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The American Founding

The American Founding: The Colonial Era

The Colonial Wars: 1689-1762
Howard H. Peckman (The University of Chicago Press, 1964)
A good explanation of the four major military conflicts that were spin-offs of European wars and that dominated the American continent—thus contributing to a want of independence—in the years before the Founding era: King William’s War (1689-97), Queen Anne's War (1702-13), King George's War (1744-48) and the French and Indian War (1755-62).

Origins of the American Revolution
John C. Miller (Little, Brown and Company, 1943)
An older, but still useful history of the events leading up to the American Revolution that chronicles the various British acts against the colonials from the beginning of the French and Indian War to the Declaration of Independence.

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America
David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press, 1989)
A lengthy but readable analysis of early American immigration patterns. Fischer divides early immigrants into four groups by origin, but finds that they shared certain characteristics like a respect for liberty under law and a belief in private property that still influence us today.

The American Founding: The American Revolution

A History of the American Revolution
John Alden (Alfred Knopf, 1969)
Perhaps the best single-volume history of the American Revolution, it covers the period from 1763 to 1789, and considers the political, military, social, economic, and constitutional aspects of the time, taking a balanced look at all of the parties and issues involved.

Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution
Benson Bobrick (Simon and Schuster, 1997)
A sweeping narrative of the American Revolution that takes the reader from Lexington Green to the Battle of Yorktown, describing in novel-like fashion the major battles and the main characters, juxtaposing the patriot George Washington and the traitor Benedict Arnold.

Paul Revere's Ride
David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press, 1995)
This compelling book retells the common tale of Paul Revere's famous midnight ride and the ensuing skirmishes at Lexington and Concord in a narrative that is at the same time readable and scholarly. It argues that the conflict was not the spontaneous uprising of legend but an organized and active resistance.

The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practice 1763-1789
Don Higgenbotham (The MacMillan Company, 1971)
This is the best military history of the colonial and Founding era. It follows battles and campaigns as well as military policy and popular attitudes toward war, tracing the interaction between warfare and society and how that affected civil and military institutions in the United States.

Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution
A.J. Langguth (Simon and Schuster, 1988)
A wonderful work that brings the American Revolution to life through important vignettes along the way, highlighting those who fought it in the political and military arenas, from James Otis in 1761 to George Washington at Yorktown in 1783.

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789
Robert Middlekauff (Oxford University Press, 1982)
This narrative traces the Revolution’s origins from the end of the Seven Years War, emphasizing the common soldiers’ views of the American War of Independence and how they came to see it as a glorious cause not just for independence but to form a new nation. It focuses on questions of governance, politics, constitutionalism, and war; and ties popular convictions about rights and politics to the colonists’ religious convictions.

Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill
The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton
Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War

Richard M. Ketchum (Henry Holt and Co., 1999)
These three charming narrative histories read like novels. Drawing on an enormous range of sources, including diaries and letters by officers and common soldiers, and vivid descriptions and arresting portraits of participants, each book in the series (originally published in the 1970s) tells the story surrounding a decisive battle of the American Revolutionary War.

David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2005)
A truly monumental work, this book tells the story of that fateful year, centering on George Washington and those around him.

The American Founding: General Histories

The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89
Edmund Morgan (University of Chicago Press, 1956)
The story of the American Revolution told in a concise, readable manner, explaining how 13 colonies came together over British tax policy and established their own constitutional principles to protect their freedom. The best short history of the era.

Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson and the American Revolution
John E. Ferling (Oxford University Press, 2000)
This comparative biography reconstructs the lives of three of the greatest Founders from their youths through their participation in the American Revolution, providing a wide view of their participation in the Revolution as well as more intimate looks at their individual struggles.

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
Joseph Ellis (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)
This work views the American Founding though the intertwined experiences of seven leaders of the period, looking at six discrete moments that exemplify the time.

The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800
Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick (Oxford University Press, 1993)
This lengthy work traces the development of the new nation from the time after the Constitutional Convention through its first three presidents. A comprehensive analysis of the early national period, including all the achievements and fights of the chief figures.

The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relations to Slavery
Don E. Fehrenbacher (Oxford University Press, 2001)
A detailed study, stretching from the First Continental Congress to the Civil War, argues persuasively that early trends in the colonies were against slavery and that the U.S. Constitution is not a pro-slavery document, despite later policies that supported the institution.

Colonies into Nation: American Diplomacy, 1763-1801
Lawrence S. Kaplan (The MacMillan Company, 1972)
An interpretative history of American diplomacy from the Treaty of Paris in 1763 to the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, showing how pre-Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary diplomacy developed consistently over time to reinforce—and play a vital role in creating—a united country seeking independence in a hostile world.

The American Founding: Books on Leading Founders

Washington: The Indispensable Man
James Thomas Flexner (Little, Brown and Company, 1984)
This is the best one-volume biography of Washington from his most accomplished biographer, who has also written a comprehensive four-volume biography for the more adventuresome reader. Not simply an abridged version of the larger work, it is an original and very readable biography written for a general audience.

Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington
Richard Brookhiser (Free Press, 1996)
This is not a life history of Washington but an analysis of his career and character as a soldier, founder, and statesman, presented in highly readable, thematic chapters. The author calls it a moral biography, intended to show how Washington navigated life and politics as a public figure.

Benjamin Franklin
Carl Van Doren (The Viking Press, 1938)
This lengthy work is the classic, comprehensive biography of Franklin, written in the grand old style. It covers his life in Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris, and back in the United States.

Benjamin Franklin
Edmund S. Morgan (Yale University Press, 2003)
A very nicely written more recent biography by an award-winning historian.

John Adams
David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
This sweeping work of popular history covers all of Adams's life, with due prominence on his relationships with wife Abigail and fellow patriot Thomas Jefferson. The bestseller makes a strong case for Adams's importance, despite its weakness of neglecting Adams's intellectual contributions to the American Founding.

John Adams: A Life
John Ferling (Henry Holt and Co., 1996)
A weighty but good biography that draws heavily on original texts. More academic than the McCullough biography, and perhaps less easy to read, but much more substantive and comprehensive.

Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography
Merrill Peterson (Oxford University Press, 1970)
Though long, this is the standard--and most balanced--one volume Jefferson biography, providing a basic narrative and highlighting three dominant themes of Jefferson's career: democracy and popular government, the new American nationality, and philosophical enlightenment. Solidly grounded in Jefferson's writings, but intended more for the general reader than the scholar.

The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson
Forrest McDonald (University Press of Kansas, 1987)
A brief but thorough and highly readable critical history of the politics and policies, both domestic and foreign, of Jefferson and his two terms as the nation's third president.

Alexander Hamilton, American
Richard Brookhiser (Simon and Schuster, 2000)
This thematic, popular biography by the author of Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington captures the dynamic Hamilton and credits him with originating American capitalism.

Alexander Hamilton
Ron Chernow (Penguin Press, 2004)
This more recent biography is masterfully written, and provides greater detail about Hamilton’s upbringing and formative years before his service in the Washington administration.

James Madison: A Biography
Ralph Louis Ketchum (The MacMillan Company, 1971)
This comprehensive and lengthy volume is one of the best Madison biographies, and it is accessible to general readers and scholars alike. It is a very thorough historical narrative and distillation of both the ideas and the man, with a good emphasis on his role in the Continental Congress and at the Constitutional Convention.

James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic
Jack Rakove (Scott, Foresman, 1990)
This relatively short but solid biography focuses on Madison's public life, as a skillful leader and a brilliant political thinker, to emphasize how he successfully combined serious ideas and practical politics to the benefit of the new nation.

The American Founding: Founders’ Writings

George Washington: A Collection
Edited by William B. Allen (Liberty Press, 1995)
A marvelous collection of Washington's correspondence and writings from his early, middle, and later years. Reading through the well-chosen selections provides a clear perspective on Washington's life and statesmanship. Includes all of Washington's major writings, as well as "The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior" and his Last Will and Testament.

The writings of George Washington in 38 volumes (edited by John C. Fitzpatrick) are available online at http://etext.virginia.edu/washington/fitzpatrick/index.html .

Franklin: Writings
Edited by J.A. Leo Lemay (Library of America, 1987)
A good collection of Franklin's many writings, including his charming essays under various pseudonyms such as Silence Dogood, the Busy-Body and Richard Saunders, the "author" of Poor Richard's Almanack. It also includes Franklin's autobiography, based on the original manuscript, and his speeches in the Constitutional Convention.

The complete writings of Benjamin Franklin (published by Yale University) are available online at http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/ .

The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams
Edited by C. Bradley Thompson (Liberty Fund, 2000)
This collection focuses on Adams's pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary writings, including A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, his Novanglus letters, the influential Thoughts on Government and various writings recounting the Anglo-American dispute.

This title is also available at the Online Library of Liberty: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=592&Itemid=28

Selected writings of John Adams in 10 volumes (edited by Charles Francis Adams) are also available at the Online Library of Liberty: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=2098&Itemid=28

Jefferson: Collected Writings
Edited by Merrill Peterson (Library of America, 1984)
A very complete selection of Jefferson's writings, containing all Jefferson's main works (Autobiography, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Notes on the State of Virginia), his major speeches, and public papers (including the original and revised drafts of the Declaration of Independence) and a wide variety of private letters.

Selected writings of Thomas Jefferson in 12 volumes (edited by Paul Leicester Ford) are available at the Online Library of Liberty: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1734&Itemid=28

Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton
Morton J. Frish (American Enterprise Institute, 1985)
A nice collection of Hamilton's most important letters, speeches, and essays from 1775 to 1803, including his opinion on the national bank and his Report on Manufactures. An excellent overview of Hamilton's political thought, complemented with introductions and commentary.

The complete works of Alexander Hamilton in 12 volumes (edited by Henry Cabot Lodge) are available at the Online Library of Liberty: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=1712&Itemid=27

The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison
Edited by Marvin Meyers (Brandeis University Press, 1981)
A very nice collection of Madison's essays, letters, and speeches between 1774 and 1836, including numerous writings that illuminate his central role in the Constitutional Convention and the creation of the Bill of Rights. It shows his part in the rise of party opposition during the Washington administration. Its virtue is a great explanatory essay on Madison, section introductions, and brief note with each entry.

