Description

    Major Roger Alden's Copy of the "Federalist Papers," "the Most Famous and Influential American Political Work"

    Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. In Two Volumes. New-York: Printed and Sold by J. and A. M'Lean, 1788.

    First edition of "the most famous and influential American political work" (Howes). Two twelvemo volumes (6.8125 x 4.5 inches; 173 x 115 mm. and 7.5 x 4.5 inches; 193 x 113 mm., respectively). [2, blank], vi, 227, [1, blank]; [2, blank], vi, 384 pages.

    Uncut, in the original drab boards, professionally rebacked to style. Corners and board edges lightly rubbed, some light foxing and very slight dampstaining to the boards. Volume II with a small ink stain on the front board and a few ink marks on the rear board. Occasional light foxing and slight browning to the text. Volume I with the title leaf expertly and almost invisibly mounted on a stub, a few small stains on D6-E2 (pp. 47-52), short split in the inner margin of K6 (pp. 119/120) at the edge of the type, short tear to the outer blank margin of O1 (pp. 157/158), short tear to the outer blank margin of Q1 (pp. 181/182) and Q3 (pp. 185/186), not affecting any text. Volume II with a small portion of the outer blank margin of D4 (pp. 43/44) torn away (paper flaw), short tear to the lower margin of H6 (pp. 95/96), a tiny hole in O6 (pp. 167/168), just touching a couple of letters, a printing flaw on Bb1 (pp. 289/290), with the lower corner folded up and the last six lines printed on the folded up verso, the final leaf Ii6 (pp. 383/384) with a small portion of the upper blank margin torn away and a short tear, neatly repaired, to the outer margin, affecting a few letters on the recto, and a small piece torn from the blank outer margin. Despite these minor flaws, this is an amazing copy, remarkably well-preserved, and extremely scarce in the original boards. Only five copies in the original boards have sold at auction in the last thirty-three years. Each volume is protected in an olive cloth slipcase.

    This remarkable copy is all the more desirable because of its provenance. It was owned by Major Roger Alden (1754-1836), not only a descendant of Mayflower Pilgrim John Alden, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, Deputy Secretary of the Continental Congress, Chief Clerk to the Domestic Arm of the State Department, but also the person to whom the Constitution was entrusted as soon as it was signed. Each volume has the contemporary ink inscription, "R. Alden's / 1788," on the front board and at the head of the title, and the bookplate of Roger Alden's grandson, R. Percy Alden, on the front pastedown.

    Roger Alden was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, February 11, 1754, and graduated from Yale College in 1773. Among his classmates were a number of men who afterwards took prominent parts in the Revolutionary War, including his close friend and correspondent Nathan Hale. In a letter to Hale, dated New Haven, November 28, 1775, Alden wrote: "I almost envy you your Circumstances, I want to be in the Army very much, I feel myself fit to relish the Noise of Guns, Drums, Trumpets, Blunderbuss, & Thunder; & was I qualified for a Birth, & of Influence sufficient to procure one I would accept it with all my Heart; I would accept of a Lieutenancy but should prefer an Adjutancy-but other more fortunate Young Persons are provided for, & poor I, must make myself contented where I am-think of my Condition, & then Imagine how high I estimate Yours-Give my best Love & Compliments to Keyes & Woodbridge, tell them I shall be very careful to answer all their Letters as well as your own-After you have thought over all this, tell yourself that no one loves you more than-Roger Alden" (George Dudley Seymour, Documentary Life of Nathan Hale, pp. 52-53).

    Less than a year later, on September 22, 1776, when Hale was just twenty-three years old and just three years out of college, he was executed as a spy at the hands of the British. When he was captured he had his Yale diploma with him, and his Latin notes of the layout of the enemy's fortifications.

    After graduation from Yale, Alden taught school for a time in New Haven, until he enlisted as a private soldier in General Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec, in September. During this campaign he made the acquaintance of Aaron Burr, with whom he became close friends.

    On January 1, 1777, Alden was commissioned as Lieutenant and Adjutant in Colonel Philip B. Bradley's Fifth Connecticut Line. He fought at Germantown in October of that year, and spent the winter at Valley Forge. He was promoted to Captain-Lieutenant in Colonel Zebulon Butler's Second Connecticut Regiment on June 1, 1778, and to Captain on September 1, 1779. After that he served most of the time as Aide-de Camp, with the brevet rank of Major, to Brigadier General Jedediah Huntington, being formally appointed to the position on April 1, 1780.

