"THE HEART AND ESSENCE OF ALL CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLICANISM IS CONSENT. THE HEART AND ESSENCE OF ALL SLAVERY IS COMPULSON": EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST EDITION OF THEOPHILUS PARSONS' SLAVERY. ITS ORIGIN, INFLUENCE, AND DESTINY, 1863, IN FRAGILE ORIGINAL WRAPPERS
(CONSTITUTION) PARSONS, Theophilus. Slavery. Its Origin, Influence, and Destiny. Boston: William Carter and Brother, 1863. Slim octavo, original printed tan self-wrappers, pp. (1-3), 4-36. $2200.
First edition of a vital work on slavery and the constitution by Harvard scholar Parsons, issued in the Civil War, declaring the proposition of contract a "dominant principle" of the nation's "constitutional republican government," declaring the Constitution "protects slavery" yet is a "living" work that "invites and provides for change," a very distinctive presentation copy with an inscription above the title page to his daughter Emily Elizabeth Parsons, reportedly in his hand, to "Miss E.E. Parsons from her father," especially rare in original wrappers.
Parsons, the Dane Professor of Law at Harvard (1848-70), was the son of Chief Justice Theophilus Parsons of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a revolutionary-era figure who authored the Essex Report and co-authored the Massachusetts state constitution (Smithsonian). Slavery, a rare and often overlooked work, was issued at a major point in the Civil War. In it Parsons sets the war and slavery within the frame of "the great American Invention… a Constitution." This influential work, along with that of Timothy Farrar and others, expressed a "fundamental shift" that theorized "American constitutionalism as a move from 'The Inadequate Constitution' to 'The Adequate Constitution.'" To historians, this breathed "new dynamism into American constitutional interpretation" by envisioning the people as "acting through a fundamental and distinctly national rule of law" (Sawyer and Novak, Emancipation, 478-89).
Parsons builds his analysis on distinctions between "consent" and "compulsion," and declares the "dominant principle" of the nation's "constitutional republican government" is its "substitution of Consent for Compulsion." In answer to how the South might be compelled "to return within the Union," he invokes the principle of the contract, stating: "consent is perfectly consistent with contract." To a nation "founded upon consent," he declares the Civil War is the "most consummate violation of contract-obligation… the heart and essence of all constitutional republicanism is CONSENT. The heart and essence of all slavery is COMPULSON" (emphasis in original).
The war, "with all its fury, its slaughter, its hatred, and its sacrifice, is but a revelation of the war eternally existing between the two principles of Freedom and Slavery. And yet," he concedes, "our national constitution recognizes and protects slavery." With that blunt observation Parsons give voice to the key constitutional debates of his time, as well as today's divide over America's "contradictory Constitution" (Feldman, Broken Constitution, 10). In his conclusion Parsons admits "my hope is stronger than my fear," and states the Constitution remains "a living organism. It invites and provides for change." He was famed for his Law of Contracts (1853), the "leading book" on the subject for more than 20 years (Brandeis, Harvard Law School, 494). The presentation inscription in this rare copy is to his daughter, Emily Elizabeth Parsons, a Civil War nurse who co-founded Massachusetts' Mount Auburn Hospital. At her death in 1880, Parsons published a Memoir of her the same year. First edition, first printing: with no statement of edition on front wrapper. Sabin 58911. While we have been unable to authenticate the inscription on the title page, it is reported to be in the hand of Theophilus Parsons. Featuring everal pages with early annotations and marginalia in an unidentified cursive.
Text quite fresh, fragile wrappers with faint soiling, slight edge-wear, archival reinforcement to spine. A highly desirable, extremely good copy of a seminal work on slavery and the constitution.