Theodore Sedgwick's copy of the Bill of Rights
Theodore Sedgwick's copy of the Bill of Rights
Theodore Sedgwick's copy of the Bill of Rights
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Theodore Sedgwick's copy of the Bill of Rights
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Theodore Sedgwick's copy of the Bill of Rights

NEW YORK, 1789

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Theodore Sedgwick's copy of the Bill of Rights
New York, 1789
[BILL OF RIGHTS] – Journal of the First Session of the Senate of the United States of America, Begun and Held at the City of New-York, March 4th 1789. New York: Printed by Thomas Greenleaf, 1789.

House Speaker Theodore Sedgwick's copy of the first edition of the Acts of the first session of the U.S. Senate: featuring two distinct and early printings of the Bill of Rights documenting the evolution of this landmark document. This, the first official publication of the Senate, documents a number of important enactments including the official tally of electoral votes in the first presidential election, the Judiciary Bill, and the Treasury Bill. Pages 22-25 narrate the events surrounding Washington's inauguration and transcribes the text of his address to the House and Senate.

Of particular interest are two versions of what would become the Bill of Rights. James Madison, who represented Virginia in the House during the First Congress, proposed a series of amendments on 8 June 1789. After a long summer of debate, the House approved 17 proposed amendments to send to the Senate for consideration (pp. 103-107). Over the course of the next few weeks, the Senate winnowed those 17 articles down to 10. Notably, the Senate combined articles III and IV which covered the freedom of religion, speech and press into one article (today’s First Amendment) while removing the conscientious objector clause the fifth article which concerned the right to bear arms (today’s Second Amendment). The Senate passed its version, consisting of 12 articles and on 26 September 1789, both houses approved the final version. The final text of the proposed 12 articles for ratification as constitutional amendments as presented to the states appears at the conclusion of the Journal (pp. 163-164). Interestingly, the first two articles were not ratified by three-quarters of the states at the time, so the third article guaranteeing freedom of religion, speech, and press became the First Amendment; the fourth article guaranteeing the right to bear arms appears as the Second Amendment; and so on. In the early 1980s, a college student began campaigning to complete ratification of the second of those two proposed articles which delayed any increase in legislative salaries until the sitting of a new Congress. In 1992, the required number of states had ratified the long-dormant article to make it the 27th Amendment.

Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813) was a Connecticut native who began his political career on the national stage as a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress in 1780. In 1789 he represented Massachusetts's first congressional district in the House, serving until 1796 when he was elected to the Senate, serving until 1799 when he was reelected to his congressional seat one last time. During that final term in the House, he served as Speaker. During his tenure as Speaker, Sedgwick was a critic of John Adams’ attempts to end the undeclared naval war with France, but on 4 March 1801, when Adams sullenly left Washington rather than attend Jefferson’s inauguration, Sedgwick, who was also retiring from Congress, shared the carriage with the outgoing president. Sedgwick, as a young lawyer, was involved in an important case involving Elizabeth Freeman, an enslaved woman who escaped her enslaver and sued for her freedom citing cruel treatment. Sedgwick and his partner, Tapping Reeve, pleaded the case (Brom and Bett vs. Ashley, 1781) challenging Elizabeth Freeman’s enslavement citing the Massachusetts Constitution’s clause that held that “all men are born free and equal.” Freeman won the case, which was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Evans 22207; Federal Hundred 25; Grolier American, 20; Sabin 15551.

Folio (345 x 215mm). Printed on laid paper with watermark "HS" (Gravell, American Watermarks, 304), deckled edges preserved (a few leaves toned, scattered very occasional foxing, small marginal tear from final leaf). Original paper boards (hinges cracked). Provenance: Theodore Sedgwick, 1746-1813, Speaker of the House of Representatives (ownership signature on title page).

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