On today's date in 1778, diplomatic history was made.
Exactly 234 years ago, the United States ratified its very first two treaties: The Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance. Together, these treaties created a formal alliance with France -- an alliance that would ensure the success of our nation's struggle for independence.
Late last year, the U.S Diplomacy Center acquired a very rare piece of this history -- the first American printing of these two treaties, commissioned by the Continental Congress and printed by John Dunlap of Philadelphia (famous for his 1776 broadsides of the Declaration of Independence). Only 300 copies were printed; very few survive today.
In my position at the Diplomacy Center, processing incoming museum artifacts is one of my primary responsibilities. Soon after starting my job last August, a selection of historic materials transferred from the State Department's Ralph J. Bunche Library made its way to my desk. The Library had decided that the Diplomacy Center would be better-positioned to preserve these materials and share them with the public.
Among the materials was a slim volume in an unmarked, worn binding. At first sight, it seemed unremarkable. But upon opening the cover and examining the title page -- with its 1778 publication date and "Printed by John Dunlap" at the bottom -- I knew I had come across something special. Research and consultation with experts in rare publications confirmed its authenticity.
As soon as the importance and rarity of this artifact became clear, the Diplomacy Center's staff worked to ensure it would be properly protected and preserved. Thanks to the expertise and skill of Thomas C. Albro, a retired Library of Congress rare book conservator, this printing of our first treaties will be preserved and available for exhibit for many generations to come.
The photo accompanying this post shows the treaties printing after conservation treatment and re-binding using its original 1778 paper covers. More photos are available at the U.S. Diplomacy Center's website. For more information about our 1778 treaties with France, go to history.state.gov.