Commentaries on the Founding

Douglass Adair, Fame and the Founding Fathers, edited by Trevor Colbourn.

This series of remarkable essays spells out the intellectual background and character of the Founders. The author pays special attention to the thought of the Constitution, expressed in the convention notes and The Federalist. He at once views The Federalist as part of a tradition stemming back to Aristotle and recognizes the work's thorough-going modernity.

Hadley Arkes, First Things: An Inquiry into the First Principles of Morals and Justice.

An engaging tour of the natural law reasoning that supports and sustains republican government.

Edward Banfield, Here the People Rule: Selected Essays.

The book contains a selection of essays centering on the reasonableness of the American Founders' design of a system for prudent deliberation. The author warns against the unintended effects of radical political change, whether coming from an activist Supreme Court or attempts to "democratize" the political process.

J. Jackson Barlow, Leonard Levy and Ken Masugi, eds. The American Founding: Essays on the Formation of the Constitution (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988).


Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas.

A landmark study of the Declaration, this classic revisionist treatment of the founding written in 1922 is flawed in one crucial respect—Becker denies the truth that all men are created equal. Becker is part of the dominant scholarship which rejects any attempt to ground American politics in the natural law doctrines of the Declaration.

Joseph Bessette, The Mild Voice of Reason: Deliberative Democracy and American National Government.

Commentators often depict Congress as full of self-interested officeholders without regard for the public interest. Bessette analyzes the extent to which this may be true and whether Congress still comes together to reason about common goals. He shows how the Framers' design for deliberative democracy is still relevant to contemporary America.

James W. Ceaser, Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought.

This book seeks to defend the founding from modern intellectual critics by forcing them to confront America's most articulate defenders—including Alexander Hamilton and Alexis de Tocqueville.

Angelo Codevilla, The Character of Nations.

The author examines the importance of constitutions and political institutions for shaping popular habits and opinions, with particular emphasis on the American Constitution and its principles of individual rights and limited government.

Edward S. Corwin, The Higher Law Background of the American Constitution.

This book provides a succinct survey of the philosophic sources of American constitutionalism.

Martin Diamond, The Founding of the Democratic Republic (Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock, 1981), Chapters 2-3 ("Framing the More Perfect Union" and "The Fundamental Political Principles"), pp. 15-110.
Martin Diamond, As Far as Republican Principles Will Admit, edited by William Schambra

This collection of essays argues that the American regime is fully democratic—a view still not accepted by many scholars. Diamond sees a plan for a distinctively moderate and deliberate democratic majority in the American founding. The essays are in part a response to critics of America who say the Founders did not go far enough in paving the way for progressive reforms. Diamond, however, discounts the fundamental role of the Declaration in the founding.

Edward J. Erler, The American Polity: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Constitutional Government.  

A collection of essays written about natural rights and constitutionalism at the founding and today.  See especially Chapter 1, "Natural Right in the American Founding," pp. 1-38.


Gerald Frost, ed., Loyalty Misplaced: Misdirected Virtue and Social Disintegration (The Social Affairs Unit, 1997), esp. chs. 5, 6, 8.


Robert Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution

This book provides a thorough examination of the negotiations at the Constitutional Convention which led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Harry V. Jaffa, Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution: A Disputed Question

The author argues that the Constitution cannot be understood without reference to the natural law principles of the Declaration of Independence. The Framers and Lincoln--their greatest advocate--agreed with this view. Today, many interpreters of the Constitution, including many conservatives, reject the original understanding in favor of a doctrine of states' rights or majoritarianism. These scholars and judges are descended from the father of the confederacy, John C. Calhoun, not the Founding Fathers.

Robert Licht, Is the Supreme Court the Guardian of the Constitution?

This book looks at the role of the Supreme Court in the constitutional structure of the government.
______. Old Rights and New
______. The Framers and Fundamental Rights
These books probe the understanding of natural rights found in the Declaration, which are distinct from legal or positive rights promoted in the wake of New Deal progressivism.

Harvey Mansfield, America's Constitutional Soul

The author argues that the Constitution can be used to guide contemporary politics. Political decision-makers, he writes, must take into account human spiritedness, or pride, rather than simply interest. In his essays on the founding, Mansfield shows how despite the pervasive fear of monarchy, The Federalist made a unique contribution to political theory by finding a way for a strong executive and republican freedom to co-exist.

