Washington: The Indispensable Man
By James Thomas Flexner (Little, Brown and Co., 1984)

This is the best one-volume biography of Washington from his most accomplished biographer, who has also written a comprehensive four-volume biography for the more adventuresome reader. Not simply an abridged version of the larger work, it is an original and very readable biography written for a general audience.

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Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington
By Richard Brookhiser (Free Press, 1996)

This is not a life history of Washington but an analysis of his career and character as a soldier, founder, and statesman, presented in highly readable, thematic chapters. The author calls it a moral biography, intended to show how Washington navigated life and politics as a public figure.

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A Sacred Union of Citizens: George Washington's
Farewell Address and the American Character
By Matthew Spalding and Patrick Garrity (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)

This work is a popular study of Washington's political thought as found in his major writings, arguing that Washington's project was not only to start a nation but to establish a national character. The book focuses on the Farewell Address of 1796, placing the writing in historical context and looking at how it has affected our political debate both past and present.

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George Washington and American Independence
By Curtis Nettels (Little, Brown and Co., 1951)
This classic, well-written work looks at the political role played by General Washington in the fight for national independence over the course of the year preceding July 1776, and argues that the Declaration of Independence can be seen as a final ratification of earlier actions and events.
George Washington and American Constitutionalism
By Glenn Phelps (University Press of Kansas, 1994)

This book argues that George Washington was a committed and consistent constitutionalist throughout his life, and led--rather than followed--opinion concerning a continental government for the new nation. A more academic study, but readable nonetheless, it includes a good analysis of the Washington presidency.

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Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin
By Carl Van Doren (The Viking Press, 1938)

This lengthy work is the classic, comprehensive biography of Franklin, written in the grand old style. It covers his life in Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris, and back in the United States.

Franklin of Philadelphia
By Esmond Wright (Harvard University Press, 1986)

A solid, modern biography that is a bit more scholarly but highly readable. It includes a good closing essay on Franklin's continuing relevance.

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Benjamin Franklin and American Foreign Policy
By Gerald Stourzh (The University of Chicago, 1954)
A scholarly study of Franklin's political thought, with a focus on his views concerning international security, national self-interest and the new diplomacy of the 18th century. It includes particular chapters on Franklin's opinions on the French Alliance and the peace settlement with Great Britain.

John Adams

John Adams
By David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2001)

This sweeping work of popular history covers all of Adams's life, with due prominence on his relationships with wife Abigail and fellow patriot Thomas Jefferson. The bestseller makes a strong case for Adams's importance, despite its weakness of neglecting Adams's intellectual contributions to the American Founding.

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John Adams: A Life
By John Ferling (Henry Holt and Co., 1996)

A weighty but good biography that draws heavily on original texts. More academic than the McCullough biography, and perhaps less easy to read, but much more substantive and comprehensive.

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John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty
By C. Bradley Thompson (University Press of Kansas, 1998)

This is a more academic work that focuses on Adams's major works to show how his political thought, particularly on constitutional development and political architecture, is relevant to the formation of American political ideals.

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The Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams
By Joseph Ellis (W. W. Norton, 1993)

A good analysis of Adams's political thought, focusing on his post-presidential years, this is one of the first books to spark the recent revival in Adams's scholarship. It considers his mature ideas and character in order to assess his proper place in the Founding generation.

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography
By Merrill Peterson (Oxford University Press, 1970)

Though long, this is the standard--and most balanced--one volume Jefferson biography, providing a basic narrative and highlighting three dominant themes of Jefferson's career: democracy and popular government, the new American nationality, and philosophical enlightenment. Solidly grounded in Jefferson's writings, but intended more for the general reader than the scholar.

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Jefferson the Virginian
By Dumas Malone (Little, Brown and Co., 1948)

This is the first volume of the majestic, multi-volume (and decidedly sympathetic) biography Jefferson and his Time, published between 1948 and 1977. The volumes deal with Jefferson's life through the American Revolution (Vol. 1), his time in Paris through the first Washington administration (Vol. 2), from then through the election in 1800 (Vol. 3), his first (Vol. 4) and second (Vol. 5) presidential terms, and the his retirement (Vol. 6).

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The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson
By David Mayer (University Press of Virginia, 1995)

Rather than the popular view of Jefferson as the champion of unrestrained democracy, this work focuses on Jefferson's philosophy of government, emphasizing his commitment to liberty, self-government, and written constitutions rigorously adhered to.

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The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson
By Forrest McDonald (University Press of Kansas, 1987)

A brief but thorough and highly readable critical history of the politics and policies, both domestic and foreign, of Jefferson and his two terms as the nation's third president.

