Present State of British Affairs in America… With Great Variety of New Remarks and Illustrations… Together with Every Thing essential that is contained in Savary's Dictionary… London: W. Strahan et al., 1774. Two volumes. Large folio (10-1/2 by 16-1/2 inches), contemporary full speckled brown calf rebacked and recornered, raised bands, red and green morocco spine labels.

Important 1774 fourth edition of Postlethwayt's massive two-volume folio Dictionary, published in London only two years before the American Revolution, the same edition held by John Adams in his library, a timely work containing the Preliminary Discourses not present in the first and second editions. Within five years of this edition, Alexaner Hamilton's "initial plans for a U.S. financial revolution were hatched in several letters—more accurately essays—on political economy." Postlethwayt's Dictionary proved elemental to Hamilton, America's first Secretary of the Treasury, in designing America's economic independence, and was the "inspiration for U.S. industrial policy" in its impressive detailed charts and 25 very large folding maps, including many of North and South America, as well as those of Europe, Asia and Africa. Rare in contemporary calf boards.

To Alexander Hamilton, respected British economist Malachy Postlethwayt was "the ablest master of political arithmetic." Postlethwayt's authoritative two-volume Universal Dictionary was crucial in influencing Hamilton, whose "clear and prescient vision of America's future political, military and economic strength" consistently turned to Postlethwayt for guidance (Chernow, 110, 4). Similarly this was a major work in the library of Jefferson, known to recommend the Dictionary to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and others. And John Adams, in particular, held a copy of this 1774 edition in his library. Historians especially see Postlethwayt as elemental in understanding principles behind the Constitution's phrase "to regulate commerce" (Crosskey I:130-31).

It was in the winter of 1778 that Hamilton, encamped with Washington at Valley Forge, began a process of educating himself. "Probably the first book that Hamilton absorbed was Postlethwayt's Dictionary, a learned almanac of politics, economics and geography that was crammed with articles about taxes, public debt, money and banking. The Dictionary took the form of two ponderous, folio-sized volumes, and it is touching to think of the young Hamilton lugging them through the chaos of war… Postlethwayt gave the aide-de-camp a glimpse of a mixed economy in which government would steer business activity and free individual energies" (Chernow, 110-11). "Almost all of the material for the first part of Hamilton's notes in his Pay Book (1777) was taken from Postlethwayt's Dictionary" (Syrette, ed. Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 373n). In addition, "he recorded tables from Postlethwayt showing infant-mortality rates, population growth, foreign-exchange rates, trade balances, and the total economic output of assorted nations" (Chernow, 111).

Within barely five years of this timely 1774 edition, Hamilton's "initial plans for a U.S. financial revolution were hatched in several letters—more accurately essays—on political economy… Hamilton demonstrated an unusual understanding of financial history, gained from his recent study of the works of Postlethwayte, Hume, Richard Price Adam Smith and others… From those histories he drew the conclusion that finance was key both to state power and economic growth. Applying his historical understanding to the situation of the U.S., he began to formulate plans for what would become the U.S. financial revolution" (Irwin and Sylla, eds., Founding Choices, 61). Interestingly, it is in this 1774 edition's two Preliminary Discourses, not present in the first and second editions, that Postlethwayt highlights the prospect of American colonies freeing itself from British rule. He writes: "the question with us is whether… Great Britain would decline in wealth and power… There may be a revolution in the British plantations and colonies in America," Postlethwayt notes, "unless due care in time is taken to prevent it… Should North America change masters, alter their form of government, and set up for themselves, it is not unnatural to suppose that they would extirpate… the English." Hamilton took Postlethwayt's prophetic insights and economic analysis to heart in developing his own strategy, as America's first Secretary of the Treasury, for a path that would assure America's financial and political independence.

"Postlethwayt had devoted 20 years to the preparation of the Dictionary (Rare English Books 371), utilizing and translating "Savary's Dictionnaire de Commerce as the basis… upon which he has engrafted additional matter. It contains a good deal of useful practical information, on the different subjects of maritime and commercial law" (Marvin, 566-8). It was the focus on improving financial systems that Hamilton especially sought when he let "the English mercantilists (in particular Postlethwayt) and not Adam Smith, be his inspiration for U.S. industrial policy" (Reinert, Origin of Development Economics, 15). In seeking to resolve America's war debt, Hamilton "was familiar with Hume's work on public credit and the views of Hobbes and Montesquieu on the importance of honoring contracts… Yet probably the most influential source was the Dictionary… which he paraphrased in parts of his Report on Public Credit. Hamilton agreed with Postlethwayt's emphasis on the need to honor debts, promote the easy transfer of securities, and encourage the rapid circulation of funds" (Riccards, A Republic, 92). In further researching a plan to "charter America's first central bank… Hamilton [again] turned to Postlethwayt's Dictionary" (Chernow, 347). Few works had greater influence on the Founding Fathers in laying the foundation of America's financial system. Complete with engraved frontispiece (I), 25 large engraved folding maps, red- and black-lettered title pages featuring engraved vignettes. With engraved ornamental headpieces, numerous in-text tables and computations. Stated "Fourth Edition": preceded by Postlethwayt's first edition of 1751-55 and the 1757 and 1766 editions; Savary's Dictionnaire published 1723-30. Volume I without two leaves of the Introduction; first leaf of Introduction misbound but present. ESTC T147505. Sabin 77278. Palgrave III:176. See John Adams Library at the Boston Public Library; Marvin, 577; Sweet & Maxwell, 170:32; Harvard Law Catalogue II:376; Sowerby 2102; Sabin 77277; Goldsmith 9210; Kress 5157. Armorial bookplates of Robert Rous, possibly related to the family of British nobleman and statesman, Sir John Rous. Volume I with rear tipped-in octavo advertisement leaf for London bookseller John Donaldson.

Interior very fresh with just a few early and expert repairs to maps, mild rubbing to boards.

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