Acts Passed at the Third Congress

UNITED STATES CONGRESS

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Item#: 76554 price:$1,800.00

ACTS PASSED AT THE THIRD CONGRESS, 1794, ONE OF ONLY 600 COPIES, FEATURING HAMILTON’S LANDMARK CARRIAGE ACT, WHICH PROMPTED THE "FIRST CLEAR-CUT CHALLENGE TO THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF AN ACT OF CONGRESS"—AND MUCH MORE

(UNITED STATES CONGRESS). Acts Passed at the Third Congress of the United States of America. Begun and Held at the City of Philadelphia… the Second of December, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Three. Philadelphia: Francis Childs and John Swaine, 1794. Octavo, modern green cloth, later endpapers. $1800.

First edition of the collected Acts Passed at the First Session of the Third Congress, one of only 600 copies, containing Hamilton's controversial 1794 Carriage Act, which led to his first appearance before the Supreme Court in 1796, where he successfully argued the government’s case in Hylton v. United States, “the first instance in which the Supreme Court was called upon to determine the constitutionality of a federal statute," preceding Marbury v. Madison by seven years, this volume also featuring the important act prohibiting "the carrying on the Slave-trade from the United States," with the owner signature of "J. Yeates" on the title page very possibly that of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Jasper Yeates, who played a key role in ending the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion.

This first edition of the collected Acts of the First Session of the Third Congress contains those passed from January-June 1794 under the governance of President Washington. It covers an especially dangerous time in which the fragile new government struggled to find its place in the world and saw growing internal strife between Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans. Especially notable herein is a printing of the 1794 Carriage Act (78-83), which was proposed by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Enacted in June despite fierce opposition, this would offer the "first clear-cut challenge of the constitutionality of an Act of Congress to come before the Court" in prompting Hylton v. United States, the first case to involve "judicial review" (Hall, 419). Hamilton, who was in private practice in New York when the case came before the Supreme Court in 1796, was persuaded to take command in presenting the government's case with Attorney General Charles Lee. The argument before the Court "stretched over three days—February 23, 24 and 25, 1796. When Hamilton launched into a three-hour presentation on the second day, the courtroom was crowded with members of Congress and foreign dignitaries who wished to witness the former secretary's first appearance before the justices. He did not disappoint… By upholding the Carriage Tax Act, the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution in a way that bolstered the power of the federal government" (Marcus & Perry, Documentary History, 368-69).

The Court's judgment, rendered on March 8, 1796, was a firm "disavowal of the state-rights interpretation of the Constitution and an affirmation of Hamilton's construction… This was the first instance in which the Supreme Court was called upon to determine the constitutionality of a federal statute" (Goebel, Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton, 337). It preceded, by a full seven years, "Chief Justice John Marshall's celebrated opinion in Marbury v. Madison (1803)" (Hall, 419). This volume also contains major laws on the U.S. Mint and Post Office, on the courts and international commerce, and an "Act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave-trade from the United States to any foreign place" (19-21)—representing "the beginning of a long struggle to control effectively a trade which France [and] Great Britain… totally prohibited" (Dumond, 58). All initial printings of bound Acts of Congress are quite scarce and were published at the end of each session by Childs & Swaine, in an edition of only 600 copies for internal distribution. These "bound Acts came to be very hard to get. They were always in short supply. Six hundred copies barely covered the official distribution, left few for the general public, few for the Congressmen themselves… Senators could never find copies of the printings for their own use, neither could cabinet officers nor lesser departmental officials" (Powell, Books of a New Nation, 92). Evans 27827. See Harvard Law Catalogue, 802. The owner signature of "J. Yeates" on the title page is quite possibly that of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Jasper Yeates, an avowed Federalist who was chosen by Washington to head a commission formed in August 1794 to negotiate a peaceful end to the Whiskey Rebellion (Slaughter, 196-7).

Text generally fresh and clean with light scattered foxing, occasional faint soiling. An extremely good copy of one of the founding documents in American history.

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