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The Founders Library

List of U.S. Presidents
Founding Documents in Pop Culture
The Temple of Founding History
Independence Artwork
The Founders' Reading List
Founders' Journals
The Magna Carta
The Inventions of the Founders
Early American Postal Service
Music of the Revolution
Colonial Travel
Constitutional Landmarks
First Party System
George Washington the Artist
Founders' Fashion
Colonial Currency


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The Founders' Reading List

The Founding Fathers were group of remarkable, intelligent men that ultimately changed the course of American Constitutional History. Many of them were authors and orators, some even founded libraries, most importantly, they loved to read. Among the favorites were the Bible, the classics (i.e. Cicero, Tacitus, Livy, Plutarch, etc.), and works written by Enlightenment Thinkers (John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Baron de Montesquieu, Immanuel Kant, etc.

Here is a list of popular books written by the Founding Fathers, loved by them, or written about them.

George Washington

1. The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker - Tobias Smollett

This comedy, written from the variant perspectives of six different characters, was Tobias Smollet's best work and a favorite of Washington's. The novel is a satire aimed against British imperialism, and makes many observations on 18th century British life and behaviors.

2. The Law of Nations - Emerich de Vattel

This particular work has a story which makes it remarkable. When Washington was President, he borrowed a book from the New York Society library, and never returned it. The staff of Mount Vernon returned a copy of the work, although notably not the original, in 2010 You can read the full story from the New York Daily News Website.

3. Rules of Civility - Richard Brookhiser

George Washington first copied Brookhiser's Rules of Civility as a schoolboy exercise, and the words would continue to have an impact on the future President throughout his lifetime.

4. George Washington: The Indispensable Man, by James T. Flexner

Considered the eminent biography, James T. Flexner originally wrote a four volume biography of America's First President, one volume of which won the a Pulitzer Prize citation in 1972. George Washington: The Indispensable Man is the condensed version, and an invaluable addition to any Founders' Library.

5. Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow

The award winning author Ron Chernow - also the biographer of Alexander Hamilton and J.P. Morgan - presents a very down-to-earth image of George Washington in this exceptional biography.

John Adams

1. Beauty and the Beast - Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont

The first English translation of this rich fairy tale appeared in America in the late 1750s, and interestingly enough, amidst the thousands of books that Adams would read during his lifetime, this little gem became his favorite.

2. John Adams - David McCullough

Written by esteemed historian and author, David McCullough, John Adams is a gripping tale of John Adams' life. The work won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for biography, and was adapted in an HBO miniseries with the same name, starring Paul Giannini as John Adams.

3. Novanglus: A History of the Dispute with America - John Adams

This work is a compilation of essays written by Adams refuting Daniel Leonard's essays concerning Parliaments "absolute authority" over the American colonies. Adams argued that the American colonies had a right to sovereignty and self-government.

4. John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father - Francis J. Bremer

Published in 2005, this work chronicling the life of Massachusetts Bay Colony Govenor John Winthrop was never read by John Adams. However, during his lifetime, Winthrop's words greatly affected John Adams in his life and politics.

5. The Revolutionary John Adams - Cheryl Harness

Sponsored by National Geographic, this critically acclaimed picture biography of America's first president is one of the best ways to introduce John Adams to young readers.

Benjamin Franklin

1. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - Benjamin Franklin

An essential part of every American history book collection, Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is a wealth of anecdotes, advice, and common sense that has been thrilling readers for more than two centuries.

2. The Way to Wealth - Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin's timeless work is collection of essays teaching readers how to make money, start a business, invest money, and save for the future. He reminds us that, "A penny saved is a penny earned," and other such useful tidbits.

3. Poor Richard's Almanac - Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard)

This yearly almanac published by "Poor Richard," one of Benjamin Franklin's various pseudonyms, was a mixture of weather, poems, sayings, and astrological findings. Extremely popular in its time, the almanac was known for its humor and good sense.

4. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life - Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson paints a real-life picture of the Founding Father everyone seemed to love. He discusses Franklin's role in the shaping of American political system, focusing on the great man's faith in the common people.

5. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin - Gordon S. Wood

This Pulitzer and Bancroft prize winning biography of the great Founding Father from Pennsylvania, tells the truth behind the author, inventor, delegate, diplomat, and legend known as Benjamin Franklin.

Thomas Jefferson

1. Tristram Shandy - Laurence Sterne

Tristram Shandy was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha Jefferson, and throughout their marriage the two would read the story aloud to each other. It would remain a source of comfort to him during his lifetime.

2. Notes on the State of Virginia - Thomas Jefferson

The only book that Thomas Jefferson would publish during his lifetime, Notes on the State of Virginia are his views on the major socioeconomic issues of the region he considered "his country."

3. Two Treatises of Government - John Locke

This work by predominant Enlightenment thinker John Locke were one of the major influences on Jefferson in his writing of the Declaration of Independence.

4. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power - Jon Meacham

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham's biography of Thomas Jefferson describes the complex, intriguing character of the third President of the United States.

5. Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation - Merrill D. Peterson

Recommended by Jeffersonian scholar Clay Jenkinson, Peterson's stunning biography of Thomas Jefferson tells the sweeping tale of his life as it intertwines with the new life of the American nation.

James Madison

1. The Federalist Papers - James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay

The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays arguing in support of the United States Constitution. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were the authors behind the pieces, and the three men wrote collectively under the name of Publius.

2. James Madison - Irving Brant

This six volume set written by Irving Brant is the most comprehensive biography ever produced on the author, Secretary of State, and Fourth President of the United States, James Madison.

3. James Madison (The American Presidents Series) - Garry Wills

Noted historian Garry Wills, in his notable Presidents Series, offers a fresh perspective on the life and contributions of James Madison, father of the Constitution.

4. The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy - Drew McCoy

Remarkably enough, James Madison was the oldest surviving Founding Father. Drew McCoy tells about the life of this great man in the midst of a rapidly changing United States.

5. The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence Between Jefferson and Madison

Edited by James Morton Smith, this compilation tracks the long lasting correspondence between Federalist James Madison and Republican Thomas Jefferson

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