“ABOUT CONTROL, ABOUT TRUST, ABOUT INDEPENDENCE”: VERY RARE ASSOCIATION COPY OF THE BOUND ACTS OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FIRST CONGRESS, THE FIRST COLLECTED PRINTINGS OF THE CONTROVERSIAL RESIDENCY ACT AND ASSUMPTION ACT, WHOSE DIVISIVE DEBATE UNHINGED A NATION, FROM THE LIBRARY OF STEPHEN ROW BRADLEY, ONE OF VERMONT’S FIRST U.S. SENATORS
(UNITED STATES CONGRESS). Acts Passed at the Second Session of the Congress of the United States of America. Begun and Held at the City of New-York on Monday the Fourth of January, in the Year M,DCC,XC: and of the Independence of the United States, the Fourteenth. Published by Authority. New York: Printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine, . Folio, original self-wrappers, stitched as issued, uncut. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $8500.
First edition of the first collected Acts of the Second Session of the First Congress, one of the most contentious on record where “every major decision set a precedent,” a rare association copy from the library of Stephen Row Bradley, one of the first U.S. senators from Vermont, renowned for his bill establishing the American flag of 15 stars and 15 stripes—known as the “Bradley flag.” One of only 600 copies printed, with legislation on the census, West Point and treaties with Britain and Indian tribes, and especially featuring two seminal acts whose fiercely contested debate threatened the new nation with imminent collapse: the Residency Act, establishing a permanent capital along the Potomac, and the Assumption Act, Hamilton’s proposal for federal assumption of state debts.
This exceptional first printing of the official collection of Acts Passed by the Second Session of the First Congress is especially memorable for its inclusion of two acts that threatened to fracture the new nation and set in opposition the considerable eloquence of Hamilton and Madison—co-authors of The Federalist Papers (1788). One of only 600 copies, this volume contains both the Residency Act (43), favored by Madison in seating a permanent capital near his beloved Virginia, and Hamilton’s proposal for federal assumption of state debts-An Act to Provide more effectually for the Settlement of Accounts between the United States and the Individual States (103). Conflict between these two Founding Fathers over these laws was heightened “precisely because the new national government was new; every major decision set a precedent” (Ellis, American Sphinx, 121).
To Madison, Hamilton’s Assumption Act “was not primarily about money. It was about control, about trust, about independence.” To Hamilton, failure to pass his financial plan meant “the entire experiment with republican government at the national level would [in his words] ‘burst and vanish, and the states separate to take care of everyone of itself.’ Either the peaceful dissolution of the United States or a civil war would occur unless some sort of political bargain was struck” (Ellis, Founding Fathers, 50-58, 69). Debate over a permanent federal seat reached back to mid-1789, and in 1790, when the Second Session convened, “the argument about assumption stretched from February 23 through March and into April… With tempers and anxieties increasing day by day, the stage was set for the encounter which extracted Congress from its impasse and avoided adjournment in confusion, perhaps with drastic consequences” (Banning, 320). That encounter came in late June, when Madison and Hamilton attended a private dinner hosted by Jefferson and there “achieved a statesmanlike solution that averted disintegration of the union.” By early July “the House approved the Residency Act… [and] narrowly passed the assumption bill. The famous dinner deal had worked its political magic” (Chernow, 330).
This exceptional association copy is from the library of Stephen Row Bradley, a leader in the struggle for ratification during the Constitutional Convention, who was elected “one of Vermont’s first United States senators” (1791-4, 1801-13) when it became “the first state to come into the Union after the original 13.” As “the leading Democratic-Republican senator from New England during his day,” Bradley was a strong supporter of both Jefferson and Madison, yet publicly contested key actions of both during their presidential terms. Bradley is also renowned for introducing the 1794 “bill that established a national flag of 15 stripes and 15 stars, sometimes known as the Bradley flag that was used from 1795-1814” (DAB).
Herein are all acts passed from February-August 1790, also including those on naturalization, the census, customs, state judicial practices, land for West Point and establishment of the Post Office, as well as treaties between the United States and Great Britain, and with five Indian nations. This is the first official printing, in original wrappers, of the bound Acts, published by Childs and Swaine, contracted “to print the Laws of Congress (the Acts) in 600 copies… The bound volumes of the Acts of Congress, issued at the end of each session by Childs & Swaine… came to be very hard to get… [They were] distributed to the members and to the executive, judiciary and judicial branches of every state. This would practically exhaust the 600 copies… and leave none for public purchase” (Powell, 84-6). Evans 22952. Harvard Law Catalogue, 803. Contemporary owner inscription on front wrapper.
Occasional inoffensive dampstaining, light edge-wear to fragile self-wrappers. A rare and important document in early American history, near-fine.