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Robert Aitken

In 1782, Robert Aitken (1734-1802), a Scottish emigrant who had come to America in 1771, thought the opportunity and climate right to publish the first American edition of the King James Bible. At the time, Aitken was the official printer of the Continental Congress and had already produced three editions of the English New Testament. His Bible was approved by the United States Congress as a “pious and laudable undertaking … subservient to the interest of religion” and “an instance of the progress of arts” in America. This is the only instance in history when the Congress recommended a Bible.

In his edition of the Bible, Aitken replaced the dedication to King James that had been prepared for the 1611 edition with the document issued by the Continental Congress. Despite the moral support of the Congress, Aitken’s Bible did not sell well and left its printer on the verge of bankruptcy. Apparently the market could not absorb an edition that may have numbered 10,000 copies. About 75 copies of the Aitken Bible are known to have survived. The text was published without the Apocrypha.

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