"The Bible of the Revolution"[The Aitken Bible]. The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Newly translated out of the Original Tongues... Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by R. Aitken, 1782. First edition, and the first printing in America of the complete Bible in English. Two twelvemo volumes in one. A-2Z^12 3A^6 (-3A6); ^2A-U^6 W^6 X-2D^6; lacking the general title page (often missing, as it was bound in as a cancel, and is often missing in many of the surviving copies), a partial leaf and whole leaf (with very little remnants in the gutter) in Isaiah (2O6 and 2O7), a bit less than half of the lower portion of the New Testament title page, and the last five leaves of Revelations (2D2-2D6). Note: the blank between the Old and New Testaments, 3A6, often noted as missing, is reckoned in the ESTC copy as the title leaf, printed as 3A6, removed, and then bound in as a cancel before A1. Original full leather binding with seven raised spine bands. Binding worn and abraded, with corners exposed, but holding strong. Contemporary ink inscriptions to pastedowns. Small printed note regarding Congressional involvement in printing scripture affixed to front pastedown. Text unevenly toned, with moderate staining and foxing throughout. A number of leaves creased, bumped or with a creased bottom corner. A few leaves with minor marginal chipping. A handful of leaves unevenly inked. The Congressional endorsement (A1) with two significant areas of loss and some chipping to page edges. Two-inch curved, closed tear to 2M1, extending into fourteen lines of text. Approximately one quarter of 2Q12 torn away but sewn back in with contemporary or nineteenth-century thread. One-and-a-quarter-inch horizontal closed tear to 2N1, affecting most of a few lines in the right column of text. A well-thumbed, but sound example of the rarest of American Bibles, and the only Bible ever authorized by the American Congress.
No English-language Bible had been published in America during the colonial period, as the English Crown held the copyright to the King James version, and printed all Bibles in London. Wright's census of the Aitken Bible could turn up only thirty-two copies, and less than fifty are known. Evans refers to this Bible as, "[t]he first edition of the Bible printed in the English language in America; and among the rarest issues of the press in America."
"The first Bible printed in English in this country with an American imprint" (Sabin p.132).
This copy originally comes from a Pittsburgh-area family who later moved to Ohio. Contemporary ink inscription on rear pastedown from a member of this family.
Evans 17473. Hills 11. Sabin 5165.
No English-language Bible had been published in America during the colonial period, as the English Crown held the copyright to the King James translation, printed all Bibles in London, and forbade the American colonists to print their own. After the Colonies signed their names and tied their fate to the Declaration of independence in the glorious year of 1776, the importation of Bibles was soon restricted and by the following year, there was a severe shortage of Bibles in America, a sad fact brought to the attention of the Continental Congress by its chaplain, Dr. Patrick Allison. Dr. Allison wrote that, "the use of the Bible is so universal and its importance so great," and in so doing, he eventually persuaded Congress to pass a resolution to import 20,000 Bibles in English "from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different parts of the Union." Importation largely failed to meet the demand, so Congress turned their eyes toward another solution, one that would solve the Bible shortage in a homegrown way, by printing the Bible in America in English.
Enter Robert Aitken. The noted colonial printer had already published the Journals of Congress and some works of Thomas Paine, so he was a natural for the job. In January of 1782, Aitken petitioned Congress for the right to print America's first English Bible, and to inspect the Bible for accuracy upon its completion. A committee was formed, and Aitken gained the blessing of the United States Congress to print the Bible in English, a major statement of independence for the new nation, and for its cherished notion of the freedom of religion.
The Congressional resolution of September 10, 1782 supporting Aitken's effort to print the Bible reads, as follows: "The United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion, as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper."
This was a huge step for a nation dedicated to becoming one nation under God.
A year after the Bible's release, a pastor in New York suggested to General George Washington that every discharged soldier should be given a copy of the good book. Since the war was almost over and Congress had already discharged most of the army, the suggestion came too late for Washington to act upon. Washington later lamented that, "It would have pleased me well, if Congress had been pleased to make such an important present to the brave fellows who have done so much for the security of their country's rights and establishment." In this statement, the "important present" WOULD have been Aitken Bibles.
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