Pennsylvania Packet. Five issues

Francis HOPKINSON   |   George WASHINGTON   |   James MADISON

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(CONSTITUTION) (MADISON, James; WASHINGTON, George; HOPKINSON, Francis, et al.). The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser. [Five Issues]. Philadelphia: Printed and sold by John Dunlap and David C. Claypoole, December 25, 27-29, 31, 1787. Five newspaper issues. Folio, original tabloid-size sheets of tan paper; each issue of four pages (11-1/2 by 18 inches folded). Housed in a custom portfolio.

Five December 1787 issues of the Pennsylvania Packet (December 25 & 27-29, 31), containing a exceedingly rare chronicle of fierce debates in state conventions over ratification of the proposed federal Constitution, with the first Pennsylvania printing of the substantial and eloquent passage from Madison's Federalist Essay No. 14, together with key speeches by pro- and anti-ratification leaders, coverage of ratification conventions in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey—the first three states to ratify—and first publication of the pro-ratification allegory, "The New Roof," by Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration, and much more. An important collection of Americana, together housed in a custom portfolio.

"1787 was, beyond all but the faintest shadow of doubt, the most fateful year in the history of the United States… Only three other years in our history— 1776, 1861 and 1941— offer a challenge to the primacy of 1787" (Rossiter, 11-12). For it was in 1787 that the federal Constitution, with its radical vision of the nature of government, "was first presented to the American public on September 19, 1787, in the Pennsylvania Packet" (Meyerson, 140). The proposed Constitution was not, however, uniformly welcomed and was "fiercely controversial at first, producing heated polemics on both sides. So that its legitimacy would derive from the people, not the state governments, the framers required ratification by a special convention in each state; the document would be activated when nine states approved" (Chernow, 542). "That it was a contest, a fierce struggle that might have gone either way, is plain in the records and newspaper accounts of the state conventions" (Rossiter, 276).

This rare series of five important December 1787 issues from the Pennsylvania Packet— which had first published the Constitution that September— stands out among those newspaper accounts and is especially distinctive for its coverage of the early dramatic constitutional debates in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the first three states to vote for ratification, as well as its highlights of ratification contests in key states such as New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia and New Hampshire. The first issue of this series, that of December 25, 1787 (No. 2773), most notably contains the first Pennsylvania publication of a substantial passage from Madison's Federalist essay No. 14 (p. 3). Introducing Madison as "a writer under the signature of Publius," this printing of his eloquent argument for ratification, largely directed toward the key state of New York, begins with "I submit to you" and continues by urging his fellow Americans to: "Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty… Had no important step been taken by the leaders of the revolution for which a precedent could not be discovered… the people of the United States… must at best have been labouring under the weight of some of those forms which have crushed the liberties of the rest of mankind. Happily for Americans… they accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe… If they erred most in the structure of the union… this is the work which has been new modeled by the act of your Convention, and it is that act on which you are now to deliberate and to decide."

The next issue in this series (No. 2775, December 27, 1787) contains an early printing of Washington's September 17, 1787 letter to the Continental Congress, and offers lengthy coverage of the Pennsylvania State Convention— including a major speech by Thomas McKean, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and "served in the First and Second Continental Congresses… An ardent supporter of the federal Constitution He and James Wilson led the successful effort to have it ratified in Pennsylvania (1787)" (ANB). The December 29 issue (No. 2777) offers a fascinating report of the "Proceedings of the Convention of New-Jersey": listing delegates and noting the debates from December 18-20. On December 18, the Packet states, the delegates, after a reciting of the federal constitution, did unanimously "AGREE TO, RATIFY and CONFIRM the same, and every part thereof" (emphasis in original, 2). The article states that news of New Jersey's ratification was greeted by the "huzzas of the people— After which 15 rounds were fired… 13 of which were for the United States of America; and a volunteer for each of the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania, they being the only states which, with this state, have as yet ratified the new federal constitution" (pp 2-3). This report on the New Jersey Convention that is virtually unknown, for research has uncovered "no published debates or newspaper accounts of the New Jersey convention" (Ratification, 123). Also in the December 29 issue is the first publication of Francis Hopkinson's pro-ratification allegory, "The New Roof" (p 2). Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration, later spoke of this work in his 1792 Essays, writing: "In December 1787 the convention of Pennsylvania assembled to consider the Constitution or frame of government for the United States… the following allegory contains in substance the principal arguments used in that important debates" (National Humanities Center, 7n). The fifth issue of the Packet in this rare collection is that of December 31, 1787, which continues a report on Pennsylvania State convention by highlighting arguments by a powerful opponent to ratification, Robert Whitehill. The first state to ratify the Constitution was Delaware, on December 7, 1787. Pennsylvania followed on December 12, and New Jersey on December 18. Georgia and Connecticut followed in January 1788. The divisive and often verbally abusive political furor that ensued was not eased until New York's ratification of the Constitution in July 1788, "and was not concluded until May 29, 1790, when Rhode Island decided at last to join the Union" (Rossiter, 276).

Journalist and publisher John Dunlap established this newspaper in 1771 as Pennsylvania Packet; and the General Advertiser. "The first American daily," it began publication on September 21, 1784 as the Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser under the joint editorship of Dunlap and Claypool. "Here is source material of unimpeachable richness, and of a social and historical value that is obvious to any beholder" (Winterich, 110). In addition to their first printing of the Constitution, Dunlap and Claypool had two other distinctions: "They were the first to print the Declaration of Independence… and Washington's Farewell Address" (Oswald, 155-6). Madison's Federalist Essay No. 14 first appeared in the November 30, 1787 issue of the New-York Packet. According to historian Elaine F. Crane, it first appeared in its entirety in Pennsylvania in a February 1788 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette (William and Mary Quarterly 21:4, 592). Also included in these five issues are articles on the slave trade, international politics, various executions and trials, crime reports and much more. Brigham II, 942. See Evans 20642.

Each issue generally fresh with only light marginal dampstaining, trace of edge-wear. A very rare extremely good collection.

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