Constitution of the Pennsylvania Society

SLAVERY   |   Benjamin FRANKLIN   |   William SCRANTON

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(SLAVERY) (FRANKLIN, Benjamin). The Constitution of the Pennsylvania Society, For Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, And the Relief of Free Negroes, Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Begun in the Year 1774, And Enlarged on the Twenty-Third of April, 1787. To Which are Added, the Acts of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph James, 1787. Slim octavo, original blue-gray paper wrappers, stitched as issued; pp. (1-4), 5-15, (1). Housed in a custom portfolio.

First edition, with corrected title page, of the scarce second printed constitution of the first American abolition society, with Benjamin Franklin listed as president, Benjamin Rush as secretary and Thomas Paine as its Clerk of the General Assembly, a model for subsequent abolition societies and a founding document in the struggle against slavery, in original wrappers. From the estate of William W. Scranton, the influential governor of Pennsylvania who was, like Franklin, noted for his statesmanship.

Founded by Anthony Benezet in 1774, the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery played an elemental role in influencing leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, whose views toward slavery had been evolving over his lifetime. In the very last years of his life, "Franklin was to embark on one final public mission, a moral crusade that would help ameliorate one of the few blemishes on a life spent fighting for freedom." Though Franklin had "owned one or two household slaves off and on for much of his life… he had also published, in 1729, one of the nation's first antislavery pieces… In expressing sympathy for the Philadelphia abolitionist Anthony Benezet in the 1770s, he had agreed that the importation of new slaves should end immediately, but he qualified his support for outright abolition by saying it should come 'in time.… Franklin's conversion culminated in 1787, when he accepted the presidency of the Abolition Society… As was typical of Franklin, he drew up for the society a meticulously detailed charter and procedures 'for improving the condition of free blacks… [and] on behalf of the Society, Franklin presented a formal abolition petition to Congress in February 1790" (Isaacson, 463-65).

As the emerging nation faced its struggle with slavery, many state abolitionist organizations were founded. "The first of the state organizations was a Quaker society in Pennsylvania. It met for the first time in 1775, suspended operations during the war, and became active again in 1784. A new constitution was adopted by the Society in April 1787, just prior to the meeting of the federal Constitutional Convention, and people other than Quakers were brought into membership. Finally, it was incorporated by the state legislature in 1789… Benjamin Franklin was its first president" (Dumond, 46-7). Contains the tenets of the Society, duties of its officers, a listing of present officers, a 1780 "Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery" and a 1781 "Act to give Relief to certain Persons taking Refuge in this State, with Respect to their Slaves."The constitution of the Abolition Society was first printed in 1781. First edition: with second issue title page containing "enlarged" for "enlagred," corrected by a stop-press alteration. With half title. Blockson 9326. Evans 20636. ESTC W30521. Sabin 60364. From the estate of William W. Scranton, the esteemed Republican leader who served with distinction as governor of Pennsylvania and, like Franklin, was noted for his statesmanship. "A descendant of Mayflower colonists and the founders of Scranton, Pa., heir to a fortune in railroads and utilities, the soft-spoken Mr. Scranton was heralded as a 'Kennedy Republican' in the early 1960s." Briefly enlisted as his party's nominee for president in the 1964 election, Scranton later served as President Ford's Ambassador to the United Nations, where his steady leadership won praise from delegates who "said that he brought quiet maturity to diplomacy that had swung from bombast to tirade, and that his finesse made him the most respected United States delegate in years" (New York Times). At his death Scranton was remembered by Senator Robert Casey Jr. as "an extraordinary public servant."

Text generally fresh with only tiny bit of edge-wear to corners of some leaves not affecting text, mild dampstaining to wrappers. A near-fine copy of a seminal work.

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