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The Jefferson-Hemmings Matter: Report of a Commission of Scholars
Edited by Robert F. Turner (Carolina Academic Press, forthcoming)
A group of senior Jefferson scholars--several of them critics of Jefferson--consider and refute much of the DNA and historical evidence and conclude that the paternity allegations against Jefferson concerning his slave Sally Hemings are inconclusive.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton: A Biography
By Forrest McDonald (W. W. Norton, 1990)

An excellent political biography explaining Hamilton's greatest contributions in finance, economics, and law. It convincingly makes the case for the first secretary of the treasury's importance to the political economy of the early American Republic.

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Alexander Hamilton, American
By Richard Brookhiser (Simon and Schuster, 2000)

This thematic, popular biography by the author of Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington captures the dynamic Hamilton and credits him with originating American capitalism.

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Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government

By Gerald Stourzh (Stanford University Press, 1970)

A scholarly book on Hamilton's political thought in the context of his and his contemporaries' understanding of republican government and its application to American politics in light of the great ideas--revolution, popular sovereignty, the public good, foreign policy--confronting the Founders between 1760 and 1800.
Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government
By Karl Walling (University Press of Kansas, 1999)

This academic study argues that Hamilton sought to combine the strength necessary for war with the restraint required by the rule of law, popular consent, and individual rights to help found the world's most durable republican empire.

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James Madison

James Madison: A Biography
By Ralph Louis Ketchum (The MacMillan Company, 1971)

This comprehensive and lengthy volume is one of the best Madison biographies, and it is accessible to general readers and scholars alike. It is a very thorough historical narrative and distillation of both the ideas and the man, with a good emphasis on his role in the Continental Congress and at the Constitutional Convention.

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James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic
By Jack Rakove (Scott, Foresman, 1990)

This relatively short but solid biography focuses on Madison's public life, as a skillful leader and a brilliant political thinker, to emphasize how he successfully combined serious ideas and practical politics to the benefit of the new nation.

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American Compact: James Madison and the Problem of the Founding
By Gary Rosen (University Press of Kansas, 1999)

This academic consideration of Madison's political thought argues that his understanding of the social compact, the nature of the Founding and the origins of the Constitution are not just of historical significance but can shed light on current issues such as diversity, constitutional interpretation, and federalism.

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The Last of the Founders: James Madison and the Republican Legacy
By Drew R. McCoy (Cambridge University Press, 1989)

This highly readable yet scholarly work focuses on Madison's years of retirement from 1817 to his death in 1836. It is a consideration of his later political thought looking back on the earlier Founding period, dealing with his views on questions such as nullification, political economy, and slavery.

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The American Revolution

A History of the American Revolution
By John Alden (Alfred Knopf, 1969)

Perhaps the best single-volume history of the American Revolution, it covers the period from 1763 to 1789, and considers the political, military, social, economic, and constitutional aspects of the time, taking a balanced look at all of the parties and issues involved.

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Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution
By Benson Bobrick (Simon and Schuster, 1997)

A sweeping narrative of the American Revolution that takes the reader from Lexington Green to the Battle of Yorktown, describing in novel-like fashion the major battles and the main characters, juxtaposing the patriot George Washington and the traitor Benedict Arnold.

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Paul Revere's Ride
By David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press, 1995)

This compelling book retells the common tale of Paul Revere's famous midnight ride and the ensuing skirmishes at Lexington and Concord in a narrative that is at the same time readable and scholarly. It argues that the conflict was not the spontaneous uprising of legend but an organized and active resistance.

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The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practice 1763-1789
By Don Higgenbotham (The MacMillan Company, 1971)

This is the best military history of the colonial and Founding era. It follows battles and campaigns as well as military policy and popular attitudes toward war, tracing the interaction between warfare and society and how that affected civil and military institutions in the United States.

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Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution
By A.J. Langguth (Simon and Schuster, 1988)

A wonderful work that brings the American Revolution to life through important vignettes along the way, highlighting those who fought it in the political and military arenas, from James Otis in 1761 to George Washington at Yorktown in 1783.

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The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789
By Robert Middlekauff (Oxford University Press, 1982)

This narrative traces the Revolution's origins from the end of the Seven Years War, emphasizing the common soldiers' views of the American War of Independence to how they came to see it as a glorious cause not just for independence but to form a new nation. It focuses on questions of governance, politics, constitutionalism, and war; and ties popular convictions about rights and politics to the colonists' religious convictions.

Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill
The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton
Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War
By Richard M. Ketchum (Henry Holt and Co., 1999)

These three charming narrative histories read like novels. Drawing on an enormous range of sources, including diaries and letters by officers and common soldiers, and vivid descriptions and arresting portraits of participants, each book in the series (originally published in the 1970s) tells the story surrounding a decisive battle of the American Revolutionary War.

