Core Curriculum : Contemporary Civilization

Revolutions > American Revolution

Constitutions of the several independent states of America : the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation between the said states, the treaties between His Most Christian Majesty and the United States of America, and the treaties between their High Mightinesses the States General of the United Netherlands and the United States of America. Title page


The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America; the Declaration; the Articles of Confederation; and the Treaties

Boston: Norman and Bowen, 1785

Columbia RBML B342.731 Un32

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The plural of Constitutions in the title of this book refers to the thirteen individual state constitutions. The federal Constitution of the United States of America would not be ratified until 1787.  Alexander Hamilton has written his name on the title page of this volume, and the book’s next owner, R. Morris, explains on the facing page that Hamilton gave his personal copy to Morris when he was unable to find the copy that he had borrowed from Morris earlier.

Alexander Hamilton matriculated at King's College, the future Columbia University, in 1774. While still a student, he began his political writings, including the pamphlet The Farmer Refuted (1775) shown below. He was a trustee of Columbia College from 1787 until his death at the hands of Aaron Burr in a duel in 1804.

Farmer Refuted. Title page

Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted

New York: James Rivington, 1775

Columbia RBML Seligman 1775 H184

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The Farmer Refuted is the second of two pamphlets produced by Alexander Hamilton to defend the colonists’ rights to protest Britain’s policies without being accused of sedition. The Farmer of the title is Reverend Samuel Seabury, who wrote as “A.W. Farmer”, that is, “a Westchester Farmer.” Farmer was also the addressee of Hamilton’s first pamphlet publication, A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress. Hamilton wrote this pamphlet while a student a King's College, the predecessor to Columbia University.

On the last page of this pamphlet, Hamilton declares passionately that he considers civil liberty “the greatest of terrestrial blessings” and signs off as “A sincere friend of America.” At the foot of the page a small announcement (N. B. stands for the Latin imperative “nota bene” or “note well”) promises that the author will address the “the destruction of the tea at Boston, altering the government of Quebec, and the Suffolk resolves in a future publication.”  The events of the news few years would raise the stakes beyond a pamphlet war.

Federalist #5 manuscript

John Jay, Federalist #5

Autograph manuscript, 4 pages, 1788

Columbia RBML John Jay Papers

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Between the three of them, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote 85 articles under the pseudonym “Publius” in defense of the Constitution of the United States of America. Now referred to as the Federalist Papers, the 85 articles defend the Constitution of 1787 and more broadly the need for a federal form of government to unite the interests of the thirteen new United States of America. Federalist #5 was one of the five articles written by John Jay. Here he argues that the federal form of government would lessen the already apparent sectional strife between the thirteen states and advance the new country’s interests abroad. This manuscript version differs greatly from the version that ultimately appeared in print.


Benjamin Franklin's Composing Stick

Benjamin Franklin, composing stick

Columbia RBML ATF collection, printing realia

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Made of wood, this composing stick has a head, knee, and rail faced with brass, and used the slotted knew and screw system, standard at the time, to fix the length of the line of type being set. According to Henry Lewis Bullen, who acquired it for the American Type Founders Company Library, it was used by Franklin and his grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache. Columbia University purchased the American Type Founders Co. Library & Museum in 1941.

The composing stick may have been purchased in France in the 1780s when Benjamin Franklin was serving as United States minister to France. During this period, Franklin operated his own private press in his house at Passy, outside of Paris. He used his press there to produce leaflets, broadsides, and even passports for American citizens. As a young man, Franklin worked at his brother’s printing shop in Boston and then started his own press in Philadelphia. In both Boston and Philadelphia, Franklin wrote and published newspaper articles critical of the British monarchy and urging revolution.

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