Matter of surprise: Constitutions des treize états-unis de l'Amérique. (Paris, 1783)

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Constitutions des treize états-unis de l'Amérique. A Philadelphie [i.e. Paris] et se trouve a Paris, chez Ph. - D. Pierres, Imprimeur Ordinaire du Roi, rue Saint-Jacques. Pissot, pere & fils, Libraires, quai des Augustins, 1783. Call number: (Ex) 7583.01.267.11 copies 1-4.

Benjamin Franklin provides two key quotes regarding this book.

❧ First, on June 10, 1783, Benjamin Franklin wrote to printer Philippe-Denis Pierres

"Sir, I received the Exemplaire of the Constitutions. ... I desire to have 50 of the 8vos bound in Calf, and Letter'd, and 50 half bound, that is, between Paste boards, with a Sheepskin Back and Letter'd, but not cut, I desire also 6 of the 4tos bound in Morocco. ..."

Ex7583.01.267.11.copy4 -sm.JPG❧ Ex copy 4 is one of the "50 of the 8vos bound in Calf and letter'd" (Franklin to the printer Pierres, 10 June 1783). Ex copy 4: Inscribed by Benjamin Franklin on t.p.: "Translated by the Duke de Rochefoucauld, and the Translation revised before Impression by B.F." Note illustration above. Gift of Andre de Coppet.
Ex7583.01.267.11.copy3 -sm.JPG❧ Ex copy 3 is one of the "50 half bound, that is between Paste Boards with a Sheepskin Back, and Letter'd but not cut" (Franklin to the printer Pierres, 10 June 1783). Ex copy 3: Presentation copy to George Hammond from Benjamin Franklin with inscription by Mr. Hammond. It remains both uncut and unopened.


❧❧ Secondly on December 25, 1783, Franklin wrote to Thomas Mifflin " ... The extravagant Misrepresentations of our Political State, in foreign Countries, made it appear necessary to give them better Information, which I thought could not be more effectually and authentically done than by publishing a Translation into French, now the most general Language in Europe, of the Book of Constitutions which had been printed by Order of Congress. This I accordingly got well done, and presented two Copies handsomely bound to every foreign Minister here, one for himself, the other more elegant, for his Sovereign. It has been well taken, and has afforded Matter of Surprise to many, who had conceived mean Ideas of the State of Civilization in America, and could not have expected so much political Knowledge and Sagacity had existed in our Wilderness. And from all Parts I have the Satisfaction to hear that our Constitutions in general are much admired. I am persuaded that this Step will not only tend to promote the Emigration to our Country of substantial People from all Parts of Europe, by the numerous Copies I shall dispense, but will facilitate our future Treaties with Foreign Courts, who could not before know what kind of Government and People they had to treat with. As in doing this I have endeavour'd to further the apparent Views of Congress in the first Publication, I hope it may be approved, and the Expence allow'd. ..."

Ex7583.01.237.11.copy1.spine.jpg
❧ Franklin's "two Copies handsomely bound to every foreign Minister here, one for himself, the other more elegant, for his Sovereign" included 4to editions. For example, the 4to at the New York Public Library is printed "sur papier d'Annonay" and has the supra-libros of Louis Joseph de Bourbon-Condé (1736-1818). A 4to at the Bibliothèque Nationale has the arms of Marie-Antoinette. ❧ Moreover, 8vo copies stamped with arms are known. Princeton has such an 8vo. At left is Ex copy 1: Stamped on spine with arms of the La Rochefoucauld family. Given the "accolé" character of these arms, they may be those for the Duke's mother, Madame d'Enville (the Dowager Duchesse de la Rochefoucauld d'Enville; Marie-Louise Nicole Elisabeth de La Rochefoucauld, 1716-1797), also a friend of Franklin. This copy also has the 19th century booklabel of James Toovey (d. 1893). Presented to the Library by Junius S. Morgan, accessioned May 10, 1893. [Note: A 4to bound in red morocco with the supra-libros of LaRochefoucuald was sold at Sotheby's, Monaco, on 9 December 1987. See: Bibliothèque La Rochefoucauld au château de La Roche-Guyon: provenant de la succession de Gilbert de La Rochefoucauld, Duc de La Roche-Guyon (Sotheby's Monaco S.A., 1987) lot 641. The 4to binding is reproduced as the frontispiece to the catalog.]

For more on the publishing history of this book see Echeverria, Durand, "French Publications of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitutions, 1776-1783," Bibliographical Society of America, Papers, 47 (1953) p.313 ff.


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