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Founding Father’s Library

A list of the most read books in the libraries of key figures in the American Revolution and the founding of the American Republic.

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The Most Commonly Read Books of the Founding Generation

The Founding Fathers of the American Constitution made it clear what authors and texts had influenced their own thinking on the idea of liberty. Goodrich Seminar Room list and a few more besides. Lutz's "top 40" texts (actually 37) by frequency of citation by the founding generation are listed below.

Another source of information about what books influenced the thinking of the American founding generation are the lists of recommended books they themselves drew up. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson drew up a list of key texts in letters they wrote and, in the case of Jefferson, he actually donated his personal library (twice) to Congress to create the beginnings of what is now the Library of Congress and also drew up a catalog for the University of Virginia library.

The "Top 40" Authors cited by the Founding Generation (with links to material in the Online Library of Liberty)

  1. St. Paul
  2. Montesquieu
  3. Sir William Blackstone
  4. John Locke
  5. David Hume
  6. Plutarch
  7. Cesare Beccaria
  8. John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon
  9. Delolme
  10. Samuel Pufendorf
  11. Sir Edward Coke
  12. Cicero
  13. Thomas Hobbes
  14. William Robertson
  15. Hugo Grotius
  16. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  17. Lord Bolingbroke
  18. Francis Bacon
  19. Richard Price
  20. William Shakespeare
  21. Livy
  22. Alexander Pope
  23. John Milton
  24. Tacitus
  25. Plato
  26. Abbe Guillaume Raynal
  27. Abbe Gabriel Mably
  28. Niccolo Machiavelli
  29. Emmerich de Vattel
  30. William Petyt
  31. Voltaire
  32. John Robinson
  33. Algernon Sidney
  34. John Somers
  35. James Harrington
  36. Paul de Rapin-Thoyras


The Texts They Read

St. Paul

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)

Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780)

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

John Locke (1632-1704)

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

David Hume (1711-1776)

  • A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740)
  • An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1751)
  • Treatise: An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)
  • Political Discourses (1752)
  • History of England(1754-1762)
  • The Natural History of Religion (1755)
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779)

Plutarch (c. 46-125)

  • Roman Lives

Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794)

  • An Essay on Crimes and Punishments (1764)

John Trenchard (1662-1723) and Thomas Gordon (?-1750)

  • Cato's Letters (1724)
  • Trenchard and Walter Moyle (1672-1721), A Short History of Standing Armies iin England (1698)

Jean Louis Delolme (1740-1805)

  • The Consitution of England (1771)

Samuel, Baron von Pufendorf (1632-1694)

  • Elementa Jurisprudentiae universalis (1661)
  • De jure naturae et gentium (1672)

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)

  • Institutes of the Laws of England (1628-1644)

Cicero (106-43 BC)