    Alden resigned from the army on February 10, 1781, and took up the study of law in Stratford, Fairfield County, Connecticut, in the office of William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819), whose third daughter, Gloriana Ann (familiarly called Nancy), he married on September 7, 1783 (she died on March 4, 1785, at the age of twenty-eight). William Samuel Johnson was an early American statesman who was delegate to the Continental Congress from Connecticut (1784-1787), member of the Constitutional Convention, and signer of the Constitution.

    In a letter to Aaron Burr, dated February 28, 1781, Alden referred to his four years of service, and added: "I bid adieu to camp, having completed my business, with my thanks to our worthy Commander-in Chief for his attention to my character. The discharge he gave equaled my wishes and exceeded my expectations" (Henry Phelps Johnston, Yale and Her Honor-roll in the American Revolution, 1775-1783, pp. 282-283).

    Two years after the war, on June 23, 1785, Alden was elected Deputy Secretary of the Continental Congress, under Charles Thomson, who had served as Secretary of the Congress from its first meeting in 1774.

    In a letter, dated April 11, 1785, Governor Jonathan Trumbull recommended Alden for the position in the following complimentary terms: "Born in my neighborhood, and educated in a manner under my eye, I have had an opportunity of knowing him from his youth to the present time, and can therefore say that I look upon him as a young gentleman possessed of natural good abilities, enlarged by a liberal education, and improved by several years' knowledge of mankind in the public service of his country, in which he acquitted himself with honor and reputation."

    Alden served as Deputy Secretary of the Continental Congress until 1789, when he became Chief Clerk to the domestic section of the State Department, a position he held until July 1790.

    "On September 18, 1787, the morning after it had been signed, the [Constitution] was placed on the 11:00 a.m. stagecoach for delivery to the Congress in New York City. There all the papers of the Convention were entrusted to Roger Alden, deputy secretary of the Congress. On September 26, 1789, almost five months after George Washington took office, the Constitution was casually passed along to Thomas Jefferson with the understanding that the Secretary of State should serve as permanent custodian of such documents" (Michael G. Kammen, A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture, p. 72).

    "Few issues in American history have engrossed public attention like the debate about whether to adopt the Constitution. For more than nine months, from the middle of September 1787 until at least the following July, the public was 'wholly employed in considering and animadverting upon the form of Government proposed by the late convention; and 'attentive to little else.' Roger Alden joked to brother-in-law Samuel William Johnson [in a letter dated December 31, 1787] that 'the report of the Convention affords a fruitful subject for wits, politicians and Law-makers-the presses, which conceived by the incubation of the Convention are delivered from the pangs of travail, & have become prolific indeed-the offspring is so numerous, that the public ear has become deaf to the cries of the distressed, and grow impatient for the christening of the first born'" (Larry D. Kramer, "Putting the Politics Back into the Political Safeguards of Federalism," in Columbia Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 1, Centennial Issue (Jan. 2000), p. 251).

    In July 1789, Charles Thomson retired as Secretary of the Congress and, at the request of President George Washington, surrendered the books, records, and papers of the Continental Congress, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to Roger Alden.

    In his letter of resignation, dated July 23, 1789, Thomson wrote to Washington: "Having had the honor of serving in quality of Secretary of Congress from the first meeting of Congress in 1774 to the present time, a period of almost fifteen years, and having seen in that eventful period, by the interposition of divine Providence the rights of our country asserted and vindicated, its independence declared, acknowledged and fixed, peace & tranquility restored & in consequence thereof a rapid advance in arts, manufactures and population, and lastly a government established which gives well grounded hopes of promoting its lasting welfare & securing its freedom and happiness. I now wish to return to private life. With this intent I present my self before you to surrender up the charge of the books, records and papers of the late Congress which are in my custody & deposited in rooms of the house where the legislature assemble, and to deliver into your hands the Great Seal of the federal Union, the keeping of which was one of the duties of my Office, and the seal of the Admiralty which was committed to my care when that board was dissolved. Before I retire I beg leave to recommend to your favour Mr Roger Alden who was appointed, by the late Congress, deputy Secretary & whom I have found an able & faithful assistant."