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The Constitutional Convention

1787: The Grand Convention
By Clinton Rossiter (MacMillan Company, 1966)
Rossiter, the editor of the most widely read edition of The Federalist Papers, examines the meeting that created the Constitution in this very readable (and trustworthy) work, focusing on the setting, men, events, and consequences of the federal convention through the early years of the new Republic. A number of related documents are also included.
Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787
By Catherine Drinker Bowen (Little, Brown and Company, 1966)

This popular (but less authoritative) narrative of the Constitutional Convention focuses narrowly on the participants and the day-to-day convention debate in almost novel-like form.

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The Framing of the Constitution
By Max Farrand (Yale University Press, 1913)

This is a more succinct and charming version of the Rossiter book on the events surrounding the Constitutional Convention, written by the scholar who compiled the definitive collection of the notes and records of the meeting.

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The Constitution

The Framing and Ratification of the Constitution
Edited by Leonard Levy and Dennis Mahoney (MacMillan, 1987)
A nice collection of 21 essays on the framing and ratification of the Constitution, addressing various topics ranging from our colonial background and the events leading up to the Constitutional Convention to questions of original intent and organization of the new government.
From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution
By Robert Goldwin (American Enterprise Institute, 1997)

A clear and convincing historical study of the constitutional issues surrounding the creation of the Bill of Rights, looking at the philosophical arguments behind these guarantees and how Madison crafted the first 10 amendments then shepherded them through the First Congress.

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Commentaries on the Constitution
By Joseph Story (Carolina Academic Press, 1987)

A classic and substantive work on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution by one of its early scholars and one of the greatest justices of the Supreme Court. A reprint of the 1833 edition includes histories of various colonies, of the Revolutionary and of the Confederation periods; it also includes straight-forward commentaries on the clauses of the Constitution.

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What the Anti-Federalists Were For: The Political Thought of the Opponents of the Constitution
By Herbert J. Storing (The University of Chicago, 1981)

A brief introduction to the thought of the anti-Federalists, who opposed the ratification of the Constitution and wanted a small republic, more federalism, and a bill of rights, among other things. It also considers their affect on enduring themes of American political life such as a concern for big government and the infringement of personal liberty.

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General Histories

The Colonial Wars: 1689-1762
By Howard H. Peckman (The University of Chicago Press, 1964)

A good explanation of the four major military conflicts that were spin-offs of European wars and that dominated the American continent--thus contributing to a want of independence--in the years before the Founding era: King William's War (1689-97), Queen Anne's War (1702-13), King George's War (1744-48) and the French and Indian War (1755-62).

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Origins of the American Revolution
By John C. Miller (Little, Brown and Company, 1943)

An older, but still useful history of the events leading up to the American Revolution that chronicles the various British acts against the colonials from the beginning of the French and Indian War to the Declaration of Independence.

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The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89
By Edmund Morgan (University of Chicago Press, 1956)

The story of the American Revolution told in a concise, readable manner, explaining how 13 colonies came together over British tax policy and established their own constitutional principles to protect their freedom. The best, short history of the era.

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Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson and the American Revolution
By John E. Ferling (Oxford University Press, 2000)

This comparative biography reconstructs the lives of three of the greatest Founders from their youths through their participation in the American Revolution, providing a wide view of their participation in the Revolution as well as more intimate looks at their individual struggles.

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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
By Joseph Ellis (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)

This work views the American Founding though the intertwined experiences of seven leaders of the period, looking at six discrete moments that exemplify the time.

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The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800
By Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick (Oxford University Press, 1993)

This lengthy work traces the development of the new nation from the time after the Constitutional Convention through its first three presidents. A comprehensive analysis of the early national period, including all the achievements and fights of the chief figures.

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The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relations to Slavery
By Don E. Fehrenbacher (Oxford University Press, 2001)

A detailed study, stretching from the First Continental Congress to the Civil War, argues persuasively that early trends in the colonies were against slavery and that the U.S. Constitution is not a pro-slavery document, despite later policies that supported the institution.

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Colonies Into Nation: American Diplomacy, 1763-1801
By Lawrence S. Kaplan (The MacMillan Company, 1972)
An interpretative history of American diplomacy from the Treaty of Paris in 1763 to the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, showing how pre-Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary diplomacy developed consistently over time to reinforce--and play a vital role in creating--a united country seeking independence in a hostile world.
The American Presidency: An Intellectual History
By Forrest McDonald (University Press of Kansas, 1994)

This work examines the creation and history of the presidency and by looking at the political theorists who influenced the Founders, at the Constitutional Convention, the precedent-setting terms of Washington, and at Jefferson and the evolution of the office's expressed and implied powers.

