The Laws of the United States of America

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The Laws of the United States of America

Title page from The Laws of the United States of America, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Compiled by Zephaniah Swift
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published Philadelphia: Printed by Richard Folwell
Date 1796-1797
Edition First
Language English
Volumes 3 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 8vo (21 cm.)
Location Shelf G-2
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

The Laws of the United States of America, compiled by Zephaniah Swift and first published by Richard Folwell in 1797 (with a publication date of 1796), is credited as being the first official compilation of United States statutes, authorized by Congress.[1] Swift (1759-1853) served as a diligent public servant from 1783 until 1819, spending time in the Connecticut General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Connecticut Supreme Court.[2] While Swift was a notable federalist and prominent advocate against slavery, his most significant contributions to American history remain his writings on early American laws and statutes.[3]

Bookplate, front pastedown, volume one.

Swift's The Laws of the United States of America is one of only four compilations ever authorized by Congress.[4] The original edition published in 1797 includes the earliest Federal laws and statutes of the United States in three volumes.[5] While this publication was commonly referred to as "Folwell’s Statutes," Swift is now accurately attributed as the original editor and compiler.[6]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Laws of US. 1st. 2d. 3d. vols. 8vo." and given by Thomas Jefferson to Dabney Carr. The Brown Bibliography[7] includes the first edition (1796-1979) of The Laws of the United States of America based in part on a copy of volume two at the University of Virginia with the inscription Given by Thos. Jefferson to D. Carr – 1806 on the inside of the front board. Most of the Wythe books given to Carr have the same inscription. In contrast to Brown, George Wythe's Library[8] on LibraryThing lists the title Acts passed at a Congress of the United States of America ... and indicates "Vols. 1-3 only. Precise edition unknown. Several editions of the early laws passed by Congress were published, beginning with New York and Richmond editions in 1789." The Wolf Law Library agreed with Brown's reasoning and purchased a copy of the first edition of The Laws of the United States of America.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary polished calf with spine rules and original gilt-lettered morocco spine labels. Volume one contains the bookplate of Robert Woods Bliss, founder of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, and one of the creators of the United Nations.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

Full text

See also


  1. Clarence E. Carter, "Zephaniah Swift and the Folwell Edition of the Laws of the United States," American Historical Review 39, no. 4 (1934): 694.
  2. Christopher Anglim, "Zephaniah Swift", in American National Biography Online.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Clarence E. Carter, "Zephaniah Swift and the Folwell Edition of the Laws of the United States."
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  8. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on September 16, 2013.

External Links