    Washington, in his letter to Thomson, New York, July 24, 1789, acknowledging his "wish to retire to private life," requested: "You will be pleased, Sir, to deliver the books, records, and papers of the late Congress, the great seal of the federal Union, and the seal of the admiralty, to Mr. Roger Alden, the late deputy secretary of Congress, who is requested to take charge of them until farther directions shall be given."

    On July 25, 1789, Thomson replied to Washington: "Agreeably to your desire I have delivered to Mr Roger Alden the books, records and papers of the late Congress and enclose here with his receipt. He will wait upon you to receive the Great Seal of the federal Union and the Seal of the Admiralty which I had the honor of delivering into your hands, to thank you for this mark of your favour and to execute any orders you shall please to give him." Enclosed with Thomson's letter was an acknowledgement from Roger Alden of same date stating that he has received the books, records, and papers of the Congress from Charles Thomson.

    In July 1789, the First Congress under the new Constitution created the Department of Foreign Affairs and directed that its Secretary should have "the custody and charge of all records, books, and papers" kept by the department of the same name under the old government. When Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson on October 13, 1789, offering him the post of Secretary of State, he suggested Roger Alden as his assistant: "Unwilling, as I am, to interfere in the direction of your choice of assistants, I shall only take the liberty of observing to you, that, from warm recommendations which I have received in behalf of Roger Alden, Esq., assistant Secretary to the late Congress, I have placed all the papers thereunto belonging, under his care. Those papers, which more properly appertain to the office of Foreign Affairs, are under the superintendence of Mr. Jay, who has been so obliging as to continue his good offices, and they are in the immediate charge of Mr. Remsen."

    On January 1, 1790, Alden was appointed Chief Clerk for the domestic section of the new Department of State, heading what Jefferson called the "home office." Alden resigned his Chief Clerk position on July 25, 1790, "to enter into more lucrative employment." His position was filled by the promotion of Henry Remsen.

    In 1795, Alden became the first agent of the Holland Land Company in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he resided until 1825. On January 20, 1825, he was appointed Ordnance Storekeeper at West Point, and on December 30, 1826, he was also appointed Postmaster at West Point. Alden retained these positions until his death, November 5, 1836, at the age of eighty-three.

    See Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, Vol. III, pp. 469-470; Henry Phelps Johnston, Yale and Her Honor-roll in the American Revolution, 1775-1783, pp. 282-283.

    "These eighty-five essays on the Constitution, almost entirely written by Hamilton and Madison (probably only five were by Jay) and published in the New York newspapers under the name of 'Publius,' were a step in Hamilton's campaign to win over a hostile majority in New York for a ratification of the Constitution. To the people of the time the collected essays were little more than a huge Federalist pamphlet. A generation passed before it was recognized that these essays by the principal author of the Constitution and its brilliant advocate were the most authoritative interpretation of the Constitution as drafted by the Convention of 1787. As a commentary and exposition on the Constitution the influence of the Federalist has been profound" (Grolier, 100 American).

    "When Alexander Hamilton invited his fellow New Yorker John Jay and James Madison, a Virginian, to join him in writing the series of essays published as The Federalist, it was to meet the immediate need of convincing the reluctant New York State electorate of the necessity of ratifying the newly proposed Constitution of the United States. The eighty-five essays, under the pseudonym 'Publius', were designed as political propaganda, not as a treatise of political philosophy. In spite of this The Federalist survives as one of the new nation's most important contributions to the theory of government...The first number of The Federalist appeared on 27 October 1787 in The Independent Journal, or The General Advertiser and newspaper publication continued in this and three other papers, The New York Packet, The Daily Advertiser, and The New York Journal and Daily Patriotic Register, through number 77, 2 April 1788. The first thirty-six essays were published in book form on 22 March 1788 by J. and A. McLean of New York and a second volume containing essays 37-85 followed on 28 May. Thus numbers 78-85 were published in book form before they appeared in the popular press" (Printing and the Mind of Man).

    Also printed here is the complete text of the Constitution, headed "Articles of the New Constitution; as agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787," and the resolutions of the Constitutional Convention (Volume II, pp. 368-384).

    Church 1230. Evans 21127. Ford 33. Grolier, 100 American, 19. Grolier, 100 English, 55. Howes H114. Printing and the Mind of Man 234. Sabin 23979. Streeter 1049.




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