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Religion and the Founding

On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding
By Michael Novak (Encounter Book, 2001)

This nicely written book argues that from the very beginning the American Founders not only believed that they were acting reasonably but also believed that they were carrying out God's commandment. A counterbalance to the popular emphasis on secular history, it also includes an appendix on several forgotten Founders.

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Christians in the American Revolution
By Mark A. Noll (Baker Books, 1991)
This short work examines the revolution that occurred in the hearts and minds of the colonists by examining the interaction between religious convictions and political thought in the Founding era. A look at the topic in broad strokes; the work is a good overview of the subject.
Religion and the New Republic: Faith in the Founding of America
Edited by James H. Hutson (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000)

A collection of seven compelling essays on church-state relations in the early Republic, conveying the variety of accommodations that existed between religion and public order in the formative period of American history.

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The American Founding as the Best Regime: The Bonding of Civil and Religious Liberty
By Harry V. Jaffa (The Claremont Institute, 1990)
This brief but forceful booklet is a powerful argument for the significance of America as the first regime in Western civilization to provide for the coexistence of the claims of reason and of revelation, through the establishment of religious liberty, thus making possible the blessings of free government.
The Politics of Reason and Revelation: Religion and Civic Life in the New Nation
By John G. West, Jr. (University Press of Kansas, 1996)

This work argues that the Founders and their immediate successors wanted religion to play a dynamic, positive role in American politics, and examines religious political activism from 1800 to 1835 to show the success of an earlier understanding of church-state relations in conformity with their intent.

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Interpretation and Assessment

The Reinterpretation of the American Revolution
Edited by Jack P. Greene (Harper & Row, 1968)

A very good anthology of 24 interpretative essays by earlier scholars--such as Bernard Bailyn, Perry Miller, Forrest McDonald, Douglas Adair, and Martin Diamond--that provides a broad introduction to the leading (and disagreeing) schools of modern scholarship on the American Founding.

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Essays on the Making of the Constitution
Edited by Leonard Levy (Oxford University Press, 1987)

A strong collection of essays that bring together differing viewpoints on the roles and motivations of the framers of the Constitution. Includes a selection from Charles Beard's historic An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution as well as essays attacking and essays defending Beard's thesis.

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The American Founding: Essays on the Formation of the Constitution
Edited by J. Jackson Barlow, Leonard W, Levy, and Ken Masugi (Greenwood Publishing, 1988)

This is a collection of 11 short but scholarly essays on the political thought of the American Founding by authors such as Merrill Peterson, Jack Rackove, Harry V. Jaffa, and Henry Steele Commager. The essays address topics such as classical political thought, John Locke, equality, natural rights, and the Enlightenment in relation to American thought.

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Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding
Edited by Charles Kesler (New York: Free Press, 1987)

A very approachable collection of 14 essays by foremost scholars explaining and interpreting The Federalist Papers on topics such as republicanism, federalism, foreign policy, the separation of powers, executive power, and the original purposes of the Constitution.

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Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America
By Thomas West (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)

This popular work seeks to debunk widely held, politically-correct opinions about the Founders by addressing their views on the controversial issues of slavery, property rights, women, the family, welfare, and immigration.

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Taking the Constitution Seriously
By Walter Berns (Simon and Schuster, 1987)

This brief work makes a defense of the original intent of the Framers by relating the Constitution back to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and considering how the Founding dealt with various challenges to the idea of constitutionalism.

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Primary Sources and Writings

The Federalist Papers
Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison (Mentor Books edition, 1999)

Published as a series of newspaper articles intended to sway New Yorkers in the debate over ratification, this famous collection of essays in defense of the Constitution remains the greatest work of American political philosophy. The classic edition, edited by the late Clinton Rossiter, has now been published with a fine introduction by Charles Kesler, as well as an historical glossary and other supplementary materials.

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George Washington: A Collection
Edited by William B. Allen (Liberty Press, 1995)

A marvelous collection of Washington's correspondence and writings from his early, middle, and later years. Reading through the well-chosen selections provides a clear perspective on Washington's life and statesmanship. Includes all of Washington's major writings, as well as "The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior" and his Last Will and Testament.

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Franklin: Writings
Edited by J.A. Leo Lemay (Library of America, 1987)

A good collection of Franklin's many writings, including his charming essays under various pseudonyms such as Silence Dogood, the Busy-Body and Richard Saunders, the "author" of Poor Richard's Almanack. It also includes Franklin's autobiography, based on the original manuscript, and his speeches in the Constitutional Convention.

