Worcester: Printed by Isaiah Thomas, Jun. sold by him and by Mathew Carey, Philadelphia; also by the various Booksellers throughout the United States, 1802. First US edition. Two volumes. Modern calf-backed marbled boards. Some browning of text, generally light. Contemporary signature of "Jos. Allen" on titles. Enclosed in an open-end cloth case. Item #39
The first American edition of Montesquieu’s (1689–1755) classic work of political theory that helped form the American Constitution. Montesquieu first published The Spirit of Laws in 1748 in his native France (as De l’esprit des loix) anonymously, in part because his works were subject to censorship. The book became recognized for its pioneering work on political theory and comparative law, and was rapidly translated into other languages and published throughout Europe. Thomas Nugent, the influential Irish historian and travel writer, published the first English translation in 1750, but in 1751 the Roman Catholic Church placed the work on its Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”). Despite the book’s censorship, it would profoundly influence the American Founding Fathers and other political luminaries, including Alexis de Tocqueville. The book was first printed in America by the influential revolutionary war printer and anti-British journalist Isaiah Thomas (1749–1831), and was sold and distributed by Thomas and fellow American printer and economist, Mathew Carey (1760–1839). Montesquieu spent nearly twenty-one years researching and writing The Spirit of Laws, which covers a wide range of topics, including law, philosophy, government, social life, and anthropology. Montesquieu’s work is perhaps best remembered today for its influential thesis that the best means for promoting and safeguarding political liberty is through a constitutional government that is subject to a separation of powers—an insight that would directly shape the formation of the American constitutional republic. The work also famously argues that successful political institutions must reflect the social and geographical aspects of the communities they govern, and that legitimate governments are those that preserve legality and individual civil liberties. This edition was the first to be printed in the newly born United States of America and sets forth Montesquieu’s enduring thought in thirty-one books that are divided into six sections. A masterpiece of political theory and sociology and a defining part of American history.