The Real First Born", Lord of the Rings Online dwarf role player Haakon Stormbrow writes:
Although the Dwarves have long since ignored the whole argument, Elves being better record keepers and slippery opponents in any debate, they have long held themselves to be the older race. Elves love nothing more than to glory in the title of the Elder Race, Firstborn, etc. They lord it over the other races like a spoiled Kindergartener, and their self declarations hold as much authority. Let us now examine the record. We shall even deign to use the Elvish record of events from the Silmarillion to prove their own argument in error.
It is told that in their beginning the Dwarves were made by Aulë in the darkness of Middle-earth; for so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Ilúvatar. And Aulë made the Dwarves even as they still are, because the forms of the Children who were to come were unclear to his mind, and because the power of Melkor was yet over the Earth; and he wished therefore that they should be strong and unyielding. But fearing that the other Valar might blame his work, he wrought in secret: and he made first the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in a hall under the mountains in Middle-earth.
Now Ilúvatar knew what was done, and in the very hour that Aulë’s work was complete, and he was pleased, and began to instruct the Dwarves in the speech that he had devised for them, Ilúvatar spoke to him; and Aulë heard his voice and was silent. And the voice of Ilúvatar said to him: ‘Why hast thou done this? Why dost thou attempt a thing which thou knowest is beyond thy power and thy authority? For thou hast from me as a gift thy own bring only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle. Is that thy desire?’
Then Aulë answered: ‘I did not desire such lordship. I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou hast caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty still, and dumb. And in my impatience I have fallen into folly. Yet the making of thing is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father. But what shall I do now, so that thou be not angry with me for ever? As a child to his father, I offer to thee these things, the work of the hands which thou hast made. Do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?’
Then Aulë took up a great hammer to smite the Dwarves; and he wept. But Ilúvatar had compassion upon Aulë and his desire, because of his humility; and the Dwarves shrank from the hammer and wore afraid, and they bowed down their heads and begged for mercy. And the voice of Ilúvatar said to Aulë: ‘Thy offer I accepted even as it was made. Dost thou not see that these things have now a life of their own, and speak with their own voices? Else they would not have flinched from thy blow, nor from any command of thy will.’ Then Aulë cast down his hammer and was glad, and he gave thanks to Ilúvatar, saying: ‘May Eru bless my work and amend it!’-The Silmarillion
But Ilúvatar spoke again and said: ‘Even as I gave being to the thoughts of the Ainur at the beginning of the World, so now I have taken up thy desire and given to it a place therein; but in no other way will I amend thy handiwork, and as thou hast made it, so shall it be. But I will not suffer this: that these should come before the Firstborn of my design, nor that thy impatience should be rewarded. They shall sleep now in the darkness under stone, and shall not come forth until the Firstborn have awakened upon Earth; and until that time thou and they shall wait, though long it seem. But when the time comes I will awaken them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.’ Then Aulë took the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, and laid them to rest in far-sundered places; and he returned to Valinor, and waited while the long years lengthened.
(Illustrations above by Ted Nasmith)
Now, in the simplest terms, to come first would mean to be created and sentient first. It is possible that the Elves were created first and were lying dormant somewhere in Middle-Earth even during the time of the interlude described above. However, it is clear that the dwarves were actually awake and sentient at this time, if only for a few minutes. Unfortunately, you, I, or even Eru can’t undo what was done. The dwarves were awake first, so, it becomes apparent that the Dwarves were, in fact, the firstborn race.
But, the Elves are indeed a noble race, blessed with unending life, and grace and charm above all others. Do not be disheartened just because you are not the oldest race on Arda.
To Haakon's mildly edited post above I'll add this photo, made in Second Life today,
|The Firstborn of the Firstborn|
~ While clearly first created, no dwarves were BORN before any elves were born. The very "first born" would not be Durin, but some anonymous elf at Cuivienen. Elves can legitimately claim the title "firstborn".
~ Aulë still feels some embarrassment over his folly in that event, but none at all over the outcome.