American Minute – Congress Approves Printing 1st English Bible

That’s right. Back in 1782 our U.S. Congress, due to a shortage of English Bibles in our new country while fighting the British, approved the printing of the first English Bible in America. It was the Philadelphia printer, Robert Aitkin, who died on July 15, 1802, that prompted this “American Minute” yesterday on Here’s the entire history note for your interest. CJT

The Continental Congress was evacuating Philadelphia as the British had just won the Battle of Brandywine, forcing Washington’s troops to retreat to Valley Forge. In addition, Congress was informed that the war had interrupted trade with the King’s authorized printers in England, thereby causing a shortage of Bibles, commonly used in education. The Continental Congress voted September 11, 1777, to import Bibles from Scotland or Holland into different parts of the Union, stating: “The use of the Bible is so universal and its importance so great…it was resolved accordingly to direct said Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 copies of the Bible.” Five years later, September 10, 1782, the Continental Congress again responded to the shortage of Bibles by authorizing the publisher of The Pennsylvania Magazine, Robert Aitken, who died JULY 15, 1802, to print America’s first English language Bible- “A neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.” Congress stated: “Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the..undertaking of Mr. Aitken…and…recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation.”

After reading this, I decided to do a search to see if I could find out more about this man and this Bible. From the website I found this further bit of information. Quite interesting, even astounding. CJT

Robert Aitken

Robert Aitken had immigrated from Dalkeith in Scotland in 1769 to settle in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There, he opened a bookshop and also began publication of “The Pennsylvania Magazine” to which Thomas Paine often contributed. By 1776, Robert Aitken was the official printer of the Journals of Congress for the United States Congress. Aitken was a bold patriot, and it disturbed him greatly to see his country without copies of the scripture. In 1771, he produced the first English language New Testament printed in America. It was eagerly received, and went through a second edition printing in 1778, a third in 1779, a fourth in 1780, and a fifth in 1781.

On January 21, 1781, Robert Aitken petitioned the Unites States Congress to authorize, and if possible even fund, the printing of a complete Bible in the English language of the King James Version. On September 10, 1782, Aitken received authorization from the United States Congress to commence his American printing of the Bible in English. This is the only instance in history of the U.S. Congress authorizing the printing of a Bible. In subsequent years, that session was often mockingly referred to as “The Bible Congress.” Thus, in 1782, Robert Aitken produced the first English language Bible printed in America. In 1783, George Washington wrote a letter commending Robert Aitken for his Bible. The Robert Aitken Bible is known as the “Bible of the American Revolution” and it remains the most rare and valuable of early American English Bibles.

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  1. […] Office.  Of course that thinking might be slightly challenged when they learn the early congress authorized the printing of Bibles.  Hardly seems like a function of a government of which Ron Paul would […]


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