Selected writings of James Madison in 9 volumes (edited by Gaillard Hunt) are available at the Online Library of Liberty: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1933&Itemid=28

Paine: Collected Writings
Edited by Eric Foner (Library of America, 1995)
This collection includes Paine’s Revolutionary writings Common Sense and The American Crisis, and many other pamphlets, articles and, letters, as well as the full text of his later works Rights of Man and The Age of Reason.

Selected writings of Thomas Paine in 4 volumes (edited by Moncure Daniel Conway) are available at the Online Library of Liberty: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php&title=1743

The American Founding: Collected Documents

American Political Writing During the Founding Era
Charles Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Liberty Press, 1983)
This two-volume set includes pamphlets, articles, sermons and essays written by various political authors between 1762 and 1805. It is a gold mine of 76 less well-known but equally colorful and highly reasoned popular writings of the Revolutionary era. Each entry is introduced by a brief note on the author.

Colonies to Nation, 1763-1789: A Documentary History of the American Revolution
Jack P. Greene (W. W. Norton, 1975)
This collection tells the story of the American Founding using documents ranging from government papers and popular pamphlets to diary accounts and personal letters. Each section has a full introduction and each entry is prefaced by an introductory note, thus placing all the documents in a coherent framework.

Documents of American History
Henry Steele Commager (Prentice Hall, 1988)
This two-volume set is the definitive collection of the most important official and quasi-official documents in American history. The first volume alone contains 345 documents from 1492 up to 1898. A good source for Founding era documents--from the Mayflower Compact and several colonial charters to resolutions of the Continental Congress, documents of the Constitutional Convention and important diplomatic writings--although some have been condensed.

Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805
Edited by Ellis Sandoz (Liberty Fund, 1998)
This is a superb collection of 55 religious sermons from a range of denominational and theological viewpoints, which bear on the politics of the day. All told, the sermons (each averages about twenty pages) display the religious seriousness of the time, as well as the importance of the pulpit to the American Revolution.

Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems and Speeches
Edited by William J. Bennett (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997)
A charming, readable book of material collected and edited with lively commentary by the author of The Book of Virtues. Not surprisingly, the book is divided into sections on Patriotism and Courage, Love and Courtship, Civility and Friendship, Education of the Head and Heart, Industry and Frugality, Justice, and Piety.

The American Founding: Interpretation and Assessment

We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future
Matthew Spalding (ISI Books, 2009)
In telling the story of the American Founding, this book examines 10 core princi­ples that define us as a nation and inspire us as a people: lib­erty and equality, natural rights and the consent of the governed, private property and religious freedom, the rule of law and constitutionalism, all culminating in self-government at home and independence in the world. The book then considers the Progressive assault on these principles and lays out a strategy for their recovery.

Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America
Thomas West (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)
This popular work seeks to debunk widely held, politically-correct opinions about the Founders by addressing their views on the controversial issues of slavery, property rights, women, the family, welfare, and immigration.

Interpreting the Founding: Guide to the Enduring Debates over the Origins and Foundations of the American Republic
Alan Gibson (University Press of Kansas, 2006)
This work discusses six approaches that have dominated the study of the American Founding: the progressive, Lockean-liberal, republican and Scottish enlightenment interpretations, as well as the multiple traditions approach and the modern social history view.

The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment
Carl J. Richard (Harvard University Press, 1994)
Richard argues that, contrary to the claims of historians like Clinton Rossiter and Bernard Bailyn, classical Greece and Rome provided many of the Founders’ intellectual tools. His evidence includes their classical pseudonyms and references to the classics in their writings.

Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution
Forrest McDonald (University Press of Kansas, 1985)
Honored constitutional historian Forrest McDonald asserts that, although the Framers drew upon a wide variety of philo­sophical and ideological sources, they relied upon their personal experience and common sense to construct “a new order for the ages” that blended prudence and principles.

The American Founding: Online Resources

Teaching American History
A well-chosen array of key documents from American history, with particularly useful sections on the Founding, Civil War, and Progressive eras. Also includes audio files of lectures by professors on these eras.

Avalon Project
Yale University’s Avalon Project is the single best online source for historical documents, and its collection of American documents is no exception.

This website from the Claremont Institute features a guide to the Constitution and an annotated Declaration of Independence, as well a collection of writings by the Founders, government documents, major court cases, and Founding-era sermons.

Bill of Rights Institute
Features Founding-era documents with brief introductions, as well as lesson plans for teachers.

Vindicating the Founders
Companion site to Thomas West’s book Vindicating the Founders, with a selection of primary sources and helpful introductions by Professor West.

Charters of Freedom (National Archives)
Images and transcripts of the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, along with essays and links about the creation of these documents.

What So Proudly We Hail
Uses short stories, speeches, and songs to teach the American character and the promises of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Includes an online curriculum and discussion guides for teachers.