About the Book
This video presentation was produced by American History TV on C-SPAN3 for this exhibit.
Shortly after the First Congress organized in early 1789, a recommendation was made in the House of Representatives that proposals be invited for “printing the laws and other proceedings.”
One of the early responsibilities of the Congress' official printers was to prepare bound copies of the laws passed by the legislative branch.
These bound books contain the United States Constitution, the proposed Bill of Rights, and other legislative acts adopted by the first Congress. They were presented as permanent keepsakes to prominent members of the early federal government. Notable recipients included Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and George Washington.
Washington received seven bound versions, which he retained as President and eventually placed in his study at Mount Vernon upon his retirement from public office in March of 1797.
About the Printer
Francis Childs was born in Philadelphia on October 23, 1763. At an early age he showed an interest in the printed word and became the protege of John Jay. He was apprenticed to the Philadelphia printer, William Dunlap, uncle to John Dunlap, the first printer of the Declaration of Independence.
At the age of twenty-one Childs went to New York, hoping to go into business for himself. At Jay's suggestion, he wrote to Benjamin Franklin, then in Paris with Jay, and suggested a partnership. When Franklin returned from France in 1786, he brought with him the type he used in his private press; and sent Childs fonts of type which he needed. By a mere week he missed being the first publisher of a New York City newspaper, but The New York Daily Advertiser was the first daily newspaper in America.
On July 2, 1789 Childs entered a partnership with John Swaine, who had also learned his craft under William Dunlap. On July 27, 1790 Childs was made printer to the State of New York on a retainer of £500. On January 11, 1791 Childs and Swaine published in broadside the first census of the State of New York. Swaine left the partnership in 1794, and in 1796 The Daily Advertiser was sold.
On February 23, 1801, Francis Childs transferred ownership of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the United States for a nominal fee of five dollars. He died in Burlington, Vermont, on October 12, 1830.