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The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams
Edited by C. Bradley Thompson (Liberty Fund, 2000)

This collection focuses on Adams's pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary writings, including A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, his Novanglus letters, the influential Thoughts on Government and various writings recounting the Anglo-American dispute.

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Jefferson: Collected Writings
Edited by Merrill Peterson (Library of America, 1984)

A very complete selection of Jefferson's writings, containing all Jefferson's main works (Autobiography, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Notes on the State of Virginia), his major speeches, and public papers (including the original and revised drafts of the Declaration of Independence) and a wide variety of private letters.

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Selected Writings and Speeches of Alexander Hamilton
Edited by Morton J. Frish (American Enterprise Institute, 1985)

A nice collection of Hamilton's most important letters, speeches, and essays from 1775 to 1803, including his opinion on the national bank and his Report on Manufactures. An excellent overview of Hamilton's political thought, complemented with introductions and commentary.

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The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison
Edited by Marvin Meyers (Brandeis University Press, 1981)

A very nice collection of Madison's essays, letters, and speeches between 1774 and 1836, including numerous writings that illuminate his central role in the Constitutional Convention and the creation of the Bill of Rights. It shows his part in the rise of party opposition during the Washington administration. Its virtue is a great explanatory essay on Madison, section introductions, and brief note with each entry.

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Paine: Collected Writings
Edited by Eric Foner (Library of America, 1995)

This collection includes Paine's Revolutionary writings Common Sense and The American Crisis, and many other pamphlets, articles and, letters, as well as the full text of his later works Rights of Man and The Age of Reason.

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Collected Documents

American Political Writing During the Founding Era
By Charles Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Liberty Press, 1983)

This two-volume set includes pamphlets, articles, sermons and essays written by various political authors between 1762 and 1805. It is a gold mine of 76 less well-known but equally colorful and highly reasoned popular writings of the Revolutionary era. Each entry is introduced by a brief note on the author.

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The Founders' Constitution
Edited by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Liberty Fund, 2000)

Originally published by the University of Chicago Press to commemorate the bicentennial of the Constitution, this extensive work consists of extracts from the leading works on political theory, history, law, and constitutional arguments on which the Framers and their contemporaries drew and which they themselves produced. Liberty Fund has prepared a paperback edition of the entire work in five volumes. It is also available online at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders.

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Colonies to Nation, 1763-1789: A Documentary History of the American Revolution
By Jack P. Greene (W. W. Norton, 1975)

This collection tells the story of the American Founding using documents ranging from government papers and popular pamphlets to diary accounts and personal letters. Each section has a full introduction and each entry is prefaced by an introductory note, thus placing all the documents in a coherent framework.

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Debates on the Constitution
Edited by Bernard Bailyn (The Library of America, 1993)

A very nice two-volume collection of Federalist and anti-Federalist speeches, articles, and letters during the struggle over ratification of the Constitution, focusing on debates in the press and correspondence between September 1787 and August 1788, as well as on the debates in the state ratifying conventions of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, and North Carolina.

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The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787
Edited by Max Farrand (Yale University Press, 1986)

This definitive work, originally published in 1937, gathers into three volumes all the records written by participants of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, including the extensive, official notes taken throughout by James Madison.

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Documents of American History
By Henry Steele Commager (Prentice Hall, 1988)

This two-volume set is the definitive collection of the most important official and quasi-official documents in American history. The first volume alone contains 345 documents from 1492 up to 1898. A good source for Founding era documents--from the Mayflower Compact and several colonial charters to resolutions of the Continental Congress, documents of the Constitutional Convention and important diplomatic writings--although some have been condensed.

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Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805
Edited by Ellis Sandoz (Liberty Fund, 1998)

This is a superb collection of 55 religious sermons from a range of denominational and theological viewpoints, which bear on the politics of the day. All told, the sermons (each averages about twenty pages) display the religious seriousness of the time, as well as the importance of the pulpit to the American Revolution.

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The Essential Antifederalist
Edited by William B. Allen and Gordon Lloyd (University Press of America, 1985)

This volume of essays offers an accessible selection of leading anti-Federalist opinion. After a nice interpretative essay by the editors, the selections are grouped to focus on the origins of anti-Federalist thought, then later views on federalism, republicanism, capitalism, and democracy.

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Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems and Speeches
Edited by William J. Bennett (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997)

A charming, readable book of material collected and edited with lively commentary by the author of The Book of Virtues. Not surprisingly, the book is divided into sections on Patriotism and Courage, Love and Courtship, Civility and Friendship, Education of the Head and Heart, Industry and Frugality, Justice, and Piety.

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