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A Revolutionary Reading List:
The Intellectual Tradition that Influenced the U.S. Founding Fathers

(Released April 2010)

  by Carolyn Scearce  


Key Citations




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  John Locke David Hume Thomas Paine
  1. The Declaration of Independence: a global history

    David Armitage.

    Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth history, Vol. 37, No. 3, Sep 2009, pp. 483-484.

  2. The Language of Liberty and Law: James Wilson on America's Written Constitution

    James R. Zink.

    American Political Science Review, Vol. 103, No. 3, Aug 2009, pp. 442-455.

    Although contemporary Americans take it for granted that a "constitution" is a written document, written constitutions were almost unprecedented at America's founding. James Wilson, one of the most significant yet overlooked of America's founders, offers a comprehensive theory of America's written constitution. Wilson argues that the written-ness of the U.S. Constitution serves two essential functions. As an initial matter, it memorializes the primacy of liberty by announcing that the authority of government derives only from a free people. Perhaps more importantly, however, the written constitution uplifts and refines the character of its citizens, and thus helps to constitute a people. A review of Wilson's writings and speeches reveals how, even in a rights-centric political order, the written constitution helps to cultivate moderate and civic-minded citizens without diminishing the fundamental importance of individual rights. Adapted from the source document.

  3. Making headlines: the American Revolution as seen through the British press

    Troy Bickham.

    International history review, Vol. XXXI, No. 4, Dec 2009, pp. 853.

  4. Many identities, one nation: the Revolution and its legacy in the mid-Atlantic

    Liam Riordan.

    American historical review, Vol. 114, No. 5, Dec 2009, pp. 1441-1442.

  5. Quandaries of War and of Union in North America: 1763-1861

    Norman Schofield.

    Politics and Society, Vol. 30, No. 1, Mar 2002, pp. 5-49.

    The key theoretical idea underlying this article is that an institutional equilibrium in the economic domain can be destroyed or transformed by rapid belief changes in the political domain. Events circa 1776, 1787, and 1860 in the United States are all examined in an attempt to understand the interaction between these economic and political transformations. More explicitly, the author views the economic domain as fundamentally three dimensional, characterized by the use of land, labor, and capital. In contrast to general economic reasoning, he considers the equilibrium in this domain to be institutional, rather than the consequence of the interplay of economic forces. Threats, generated in the political domain, have consequences in the economic domain, and these in turn induce belief changes in the political domain. Such belief changes may bring about war, or constitutional disequilibrium, leading possibly to a new political economic stasis. [Copyright 2002 Sage Publications, Inc.]

  6. The assumptions of the Founders in 1787

    R. Middlekauff.

    Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. Dec 87, 1987, pp. 656-668.

    Argues that the historical treatment of the Constitution has attained considerable depth because it has freed itself of the worst of outside pressures, and has generated its leading questions from close examination of evidence. Offers as an example of the force of the 'inside' an examination of the assumptions of the founders about the nature of man in history and their importance in the conception of the Constitution. (Abstract amended)

  7. The changing view of the founding and a new perspective on American political theory

    D. S. Lutz.

    Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. Dec 87, 1987, pp. 669-686.

    The view of American political theory held by historians and political scientists in the 1940s is compared with their general view today. The scholarly process leading to the new view is outlined. The essential change is to view the Constitution as a text that must be read in conjunction with state constitutions, the pamphlet literature of the late 1700s, and a wider range of European political theorists than was previously considered relevant. (Original abstract)

  8. States, republics, and empires: the American founding in early modern perspective

    J. G. A. Pocock.

    Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. Dec 87, 1987, pp. 703-723.

    Views the founding by situating key terms in its language in contexts provided by the history of early modern political discourse. Argues that the terms 'federative' and 'federal' had to be transformed since the 'federative' power was concerned with the relations between sovereigns and not with the formation of sovereignty. Concludes by examining the presidency as the monarchical component of an imperial republic, and shows that the phenomena of early modern monarchy-including a system of counsel, a court, and a palace-have remained part of its history. (Abstract amended)