The Library of the Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers of the United States were among the best-read generations in history.  Because of their extensive reading, they knew human nature was flawed, but also capable of greatness.  That is why they constructed a government that divided power, gave each division the ability to check and balance the other, and insisted that only a knowledgeable and virtuous people could maintain a free government, even with the best of constitutions.  They cited writers, historians, philosophers, lawyers, and statesmen from many nations across thousands of years of history.  Here is a growing list of those books and authors that were in their libraries.  This list will continue to be updated. (Last updated December 1, 2017)

PRE-CLASSICAL PERIOD

Sacred Books (Hebrew Bible)

  • Torah (“Teachings,” Five Books of Moses)
  • Nevi’im (“Prophets”)
  • Ketuvim (“Writings”)

CLASSICAL PERIOD

Homer

  • Iliad and the Odyssey

Herodotus (484-425 BC)

  • The Histories

Thucydides (c. 460-c. 400 BC)

  • History of the Peloponnesian War

Plato (c. 428-c. 348 BC)

  • The Republic (c. 380)
  • The Laws
  • Rhetoric
  • Poetics

Aristotle (384-322 BC)

  • Nicomachean Ethics
  • Politics

Demosthenes (384-322 BC)

  • The Orations of Demosthenes (the Olynthiacs, the Phillipics, public trials, political speeches)

Polybius (c. 200-c. 118 BC)

  • The Histories

Cicero (106-43 BC)

  • De Legibus (“On the Laws”)
  • De Officiis (“On Duties”)
  • De Oratione (“On Oratory”)
  • De re publica (“On the Commonwealth”)

Virgil (70-19 BC)

  • Aeneid (c. 29-19 BC)

Titus Livius (59 BC-17 AD), “Livy”

  • History of Rome

Plutarch (c. 46-125 BC)

  • Parallel Lives (second century BC)

Pliny the Elder (23-79)

  • Natural History (79)

Pliny the Younger (61-c. 113)

  • Epistulae (“Letters”)

Epictetus (c. 50-135)

  • Discourses
  • Enchiridion

Tacitus (c. 56-120)

  • On the Origin and Situation of the Germanic Peoples (“Germania”)
  • Histories (c. 100-10)
  • The Annals

Marcus Aurelius (121-80)

  • Meditations

Sacred Books (the Bible)

  • New Testament (first century)

MEDIEVAL PERIOD

Justinian (c. 482-565)

  • Corpus Juris Civilis (the “civil law”) (sixth century)

Henry de Bracton (c. 1210-c. 1268)

  • On the Laws and Customs of England (mid-thirteenth century)

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

  • Summa contra gentiles (c. 1259-65)

John Fortescue (1394-1479)

  • In Praise of the Laws of England (c. 1468-71)
  • The Governance of England (1471)

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

  • Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (1531)
  • The Prince (1532)

Thomas More (1478-1535)

  • Utopia (1551)

EARLY MODERN PERIOD

Michel de Montaigne (1533-92)

  • Essays

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)

  • Coke’s Reports (1600-15)
  • Institutes of the Laws of England (1628-44)

Richard Hooker (1554-1600)

  • Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (late sixteenth century)

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

  • The Advancement of Learning (1605)
  • Novum Organum (“New Instrument”) (1620)
  • De Augmentis Scientarum (“Partitions of Science”), 1623
  • Essays (1625)
  • The New Atlantis (1627)

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

  • All the plays and sonnets

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)

  • On the Law of War and Peace (1625)

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

  • Leviathan (1651)

John Milton (1608-74)

  • Areopagitica: A Speech by Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England (1644)
  • The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660)
  • Paradise Lost (1674)

Matthew Hale (1609-76)

  • A History and Analysis of the Common Law of England (1713)
  • The History of the Pleas of the Crown (1736)

James Harrington (1611-77)

  • Oceana (1656)

Algernon Sidney (1622-83)

  • Discourses Concerning Government (1698)

William Petyt (1636-1707)

  • The Ancient Right of the Commons of England Asserted (1680)

John Somers (1651-1716)

  • Vox populi, vox dei: Judgment of Kingdoms and Nations Concerning the Rights, Privileges, and Properties of the People (1709)

ENLIGHTENMENT PERIOD

John Locke (1632-1704)

  • Two Treatises of Civil Government (1689)
  • A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)
  • An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Money (1691)
  • On the Reasonableness of Christianity (1696)

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

  • Principia (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), 1687

Paul de Rapin (1661-1725)

  • History of England (1726-31)

John Trenchard (1662-1723) and Thomas Gordon (c. 1691-1750), “Cato”

  • Cato’s Letters (1724)
  • A Short History of Standing Armies in England (1698); Trenchard and Walter Moyle (1672-1721)

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

  • All the works, essays, etc.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713)

  • All the works, essays, etc.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

  • All the works, essays, plays, etc.

Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751)

  • The Freeholder’s Political Catechism (1733)
  • A Dissertation Upon Parties (1735)
  • Remarks on the History of England (1743)
  • The Idea of a Patriot King (1749)
  • A Letter on the Spirit of Patriotism (1749)
  • Letters on the Study and Use of History (1752)

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

  • The Dunciad (1728)
  • Of False Taste (1731)
  • Of the Uses of Riches (1732)
  • An Essay on Man (1733-34)

Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)

  • Persian Letters (1734)
  • Reflections on the Causes of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (1734)
  • The Spirit of the Laws (1748)

Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (1694-1748)

  • The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1747)

Francois Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778)

  • Letters on the English Nation (1733)
  • Works (1751)
  • General History and State of Europe (1756)

Abbé Gabriel Mably (1709-85)

  • Observations on the Romans (1740)
  • Observations on the Government and laws of the United States (1784)

David Hume (1711-76)

  • A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40)
  • An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1751)
  • Treatise: An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)
  • Political Discourses (1752)
  • History of England (1754-62)
  • The Natural History of Religion (1755)
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78)

  • Discourse on the Origin of the Inequality of Men (1754)
  • The Social Contract (1762)
  • Emile (1762)

Emerich de Vattel (1714-67)

  • The Law of Nations (1759-60)

William Blackstone (1723-80)

  • Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69)

Richard Price (1723-91)

  • Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty (1776)
  • Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution (1784)

Adam Smith (1723-90)

  • Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)

Catharine Macaulay (1731-91)

  • History of England (1763-83)

Edward Gibbon (1737-94)

  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88)

Cesare Beccaria (1738-94)

  • An Essay on Crimes and Punishments (1764)

Jean Louis de Lolme (1740-1805)

The Constitution of England (1771)

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