John Marini, The Politics of Budget Control: Congress, the Presidency, and the Growth of the Administrative State

This is a study of the transformation of American government in recent decades in light of the principles of constitutionalism.

Forrest McDonald, The Formation of the American Republic, 1763-1789

Although his views on equality in the Founding are problematic, McDonald is one of the best historians of the period. After separating from England, America had to decide whether it would be one nation or many. The author traces how the question was decided and how America managed to check the excesses suffered by other European revolutions begun in the name of “popular rights.”

Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789

This is a history of the founding period, which emphasizes the common soldier's view of the Revolution and how he came to see it as a Glorious Cause.

Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789

This book offers a brief and reliable general history to the Revolution and founding.

Paul A. Rahe, Republics Ancient and Modern (3 vols.)

The American Founding is impossible to understand apart from its roots in ancient and modern political philosophy. The third volume in the series, Inventions of Prudence: Constituting the American Regime, shows how classical republicanism informed the founding.

Matthew Spalding and Patrick Garrity, A Sacred Union of Citizens

A thorough and thoughtful treatment of George Washington's Farewell Address, September 17, 1796, which serves as a useful synopsis of the highest hopes of the founding generation.

Herbert Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For
The brief and instructive book serves as an introduction to the opponents of ratifying the Constitution, who came to be known as Anti-Federalists.
_________, Toward a More Perfect Union, edited by Joseph Bessette

This collection gives Storing's analysis of the documents of the founding era. Storing revives the other side of the founding debate over ratification of the Constitution by bringing back the Anti-Federalist question of what kind of citizens Americans should be.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, edited by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop.
The French political philosopher and statesman Alexis de Tocqueville produced perhaps the most profound and influential commentary on the American character. Written in the 1830s, this very readable work appears in several paperback editions. This more recent edition by Mansfield and Winthrop, however, is the most authoritative.

Thomas G. West, Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America

This groundbreaking book refutes directly the pernicious modern school of scholarship that portrays America's Founders as racist, sexist, and elitist hypocrites. West shows that the Founders were indeed sincere in their beliefs that all human beings are created equal.

Michael P. Zuckert, Natural Rights and the New Republicanism

The author traces the political philosophy of the founding to its Whig heritage in England. He compares the philosophy of Whig revolutionaries in England in 1689 and their debt to Hugo Grotius and John Locke with the American revolutionaries of 1776 and their reliance on natural rights.

The American Founding: Essays on the Formation of the Constitution, edited by J. Jackson Barlow, Leonard W. Levy, and Ken Masugi

The American founding was and is a revolution in human government—“a new order of the ages,” as the Great Seal proclaims. These essays, written to celebrate the Bicentennial of the Constitution in 1987, suggest how the Framers' principles might lend guidance today.
Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, (4 vols.) edited by Leonard W. Levy, Dennis Mahoney, Kenneth Karst
This set, published in 1986, is a comprehensive discussion of the Supreme Court decisions and events that have shaped American constitutionalism. For coverage of more recent constitutional issues, see The Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, Supplement I, Leonard W. Levy, Kenneth Karst, and John G. West.

The Imperial Congress: Crisis in the Separation of Powers, edited by Gordon S. Jones and John Marini

This book is a collection of essays on how the separation of powers is threatened by the growth of centralized administration and bureaucracy.

Interpreting Tocqueville, edited by Ken Masugi

This collection of contemporary essays updates Tocqueville's prescient warnings of the dangers of bureaucracy, and notes some important omissions in Tocqueville's analysis of America, especially from the perspective of the natural law principles of the Declaration of Independence.

On Faith and Free Government, edited by Daniel C. Palm

The role of religious faith in electoral politics has been a source of confusion in recent decades. These essays explain the Founders' view that religion is compatible with, and even necessary to liberal democracy. The book also includes documents and sermons from the founding era.

Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding, edited by Charles R. Kesler

The Federalist Papers, the authoritative defense of the Constitution, aims to educate citizens in self-government. This collection of essays resumes the pursuit of that goal by examining the principles of the American Revolution found in The Federalist to understand why they were good and why they are worth studying today.