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the Grimké family copy of The Federalist

[HAMILTON, JAY, AND MADISON.]. The Federalist: a collection of essays written in favor of the new constitution

New York: John and Andrew M’Lean, 1788

Two volumes. Contemporary calf, spine gilt, “J.F. Grimké” supralibros on each spine. Rear turn in loose, minor chipping at extremities, without rear endpapers in vol. II, minor creasing and wear, some pencil notes. A very good set with the bindings unrestored. Half morocco case.

FIRST EDITION. A splendid association copy from Grimké family library. A Continental Army officer, John F. Grimké (1752-1819) was senior judge of the South Carolina Supreme Court, speaker of the house of the South Carolina legislature, and a member of the South Carolina constitutional convention which ratified the Federal Constitution. He wrote the Public Laws of the State of South Carolina (1790), the standard treatise on South Carolina law for almost 50 years. In short, Grimké was the leading figure in South Carolina law and planter society during the Founding era.

Grimké’s extraordinary daughters, Sarah and Angelina, were educated by private tutors in the family home. There they had access to their father’s copy of The Federalist, and that work informed their thinking about natural rights theory and the principles of liberty on which the nation was founded. John F. Grimké remarked that believed that Sarah would have made a great jurist had she been a man.

The Grimké sisters, who abhorred slavery, left their home for the North after their father’s death. They soon became the most famous Southern women in the abolition movement. In the 1830s the two spoke before tens of thousands on the abolitionist lecture circuit, condemning slavery with the authority of those who had lived in planter society.

The sisters frequently drew connections between abolitionism and the cause of women’s rights, and they became the first Southern feminist voices to become nationally recognized. John Greenleaf Whittier referred to the sisters as “Carolina’s high-souled daughters.” “Gradually many of the opponents of slavery were won over to the cause of women’s rights, and the introduction of the question into the anti-slavery agitation by the Grimkés was an important factor in both causes” (DAB).

The significance of the Federalist Papers has been recognized for more than two hundred years. George Washington wrote, “The Federalist will merit the notice of posterity; because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will be always interesting to mankind so long as they shall be connected in Civil Society.”

Two centuries later, the leading constitutional historian Clinton Rossiter noted, “The Federalist stands third only to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself among all the sacred writings in American political history.”

The Federalist is the fundamental document left by the framers of the Constitution as a guide to their philosophy and intentions. “These men saw a strong central government as essential to the maintenance of a stable economy. Their conservative views regarding property rights have had a lasting effect on U.S. constitutional law. As a commentary on the Constitution by some of its principal architects, The Federalist has been used . . . as an interpreter of the constitution not only by laymen but by lawyers and justices of the U.S. Supreme Court” (PMM).

This is one of the finest association copies of The Federalist to appear for sale in years. The Grimké Federalist spans generations of an extraordinary South Carolina family, from a revolutionary-era patriot, legal scholar and slave owner; through the first southern women activists to raise their voices on the national stage against slavery and in favor of women’s rights.

Printing and the Mind of Man 234. Grolier 100 American Books 19.

Provenance: John F. Grimké and his family; Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, Sotheby’s New York,  18 June 2004, lot 396 ($131,200).

$275,000