[UNITED STATES, CONSTITUTION, BILL OF RIGHTS]. Congress of the United States...The Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added...Articles in addition to, and amendment of, The Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution... [Philadelphia: Childs & Swaine, 1792].
Folio (13 7/16 x 8 5/16 in.). 11pp. (minor browning to fore-margins of title and last page). Stabbed and sewn, uncut, AS ISSUED in thin blue paper protective wrappers (minor wear and slight soiling at edges).
Provenance: Samuel Johnston (1733-1816) of South Carolina, with his signature ("S. Johnston") on titlepage and bold inscription on front wrapper "Confirmation of Amendments by several states S. Johnston."
THE BILL OF RIGHTS BECOMES THE LAW OF THE LAND: JEFFERSON'S OFFICIAL FIRST PRINTING OF THE NEWLY RATIFIED AMENDMENTS COMPRISING THE BILL OF RIGHTS
ONE OF ONLY FIVE EXTANT COPIES OF THIS HISTORIC EDITION AND THE ONLY COPY IN ORIGINAL CONDITION
The first official edition of the ratified Bill of Rights, ten amendments to the newly adopted Constitution that have come to constitute a critical and fundamental bulwark of American liberty. This exceedingly rare official imprint of the Bill of Rights with the ratifications of 11 states was printed at the direction of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson after Virginia, his home state, had voted on December 15, 1791 to ratify the amendments, becoming the 11th state to do so and thereby confirming the Bill of Rights as the supreme law of the land. It is known that Childs and Swaine, printers to Congress, were paid for having printed 135 copies of this edition. Evidently two copies were transmitted to each state Governor under Thomas Jefferson's circular letter of March 1, 1792, which forwarded the Post Office act, a fisheries act and "the ratifications, by three-fourths of the legislatures of the several States, of certain articles in addition to & amendment of the Constitution of the United States as proposed by Congress" (for a photograph of Jefferson's circular letter to the Governor of Maryland, see Bill of Rights, Milestone Documents in the National Archives, Washington, 1986, p.25).
"A GOOD CANVAS": PERFECTING THE CONSTITUTION
Even before the Constitutional Convention had finished drafting the new Constitution, a conviction grew in certain quarters that it failed to adequately protect fundamental individual liberties against the power of the new Federal government. As Virginia's George Mason wrote in his 1787 Objections to this Constitution: "There is no declaration of rights, and the laws of the general government being paramount to the laws and constitutions of the several States, the declarations of rights in the separate States are no security. Nor are the people secured even in the enjoyment of the benefits of the common law...There is no declaration of any kind, for preserving the liberty of the press, or the trial by jury in civil cases; nor against the danger of standing armies in time of peace." Mason and many others argued that the Constitution should not be ratified unless a Bill of Rights was adopted. Writing from Paris on December 20, 1787 to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson also voiced concern at "the omission of a bill of rights, providing clearly, and without the aid of sophism, for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land, and not by the laws of nations. Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, & what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences." Seven months later, on 31 July, he told Madison "I sincerely rejoice at the acceptance of our new Constitution by nine states. It is a good canvas, on which some strokes only want retouching. What these are, I think are sufficiently manifested by the general voice from North to South, which calls for a Bill of Rights. It seem pretty generally understood that this should go to Juries, Habaeus corpus, Standing armies, Printings, Religion & Monopolies..." (for an analysis of Jefferson's and Madison's exchange of letters on the subject, see D.N. Mayer, Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson, 1994, pp. 145-158).
MADISON AS STEPFATHER OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS
While Madison had originally maintained, with most Federalists, that no need for additional protections of individual liberties existed, as a pragmatist, he came to realize that the success of the new experiment in government depended ultimately upon the willingness of the principal part of the American public to support the new system, and that amendments guaranteeing certain fundamental liberties would do much to ensure that broad-based support. Serving as a representative from Virginia to the first Congress, "on June 8 then, an important date in American history, James Madison rose in the House of Representatives and offered his version of a bill of rights" (William Lee Miller, The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding, p.251). After winnowing the amendments suggested by all the states, Madison had carefully drafted nine articles, and his care is reflected in the fact that "all the first ten amendments as we have them today were anticipated in Madison's list, and most passed on into the Constitution in his language, or something close to it" (Miller, p.253). A select committee of the House, with one member from each state, was delegated to consider Madison's articles and those proposed by the different state legislatures. On 24 August, 17 articles were adopted by the House. The Senate suggested further modifications to those, eliminated and combined others and approved 12 articles on September 9.
