[UNITED STATES, CONTITUTION]. Plan of the New Federal Government. "We the People of the United States. In Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, secure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America...In Convention, Monday, Sept. 17, 1787... [Signed in type at end:] George Washington, President... Philadelphia: Robert Smith, n.d. [probably September 1787].
Folio bifolium, (13¾ x 8 7/8 in.). Page 1 with 2-line heading in large roman and italic type, text printed two columns to the page, Smith's imprint on page 4. WITH THE ORIGINAL DECKLE EDGES OF THE SHEET PRESERVED (Slight separation along central fold, neat and very discreet mends to a few small marginal tears, otherwise in excellent, almost mint condition).
"WE THE PEOPLE...": A UNIQUE, VERY EARLY PHILADELPHIA PRINTING OF THE PROPOSED CONSTITUTION
A unique early printing of the Constitution, done in the city where the Convention held its historic meetings. It includes the text of all seven articles, the names and states of all those delegates who signed the completed document, the Convention's resolution recommending that the draft be submitted for ratification by the states and a formal letter from Washington to the President of the Continental Congress persuasively endorsing the Constitution, stating that it may "promote the lasting welfare of that country, so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness." This latter is signed in type by George Washington as President of the Constitutional Convention. The large-format, small type edition is not traceable in Evans, Shipton & Mooney, Bristol, NAIP, or any of the standard bibliographical sources.
The printer, Robert Smith Jr., established himself in Philadelphia in 1783 (see Brown and Brown, A Directory of the Book-Arts and Book Trade in Philadelphia to 1820, p.111). In February 1787, Smith launched the tri-weekly Evening Chronicle, which became a semi-weekly with the issue of 7 August (Brigham, 2:904). According to Brigham, Smith took on a partner, James Prange, and from November 1, the firm operated as Robert Smith and James Prange. This effectively narrows the possible date of the present edition to between 17 September and 1 November 1787. But it is a virtual certainty that Smith's edition was issued very close to 17 September. Logically, Smith would have gone to press with the historic document as soon as the new plan was available to be set in type. Even a week later, the new plan would have been cold, essentially unsaleable news to Philadelphians.
The official printers to the Convention, Dunlap and Claypoole, working in the late afternoon and early evening of the 17th, set the text, together with the accompanying resolution and Washington's letter to Congress, then printed an unknown number of official copies (Evans 20818, 9 copies recorded, 1 in private ownership). The printers were bound by an oath of secrecy to the Convention, but this became moot with the public reading of the document before the Pennsylvania General Assembly on the morning of the 18th. Two days later, partly from the same standing type, Dunlap and Claypoole issued the regular issue of their weekly Pennsylvania Packet containing the text.
But it is quite conceivable, as Leonard Rapport points out, that since Smith's struggling Evening Chronicle was regularly published on Tuesdays and Saturdays, "there was time for the printer of the Chronicle to have obtained and reprinted a copy by Tuesday evening" (the 18th) either as an issue of the paper or as a special. In fact, judging by the evidence of hasty type-setting and poor imposition in this edition, Smith may well have beaten the five other Philadelphia newspapers, all of whom who issued their printings of the Constitution on 19 September 1787, their usual day of publication. Smith, who had previously worked for Dunlap & Claypoole, may have "scooped" the more established firms by obtaining a copy of the plan and attached documents immediately after Dunlap and Claypoole printed the official edition for transmission. If it appeared on the 17th or 18th, Smith, with this handbill, may have trumped all five major Philadelphia newspapers.
No copy of the 18 September issue of Smith's Evening Chronicle is extant, so its relationship to this hastily printed handbill cannot yet be determined. Despite Rapport's pioneering work, the priority of the various Philadelphia printings remains, for the present, imperfectly understood (Leonard Rapport, "Printing the Constitution," in Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives, v.2, no.2, pp.69-90).
The first Philadelphia editions, of course, were only the beginning. The rapidity with which the text was disseminated throughout the nation may be graphically seen in the separate imprints listed in Evans and later bibliographies. "Printers all over America...followed on during the next two weeks, several of them publishing special editions to inform, comfort or shock their readers. Delegates sent off copies in every direction...and by early November it was a lonely or uncaring American, whether a merchant in Paris or a trapper in the Kickapoo country, who had not read the proposed Constitution" (C. Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention, pp.257-258). All of the first printings of the Constitution are rare, but this handbill is unique and, until 1996, was completely unrecorded. Ten years after its discovery, it remains the sole known copy.