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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




Resources Dissertations


  1. A Humean reading of the American Constitution

    by Constantinescu, Maria,Ph.D., New York University, 2009 , 401 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    When contemporary constitutional debate discusses first amendment penumbra rights, it indicates natural liberty to "intellectual individualism" that implies civil liberty to association "as a form of expression of opinion." This discussion examines the intellectual foundation of the origins of this liberty to explain its implications to areas of law beyond the first amendment.

    It takes as a starting point a concept stated by Thomas Jefferson : noninjurious moral natural right which was defined rather than limited by natural law and indicated inalienable civil liberties that did not sacrifice natural liberty in the formation of government.

    This discussion examines a commentary on this concept that is apparent in Hume's legal philosophy and that interprets noninjuriousness in terms of sympathy and related concepts of public interest, institutions, and civil liberty. The definition of these concepts in opposition to what Hume observed to be a reformed definition of a self-established national church with coercive state-like powers that violated prohibition of laws respecting an establishment as well as of laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion is discussed. An apparent theology of reformed dissenters that was at the foundation of church doctrine destructive of public order and peace is examined. This theology emphasized that certainty of one's own salvation was accompanied by uncertainty, anxiety, and pride in opposition to a concept of noninjuriousness. The necessity of autonomous morally valid law that eschewed the difficulties of reformed dissenters to define a selfsustaining logic of morality is discussed. The development of Hume's legal philosophy that took into account the change in the experience of legal authority brought about by this law is emphasized. Significant emphasis is also placed on the change of the reformers' idea of two worlds to the need for a third standard to which both worlds are held.

    This discussion is neither concerned with defining an unwritten constitution nor with defining a standard to which the existing constitution should be held, but with defining a natural law grounding to give legitimacy of enforceability of rights and liberties in courts of law by fulfilling certain Humean requirements.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  2. Citizen dissent in the new republic: Radical republicanism and democratic educational thought during the Revolutionary era

    by Dotts, Brian W., Ph.D., Indiana University, 2005 , 364 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    This dissertation traces and examines the republican nature and sources of British Radical Whig ideology during the Augustan Age and its subsequent influence and development in America during the 1790s. An understanding of this radical dissent, specifically the form of literary opposition politics that developed in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is essential to a full appreciation of the Democratic-Republican Societies that emerged in America after the ratification of the Constitution. Their radical political and educational philosophy was informed by a number of dissenters in England.

    While few of these Societies' members were politicians, many of them were dissenting teachers and theologians striving to create a more progressive, humanitarian, and enlightened society. Their ideas were also influenced by classical and modern republicanism, particularly the works of Aristotle and Machiavelli, and by the "Common Sense" philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment. This historical-philosophical analysis helps explain why the Democratic-Republican Societies opposed many of the policy initiatives implemented by the Federalist administrations of Washington and Adams. Like Jefferson, these societies advocated both a system of publicly funded and locally controlled education for all classes and a broadening of the franchise. Standing to Jefferson's ideological left, however, they advocated a much more democratic political agenda, including attempts to create a permanent organization of popular dissent directed against the federal government and an educational philosophy based on a dialectical and democratic approach to learning.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  3. The rhetoric and philosophy of early American discourse, 1767--1801: Toward a theory of common sense

    by Cianciola, James, Ph.D., Duquesne University, 2005 , 207 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    What are the rhetorical and philosophical implications of common sense in colonial America during the time immediately preceding, during, and following the American Revolution? A study of seminal texts from the Classical era, the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution will reveal the uses of common sense as rhetorical invention in each historical period. This study will also identify the various philosophies of common sense at play in the second half of the 18 th century in order to better understand their influence upon the construction of early American rhetoric. While segments of postmodern rhetorical theories challenge or reject the presuppositions of common sense philosophy, this study will investigate ways in which rhetoric divorced from the resources of common sense places the prospect for rhetorical invention at risk. By investigating various philosophies of common sense articulated and acted upon by Americans during the Revolutionary era, I will explore the viability of common sense approaches to contemporary notions of rhetorical invention. These principles, from the Classical and Enlightenment common sense traditions, are cultivated from a common sense philosophy that is grounded in Aristotelian and Enlightenment scholarship. Such scholarship assumes specific first principles of common sense that create a forum for multiple and interrelated common senses

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  4. Thomas Jefferson's republicanism and the problem of slavery

    by Helo, Ari Petri,Ph.D., Tampereen Yliopisto (Finland), 1999 , 279 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    This study focuses on the moral thought of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third president of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence. The point of departure is to ask to what extent this representative of the Virginia slaveholding elite truly believed what he wrote in 1776 about the "self-evident truths" that all men are created equal and therefore entitled to the natural, inalienable, moral rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    Jefferson's celebrated formulation about these rights remain inconsistent with his life-long advocacy of deporting the whole slave population out of the American republic only It his thinking is regarded as fully consistent with a modern understanding of human rights. Jefferson's moral outlook appears to have been rooted in the ancient virtue ethics, while it was, at the same time, essentially dependent on the ideas of historical, moral, perfectionism provided by such key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, as Thomas Reid, Lord Kames, and Dugald Stewart.

    In Jefferson's view, American slavery originated in a historical, British, misinterpretation of the natural law. Above all, Jefferson seems to have held that the American revolution was not about creating, but about preserving the inalienable rights of an individual as a moral agent.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  1. Kurt Raaflaub
    David Herlihy University Professor/Professor/Chair, Department of Classics, Brown University 70155
    The social and political history of the Roman republic; the social, political, and intellectual history of archaic and classical Greece; and the comparative history of the ancient world. Recently, his research has focused . . . on the origins and workings of Athenian democracy . . . and on the origin and function of Greek political thinking.

  2. Vikki J. Vickers
    Assistant Professor, Department of History, Weber State University
    Author, My Pen and My Soul Have Ever Gone Together: Thomas Paine and The American Revolution

  3. Scott D. Gerber
    Associate Professor, Claude W. Pettit College of Law, Ohio Northern University
    Author, To Secure These Rights: The Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Interpretation; Editor, The Declaration of Independence: Origins and Impact

  4. Alex Tuckness
    Associate Professor, Political Science Department, Iowa State University
    Author, Locke and the Legislative Point of View: Toleration, Contested Principles and Law

  5. Donald J. Maletz
    Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Oklahoma
    The history of political philosophy, chiefly modern political idealism and historicism-Hegel Marx, Kant, Rousseau; theoretical foundations of modern social science; American political thought; theoretical origins of and responses to the French Revolution; ethics in government and administration.

Scholars taken from ProQuest's Community of Scholars