Founding Father Influences
The Founding Fathers of the American Constitution made it clear what authors and texts had influenced their own thinking on the idea of liberty. We have examined the speeches, letters, journalism, and theoretical works of the founding generation in order to draw up a composite “library catalog” of that generation.
Another source of information about what books influenced the thinking of the American founding fathers are the lists of recommended books they themselves drew up. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson drew up a list of key texts in letters they wrote and, in the case of Jefferson, he actually donated his personal library (twice) to Congress to create the beginnings of what is now the Library of Congress and also drew up a catalog for the University of Virginia library.
Founding Fathers Influences – Resources
The links below represent our ever growing collection of books and source documents designed to tell the tale of the influences on the Founding Fathers without the filter of either the public education system or the media.
Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone – Perhaps the most important legal treatise ever written in the English language, Blackstone’s Commentaries was the first effort to consolidate English common law into a unified and rational system.
Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding concerns the foundation of human knowledge and understanding. Locke describes the mind at birth as a blank slate filled later through experience.
Essay on Crimes and Punishment by Cesare Becarria – Beccaria’s influential Essay On Crimes and Punishments is considered a foundation work in the modern field of criminology.
History of the Roman Republic by Theodore Mommsen – Thoroughly referenced with a wealth of primary sources from great Roman writers such as Cicero and Plutarch, The History of the Roman Republic is essential reading for those interested in the history of the Ancient world and its legacy.
Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke – John Locke’s “Letter” is one of the most under appreciated texts in the liberal tradition of political philosophy. When read in conjunction with his Second Treatise, it clarifies the relationship Locke envisions between individuals and the state.
Magna Carta – The Magna Carta eventually served as the foundation for the English system of common law. Later generations of Englishmen would celebrate the Magna Carta as a symbol of freedom from oppression, as would the Founding Fathers who in 1776 looked to the charter as a historical precedent for asserting their liberty from the English crown.
Reasonableness of Christianity by John Locke – In The Reasonableness of Christianity Locke considered what it was to which all Christians must assent in faith; he argued that the answer could be found by anyone for themselves in the divine revelation of Scripture alone. He maintained that the requirements of Scripture were few and simple, and therefore offered a basis for tolerant agreement among all Christians, and the promise of peace, stability, and security through toleration.
Some Thoughts Concerning Education by John Locke – Locke does not present a systematic theory of education, and the work reads more like an instruction manual than a philosophical text. Locke’s is convinced that moral education is more important than other kinds of education. The goal of education, in his view, is not to create a scholar, but to create a virtuous man.
Spirit of the Laws by Baron de Montesquieu – The ideas laid forth by Montesquieu in this work, especially that of balancing power among branches of government, had a prominent influence on the American Constitution.
Story of Liberty by Charles Carleton Coffin – The Story of Liberty covers a period of five hundred years, and is an outline of the march of the human race from Slavery to Freedom.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli – Machiavelli composed The Prince as a practical guide for ruling. The Prince is not particularly theoretical or abstract; its prose is simple and its logic straightforward.
Treatise Of Human Nature by David Hume – Hume began writing the treatise at the age of sixteen, finishing the work ten years later. Many scholars today consider it to be Hume’s most important work.
Two Treatises of Government by John Locke – This text laid the foundation for modern forms of democracy and for the Constitution of the United States.
Utopia by Thomas More – Utopia by Thomas More offers a criticism of European society at the time, offers a model against which that society can be measured and perhaps repaired but the book ultimately concludes that the only way to perfection is through Christianity and the coming of Christ.
Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith – Adam Smith’s masterpiece, first published in 1776, is the foundation of modern economic thought and remains the single most important account of the rise of, and the principles behind, modern capitalism.