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First American Magna Carta and other documents of liberty

(MAGNA CARTA.) Care, Henry, ed. (English) English Liberties, Or The Free-Born Subject’s Inheritance: Containing Magna Charta . . . The Habeas Corpus Act, And Several Other Statutes

Boston: Printed by J. Franklin, for N. Buttolph, B. Eliot, and D. Henchman, 1721

Original blind-tooled sheep over wooden boards, expertly rebacked. Some soiling and wear. Cloth case.

FIRST AMERICAN EDITION. This volume, one of the very first law books printed in colonial America, contains the first American printing of Magna Carta and other fundamental documents of individual liberty in Anglo-American law. Magna Carta has become “a sacred text, the nearest approach to an irrepealable ‘fundamental statute’ that England has ever had” (Pollock & Maitland).

Benjamin Franklin helped to print this book as a 15-year old apprentice at his brother James’s Boston printing shop. This was probably Franklin’s first exposure to the principles of individual liberty to which he devoted much of his life. The book “contained the most important documents and statements in English history and law concerning liberty, property, and the rights of the individual … Franklin knew its contents thoroughly” (Lemay).

English Liberties “was less a practical handbook than a statement and record of the great legal and political principles which formed the proud inheritance of the British peoples at home and abroad. These matters were ever present in the minds of the colonists” (Wroth). Thomas Jefferson owned two editions of English Liberties, and the book was in many other libraries of the Founders.

$20,000