"THE MOST FAMOUS SERMON PREACHED IN PRE-REVOLUTIONARY AMERICA": FIRST EDITION OF JONATHAN MAYHEW'S DISCOURSE, 1750—"THE MORNING GUN OF THE REVOLUTION"—HAILED BY JOHN ADAMS AS KEY TO "AN AWAKENING AND A REVIVAL OF AMERICAN PRINCIPLES"
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) MAYHEW, Jonathan. A Discourse, Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers: With some Reflections on the Resistance made to King Charles I. And on the Anniversary of his Death… The Substance of which was delivered in a Sermon preached in the West Meeting-House in Boston the Lord's-Day after the 30th of January, 1749/50. Boston: Printed and Sold by D. Fowle… and by D. Goodkin, 1750. Slim octavo, period-style full red morocco gilt, black morocco spine label, raised bands; pp. (vi), 55, (1). $11,500.
First edition of Mayhew's Discourse that ignited America's will for liberty as "the first public expression in colonial America of the sacred right and duty of resistance to tyranny," defying British authority by declaring "rulers have no authority from God to do mischief… resistance is absolutely necessary."
In early 1750 Jonathan Mayhew, regarded by John Adams and James Otis as "a prophet of the revolution" (Miller, Puritans, 277), delivered "the most famous sermon preached in pre-Revolutionary America… one may see a gathering of threads that reach back into the earliest periods of American history and that extend forward into the constitutional debates of the 1760s and 1770s, and beyond that, into the construction of new governments in the American Republic" (Bailyn, Pamphlets, 204-11). To J.W. Thornton, Mayhew's Discourse was "the morning gun of the revolution" (Pulpit of the American Revolution), and to Clinton Rossiter it was "the first responsible public expression in colonial America of the sacred right and duty of resistance to tyranny" ("Life and World" in William & Mary Quarterly). Mayhew's powerful work clearly sought to voice "a full rationale for resistance to constituted government" (Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 52). Two decades before the American Revolution, it sparked Americans' impulse for liberty by boldly asserting "that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God, as well in Church as in State" (Sabin 47131).
A disciple of John Locke, Mayhew invoked "many of the principles that would soon become revolutionary platitudes…he used Locke's still radical claim that the people were the ultimate judges of state oppression to turn the charge of disloyalty back upon those who demanded passive obedience" (Beneke, "Critical Turn" in Massachusetts Historical Review). Discourse uniquely "influenced the religious and political thought of such American Revolutionary leaders as John Adams, who considered Mayhew one of the five men who started the American Revolution," along with Samuel Adams, James Otis, Oxenbridge Thacher and Samuel Cooper (Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, 697). Adams, then in his 20s, was present when Mayhew delivered this "famous attack on the doctrine of the divine right of kings, which Mayhew called 'altogether as fabulous and chimerical as transubstantiation'" (Brookhiser, 16). Adams later referred the Discourse to all "'who really wish to investigate the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution'… It is Mayhew's discussion of the right and duty to resist in the name of liberty that Adams found to be so descriptive of the principles and feelings that produced the Revolution" (Webking, 156-9).
In a much-cited 1818 letter to the editor of Baltimore's Weekly Register, John Adams further hailed Mayhew—along with Hancock and Samuel Adams—as chief among those few who "produced, in 1760 and 1761, an awakening and a revival of American principles and feelings, with an enthusiasm which went on increasing till, in 1775, it burst out in open violence, hostility and fury." Continuing, Adams noted that Mayhew's "sermon in 1750, on the 30th of January… [was] seasoned with wit and satire superior to any in Swift and Franklin. It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends and abused by enemies." Adams also praised Mayhew for his ability "to revive [Americans'] animosities against tyranny, in church and state, and at the same time to destroy their bigotry, fanaticism and inconsistency… This transcendent genius threw all the weight of his great fame into the scale of his country… and maintained it there with zeal and ardor till his death" in 1766 ("Letter to Hezekiah Niles," February 13, 1818). First edition: in that a first state is identified by a blank verso of the half title, not present herein, this is an undetermined first or second state, each exceedingly rare, of the same year's first edition. "A few copies were printed on large paper in quarto, the balance of the edition is octavo" (Evans 6549). Containing preface by Mayhew; with woodcut-engraved head- and tailpieces. ESTC W30792. Eberstadt 115:33.
Text with only very minor age-wear, tiny gutter-edge pinholes from original stitching. A defining and prophetic revolutionary work in near-fine condition.