“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 REUBEN ATTWATER, SECRETARY AND ACTING GOVERNOR OF THE MICHIGAN TERRITORY
(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. $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 Reuben Attwater, Secretary and Acting Governor of the Michigan Territory in the early 1800s. One of only 600 copies printed, with legislation on the census and treaties with Britain and Indian tribes, and 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, after a private dinner hosted by Jefferson, “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). 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). Without title page (in photocopy with contemporary inscription); page  numbered ccxxviii. Evans 22952. Harvard Law Catalogue, 803. This rare association copy is signed by Reuben Attwater, who notably served as Secretary of the Michigan Territory and as its acting governor during British occupation in the 1800s.
Some dampstaining, light foxing and edge-wear to final leaves. A rare and important document in early American history in extremely good condition.