AN EXTRAORDINARY AMERICAN RARITY—JEFFERSON'S PERSONAL ANNOTATED COPY OF THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES, (1803, 1805) FROM JEFFERSON'S LIBRARY—WITH HIS DISTINCTIVE INITIALS, ANNOTATIONS AND MARGINALIA IN HIS MANUSCRIPT HAND, FEATURING A SEMINAL PRINTING OF THE LOUISANA PURCHASE TREATY
(JEFFERSON, Thomas) UNITED STATES CONGRESS. The Laws of the United States of America. Volume VI. BOUND WITH: The Laws of the United States of America. Volume VII. Washington City: (William Duane), 1803, 1805. One volume. Thick octavo, contemporary full brown calf, front and rear boards tooled in blind in a semicircle pattern, two black and red morocco gilt spine labels, manuscript note on spine reading "Vol. VI. VII.," small early paper spine label, edges tooled in gilt, marbled endpapers: pp. , 191, , v, , -316, iv, lxxxv, , xxvi; , 225, , vi, -376, v, . Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $245,000.
Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of Volumes VI and VII of the Laws of the United States, together in one most rare and remarkable volume from his library, containing Jefferson's characteristic and distinctive ownership marks, together with his annotations and marginalia in his manuscript hand, featuring the Acts of the 7th and 8th Congresses, and early printings of key laws passed from 1802-1805 (while Jefferson was President), notably containing a printing of the text of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty that is said to have been Jefferson's primary source for the treaty, also with printings of laws resulting from the Treaty, and major legislation establishing a governmental structure for the newly-acquired territory, in contemporary calf.
Thomas Jefferson served as President from 1801-1809, and the early years of his administration saw many important laws enacted. First and foremost among these was the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, by which the United States more than doubled its size. This exceedingly rare volume contains the full text of the treaty, in both English and French, as well as acts enabling Jefferson to take possession of Louisiana, creating a fund to pay for the purchase, and providing for the governing of the territory. Appropriately, one of the first laws printed in the volume is the law creating the Library of Congress.
Thomas Jefferson built three collections of books in his lifetime. The first burned in a fire at his childhood home, Shadwell, in 1770. In 1815, Jefferson sold his second collection of books to the government in order to help rebuild the collection of the Library of Congress, which had been destroyed in 1814 when the British burned Washington and the Capitol building during the War of 1812. The third collection was dispersed after Jefferson's death in 1826, largely through auction. This exceptional volume contains Volumes VI and VII of Jefferson's eight-volume set of The Laws of the United States, and was part of the collection sold by Jefferson to the nation in 1815. The 1815 catalogue of the Library of Congress notes Jefferson's eight-volume set of The Laws of the United States as item 32 in Chapter 19, "Jurisprudence" (conforming to Jefferson's classification of his library). Those numbers, "Chap. 19 No. 32" are written in manuscript (not in Jefferson's hand) on the bookplate on the front pastedown of this volume.
The Librarian of Congress from 1815 to 1829 was George Watterston, and at some point he renumbered this volume on the same bookplate, as "Chapter 23 No. 90," and it is under this classification that the eight-volume set of the Laws appears in the 1830 catalogue of the Library of Congress. However, in the 1830 catalogue the entry for the Laws does not have a "J" in front of it, indicating that the actual volumes purchased from Jefferson in 1815 were no longer those in the Library's collection. In fact, the 1st and 5th volumes of the Library's eight-volume set were still Jefferson's as shown by Millicent Sowerby in her Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson. Sowerby notes that as of the 1950s only the 1st and 5th volumes in the eight-volume set contained Jefferson's distinctive initials at the "I" and "T" signatures in the text. It appears that Watterston disposed of the other volumes from Jefferson's set as duplicates some time before 1830. This was almost certainly done around 1828, when Congress passed a resolution authorizing the Librarian to clean up the clutter caused by the accumulation of books in the Library, and to "dispose of in such manner as they may think expedient, any duplicate, imperfect, damaged, or other work or works, not wanted for the use of the Library."
The present volume was evidently one of the volumes that was thereby dispersed. It contains Jefferson's characteristic identification marks—he penned a "T" before the "I" signature on page 65 of Volume VI (the letter "J" not being used in signature markings at the time) and a "J" following the "T" signature mark on page 145. Additionally, there are several other instances where Jefferson has annotated this copy. In the cumulative index to Volume VI Jefferson has written in manuscript (under the printed authorization of the President to organize the militia of the District of Columbia) "appoint Mayor of Washington 185." In the section of Volume VIII, regarding treasonous acts on American waters, Jefferson has written a note in the margin (p. 330) noting "proceedings in Federal court," and on page 332 "proceedings in State court" (underlinings in original]. In the same volume, in the margins of the page regarding the March 3, 1805 "Act to regulate the clearance of armed merchant vessels" (p. 339), Jefferson has made two notes (totaling 39 words) regarding vessels sailing into the Gulf of Mexico, and other waters. His first note in the margin reads: "armed vessels going into gulph [sic] of Mexico give bond not to use arms unlawfully & that they should be brought back." His second note in that margin reads: "armed vessels going elsewher [sic] make oath they are not going there & give bond not to go there." This Act and his annotations importantly touch on issues of that would trigger his highly controversial Embargo Act of December 1807.
Additionally, several lines have been underlined (likely in Jefferson's hand) in the text of the "Act to enable the President of the United States to take possession of the territories ceded by France" (i.e. the Louisiana Purchase), specifically those establishing that "all the military, civil, and judicial powers, exercised by the officers of the existing government of the same, shall be vested in such person and persons, as the President of the United States shall direct for maintaining and protecting the inhabitants of Louisiana in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and religion." An examination of Sowerby's catalogue of Jefferson's library does not show that Jefferson had a separate copy of the text of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, indicating that this volume would have been Jefferson's primary source for the text of the treaty, as well as the supporting legislation that enacted and administered one of the triumphs of Jefferson's public career. Also included herein are laws addressing some of the other pressing issues of Jefferson's administration, including protecting United States commerce and sailors from Tripolitan pirates, treaties with Indian tribes and laws regarding trade with the tribes, laws for the governance of the Ohio and Indiana territories, and laws regarding debt, taxation, the judiciary, and much more. A truly remarkable and most important volume. See Sowerby 1874. With manuscript notes in text. Early Library of Congress bookplate.
Interior generally fresh with light scattered foxing, minor occasional marginal dampstaining, wear to boards, joints starting but sound, small bit of loss to spine ends. An extremely good copy of this seminal volume with a rare and most important association.