Often, when two modern patriots are having a discussion, they agree with the failure of the public education system to teach basic American history, or to expose students to the foundations of our modern Republican form of government. The speakers quickly move on since they are often unable to specifically identify that which has been lost. Similarly, you often hear talk radio or television personalities spend an enormous amount of time suggesting courses of study or books, only concluding that the answer to the conundrum is the latest product that they happen to have for sale on their web site or by calling an eight hundred number. What is missing is an actual guide to understanding American Constitutional history.
As I raise my son, I am often having to explain the context of various readings he is assigned in class. How can a student understand Martin Luther King during Black History Month without understanding the United States Declaration of Independence or the Holy Bible? This remedial instruction began my thinking on what primary materials do we, as American patriots, expect every well informed citizen to know. Since the “prepper” or “survivalist” is known for keeping checklists and additionally for home schooling their children, what better way to outline a course of study for every patriot to learn and share with their student.
In that vein, I am submitting for your approval the following checklist of source documents of the American Republic. I am not selling any of the recommended books, and most of the material presented here can be readily accessed online and are therefore free. I have included linkages to the original source documents when possible. I have tried to choose the most readable copies I could find, however there are usually multiple sources for the texts available online. For example, some of the best sources for historical documents are Yale University’s web site. and the National Archives. English translations of Ancient Greek works can be found for free at a Tufts University web site. Many books can be downloaded for free or a minimal .99 at Amazon.com for the Kindle. Note that you do not need a Kindle to read these books, as you can use the Amazon “cloud reader” to read the texts on your computer. Wikipedia.org also has tremendous linking resources, usually at the bottom of the page, that should not be overlooked.
Since the framework of America is founded in the English tradition, I have attempted to identify the foundational documents for America going back to those sources. These reading suggestions follow three distinct categories: first the patriotic student should begin by gaining a broad overview of the period of study. Traditional history classes use the term “survey class.” The survey is important to provide meaning and context to the other materials presented. The recommended survey materials can be supplemented by multiple secondary sources such as encyclopedias and web research. I have also recommended certain books as survey sources. I have tried to recommend readable books, and avoid overly political books (especially seeking to avoid the left wing bias that dominates the school curriculum today).
What do we stand for and what do we believe in? If this question cannot be answered, then we are disarmed in our resistance to harmful ideas. Unfortunately, the left has accomplished its agenda driven politicization of our school system, with propaganda crowding out the great ideas of America’s foundation. This outline can also be used as a guide for a concerned parent to confront intrusions and deletions in their schools’ curriculum. A parent can experience the richness of our history with their student by simply spending time together moving methodically through these guidelines.
Note that this outline is part of a larger outline I have been working on covering essential highlights of American history and the Western tradition. While my area of study is modern American Military history as well as law, I have attempted to fill in gaps in my own knowledge by targeting books that have had an impact on Western Civilization. The parts of the larger outline are: I. Foundations of Western Civilization; II. Understanding the Foundations of the American Republic; III. Early Federal Period; IV. The American Civil War; V. The Modern Era. The larger list is derived from a “Great Books” type curriculum, with much of the fiction downplayed. Only those fictional works that have impact on the course of history are included. My recommendations also steer away from thoughts and ideas that are antithetical to the American tradition. The recommendations are divided into several parts, using survey and biographical books combined with essential source materials of American and Western Civilization. When foreign sources are recommended, they are for the purpose of understanding the competing systems that have confronted the United States. For example, “Mein Kampf” (Nazi fascism) and the “Communist Manifesto” (communism) have had a disproportionate impact on the history of the United States.
II. Understanding the Foundations of the American Republic
A. The Holy Bible. Most readers should be familiar with the Bible, as were the Founding Fathers.
B. Magna Carta 1297. Though short, the original text is dense and difficult reading. However, it is an interesting exercise to read through this early document that was in fact a contract between the sovereign and the free people. Sir Edward Coke argued logically for limitations on absolute monarchical power based on the Magna Carta.
C. Survey readings about the English Civil War. This is a very dense period of English history, but it is critical to understand this part of history since it is the well spring of experience which the Founding Fathers shared. Especially recommended:
1. Catherine Drinker Bowen “The Lion and the Throne” 1958. A complex but very well written account of the life of Sir Edward Coke. Winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Available used at abebooks.com for a reasonable price.
2. Michael Barone “Our First Revolution” 2007. The story of the Glorious Revolution (the term often applied to the ending of the English Civil War) and its relevance to the founding of the United States. Often available used at abebooks.com for a reasonable price.
D. Sir Edward Coke “The Petition of Right” 1628.
E. Thomas Hobbes “Leviathan” 1651. Available on Kindle for .99. Also available for free at an OSU web site. Written during the English Civil War, Hobbes considers the nature of government, developing what is known as social contract theory.
F. John Locke “Two Treatises of Government” 1689. John Locke’s writings were probably the most influential source in the thinking of the Founding Fathers. Thus, a deep understanding of his work is essential to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of the American Republic. Available for free here.
G. John Locke “An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding” 1690. Available for free here.
H. The English Bill of Rights 1689. Strongly influenced the United States Bill of Rights. Available for free at a Yale web site.
I. Survey materials on the American Revolutionary War. There are lots of resources available for the student of the American revolutionary period, but here are some references of note.
1. John Fiske “The War of Independence, a book for young people” 1889 and “The American Revolution” 1891 both are available for free as a Kindle download.
2. Gordon S. Wood “The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787,” “The Radicalism of the American Revolution,” and “The American Revolution: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)” More modern writings on the revolutionary period.
2. The PBS video set “Liberty! The American Revolution” is very good, but retails for about $28. The set is worth owning.
3. Stuart Murray “DK Eyewitness Books: American Revolution” For kids, the Eyewitness books are very good, with lots of “meat” and illustrations. Available used for a reasonable price.
J. Biographical materials on George Washington. Washington turned down the chance to be king and steered the country into the great experiment in Republican government. He is the essential man in American history. Again, there are innumerable biographies of the George Washington, but the following are available for free online.
1. William Roscoe Thayer, “George Washington” 1922. This book is available for free on the Kindle.
2. John Marshall “The Life of George Washington” in five volumes. This set is written by Washington’s contemporary and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall. A very readable copy is available for .99 on Kindle and free here.
K. The Continental Association, 1774. The earliest American foundational document, wherein the American colonies bind together to form a cohesive response to increased English malfeasance.
L. Thomas Paine “Common Sense” 1776. Available for free here. This supremely influential political pamphlet was widely read by the founding generation.
M. Adam Smith “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” 1776. Available for free here. The Scottish economist’s penultimate work describing free markets and capitalism.
N. George Mason “The Virginia Declaration of Rights” 1776. This document influenced the later Declaration of Independence and United States Bill of Rights. Available for free here.
O. Thomas Jefferson The Declaration of Independence 1776.
P. The Articles of Confederation. 1777. The organizing document for the original American colonies that established the framework for the colonies to fight the American Revolutionary War. The weaknesses apparent in the Articles were later addressed in the United States Constitution.
Q. The Federalist Papers 1787-1788. A series of letters written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay advocating the adoption of the United States Constitution and elaborating on the ideas enshrined therein.
R. The United States Constitution 1789. Primarily the work of James Madison, this document sets out the framework of the United States government. Also see this searchable view with commentary by the Heritage Foundation.
S. The United States Bill of Rights 1789. George Mason demanded the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, and refused to support the Constitution without it. The compromise was a quick adoption of the first ten amendments to the United State Constitution, in what is known as the Bill of Rights. Also see this searchable view with commentary by the Heritage Foundation.