A WORK "ON WHICH ANTISLAVERY POLITICIANS AND LAWYERS COULD MAKE THEIR STAND": VERY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF ABOLITIONIST WILLIAM JAY'S VIEW OF THE ACTION OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, IN BEHALF OF SLAVERY, 1839, IN ORIGINAL CLOTH
JAY, William. A View of the Action of the Federal Government, in Behalf of Slavery. New-York: J.S. Taylor, 1839. Small octavo (5 by 7-3/4 inches), original gilt- and blind-stamped brown cloth; pp. (i-iii), iv-viii, 13-217 (1). $1600.
First edition of the highly influential work by William Jay, son of Founding Father John Jay, documenting the "grim" legacy of the U.S. Constitution's "guilty compromise"—with Frederick Douglass honoring Jay at his death for his dedication to "the great cause of universal freedom… a tower of strength and his pen a two-edged, sword"—especially scarce in original cloth.
Abolitionist and jurist William Jay was the son of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and president of the Revolutionary Continental Congress. William Jay, "intensely invested in the fundamental goal of ending American slavery," served as president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society, drafted the constitution of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and was removed as a judge in a New York county for his abolitionist activism. His 1839 View of the Action, with its epigraph taken from the Constitution, demonstrated Jay's conviction that "Americans had to own up to their sin" and acknowledged his family's part in that legacy. His book details the ways in which the Constitution's "'guilty compromise' had shaped federal policy, foreign and domestic" for decades. In its "nearly 200 pages of research," he exposes officials "who regularly made the choice to enact proslavery laws and procedures… the data was grim. Yet by putting in one place such a well-informed catalog of federal policy, Jay created a guidebook to issues on which antislavery politicians and lawyers could make their stand" (Gellman, Liberty's Chain, 190, 209).
Jay documents "all the ways the federal government advanced slaveholding interests at home and abroad…. the Constitution's three-fifth compromise had created substantial" yet unacknowledged "political advantages" for slaveholding states and their supporters. The "dominoes that fell… included the Missouri Compromise," which Jay firmly assails for surrendering "all the cruelties and abominations" of slavery to the territory. He also attacks a "repugnant" 1792 law barring Blacks from militia service, as well as policies that made the nation's capital "'the great slave mart of the North American continent'… in Jay's book, the poison born of moral compromise spread in every direction" as he cites "''gross hypocrisy and duplicity' in the lax enforcement of the international slave trade… [and] insidious effects on domestic institutions and policies" that hollowed out the Constitution in areas such as freedom of the press. In providing antislavery forces with "a stiff empirical, legal backbone, "View of the Action also reinforced a determination to use his family's "insiders' credentials" in order to advance defense of the Amistad rebels, and to work closely with Black activists such as David Ruggles and minister and African nationalist Alexander Crummell. At Jay's death in 1858, Frederick Douglass honored him as man who, "in the great cause of universal freedom… was a tower of strength, and his pen a two-edged sword" (Gellman, 209-213, 3). First edition, first printing: issued in brown (this copy) and dark green cloth, no priority determined; mispagination as issued without loss of text. Work, 327. Sabin 35866. Contemporary gift inscription dated year of publication.
Text fresh with lightest scattered foxing, trace of edge-wear to spine ends of bright original cloth. A handsome about-fine copy.