The Constitution of the United States
Live Auction: 13 December 2022 • 10:00 AM EST • New York

The Constitution of the United States 13 December 2022 • 10:00 AM EST • New York

T he first printing of the United States Constitution, printed for the delegates of the Constitutional Convention and for the use of the Confederation Congress in an edition of approximately five hundred copies; this is one of just fourteen surviving copies and one of only two not held in an institutional collection. The present edition of the Constitution is the ultimate product of the Constitutional Convention: George Washington described it in his letter transmitting this imprint to Arthur St. Clair, the president of Congress, as “that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable” and described the spirit of compromise that forged the new national charter: “In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensible.”

Revolutionary-era Americans were a constitution-making people. On several occasions during the debate over the ratification of the Constitution of 1787, it was said that Americans knew more about the nature of government and liberty than any other people in the world. During the Revolutionary era, Americans wrote more than a dozen state constitutions, two federal constitutions, many amendments to these constitutions, and ordinances establishing the government for federal territories and the process for them to attain statehood.

Americans realized that if they succeeded in obtaining their independence, they would need to create new governments to replace the British imperial authority and the colonial governments that were formed under charters that had been granted by the king or by colonial proprietors such as William Penn. Thus, in May 1776, even before the approval of the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress recommended that the colonies replace their charters with constitutions amenable to the people. The new state constitutions were drafted and approved by provincial assemblies elected by the people. All of the governments were said to originate from people, were founded in the social compact, and were instituted solely for the good of the whole.

These principles are reflected in this invaluable first printing of the Constitution, which revealed to the American people what the Constitutional Convention had proposed and which stimulated the single most important public debate in American—if not World—history.

Census of Copies of the First Printing of the United States Constitution

1. The Adrian Van Sinderen copy, by descent to the present owner
2. The Collection of Kenneth C. Griffin
3. Delaware Hall of Records
4. New Jersey State Archives
5. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Edmund Pendleton copy)
6. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (James Madison)
7. Independence National Historical Park (George Washington copy)
8. American Philosophical Society Library (Benjamin Franklin copy inscribed to the Rev. Mr. Lathrop)
9. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
10. Gilder Lehrman Collection, New-York Historical Society (Benjamin Franklin copy inscribed to Jonathan Williams, Sr.; pages 1–4 only)
11. Scheide Library, Princeton University
12. Huntington Library
13. Public Records Office, London, England
14. Franklin Collection, Yale University (the copy has no apparent direct connection to Franklin)

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