September 11, 1777, the Chaplain of Congress, Patrick Allison, brought to the attention of the Continental Congress that Revolutionary War had interrupted trade with the King’s authorized printers in England, thereby causing a shortage of the King James Authorized Version of the Bible, commonly used in education.
A Continental Congress committee passed the motion:
“The use of the Bible is so universal and its importance so great that your committee refers the above to the consideration of Congress…The Committee recommends that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different parts of the States of the Union. Whereupon it was resolved accordingly to direct said Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 copies of the Bible.”
That same day, the British won the Battle of Brandywine, forcing Washington’s troops to retreat to Valley Forge. In a panic, the Continental Congress evacuated Philadelphia before action could be taken on the resolution. Five years later, the Continental Congress again responded to the shortage of Bibles by authorizing the printing of America’s first English language Bible, which had been described in a petition as: “a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.”
Congress, on September 10, 1782, selected the publisher of The Pennsylvania Magazine, Robert Aitken, who died JULY 15, 1802, for the printing:
“Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion, as well as an influence in the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation. – Charles Thomson, Secretary.”
Copies of this Bible are with the American Bible Society’s Museum of Biblical Art in New York, and Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum.
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.