In order to reconcile the two different drafts, a conference committee was convened, with Madison at the head of the House delegation. This joint committee revised an apportionment formula in Article 1, changed the wording of Article 3 (dealing with freedom of religion), and restored the right to a jury trial in criminal prosecutions in Article 8, but, in most respects, their version concurred with the Senate draft. After some further debate in the House on September 24, the House of Representatives voted 37 to 14 to accept the committee's report; and on September 25 the Senate gave its assent. Several days later, the 12 proposed articles were engrossed on parchment and signed by Speaker Frederick A. Muhlenberg and by Vice President John Adams as President of the Senate. Each state received an engrossed copy of the Joint Congressional Resolution submitting the amendments to the consideration of the state legislatures for ratification (11 of these 13 engrossed copies survive today, while the original Joint Resolution is at the National Archives).
THE ORDEAL OF RATIFICATION
As the amendments were ratified--in whole or part--by the individual states over the next 36 months, the state governors in turn formally notified the Secretary of State and Congress that ratification had taken place. (Jefferson, who had reluctantly accepted the post of Secretary of State upon his return from France, was therefore, appropriately, in office to receive the ratifications of the last 11 of the states to ratify.) The present ratification edition prints, in order, each of the state resolutions certifying ratification. In order, these are: New Jersey (November 20, 1789); Maryland (December 19, 1789); North Carolina (December 22, 1789); South Carolina (January 19, 1790); New Hampshire (January 25, 1790); Delaware (January 28, 1790); New York (February 4, 1790); Pennsylvania (March 10, 1790); Rhode Island (June 7, 1790); Vermont (November 3, 1791); and Virginia (December 15, 1791).
Several states did not ratify the Bill of Rights. Connecticut, a staunchly Federalist stronghold, held the position that the original Constitution was sufficient without additional guarantees; Georgia, too, maintained that amendments were unnecessary. In Massachusetts, the upper and lower houses of the legislature failed to agree on which amendments to ratify. (It was not until 1939 that these three states finally ratified the Bill of Rights, on its 150th anniversary.) Because Vermont, North Carolina and Rhode Island had entered the Union in February 1791, 11 states were required to achieve the necessary three-fourths majority stipulated by the Constitution for ratification. Therefore, once the tenth state, Vermont, had voted in November to ratify, the fate of the Bill of Rights hung on the decision of the one state: "That tenth state, fittingly perhaps, was Virginia, the state with which the whole process of protecting the great rights of humankind with solemn bills and declarations had begun, back in May 1776, with the Virginia Declaration of Rights" (Miller, p.261). There, the amendments had encountered powerful opponents, including such august patriots as Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry, who loudly denounced the amendments. In addition, the Virginia legislature itself was divided, with Anti-Federalists controlling the state Senate and Federalists controlling the lower house. Both Madison and Jefferson, now Secretary of State, exerted their influence publicly and privately on behalf of ratification. Finally, in an unrecorded vote on December 15, 1791, Virginia approved articles 3 through 12, which became the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
The extreme rarity of this historic imprint is quite striking. Of the 135 copies ordered by Jefferson, a mere five are today known to be extant; the only copy offered at auction was sold at Parke-Bernet, November 25, 1952, lot 50 ($2100). This is, therefore, THE ONLY COPY TO BE OFFERED FOR SALE IN HALF A CENTURY. Not in Evans; Bristol B8177, locating copies at the Library of Congress and Maryland Hall of Records, noting another sold at auction in 1952 (that copy is now in the Posner collection at Carnegie Mellon University Library, Pittsburgh, Pa.); ESTC WO33765 (adding a copy at the American Antiquarian Society).