A list of the most read books in the libraries of key figures in the American Revolution and the founding of the American Republic.
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.
Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780)
John Locke (1632-1704)
David Hume (1711-1776)
Plutarch (c. 46-125)
Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794)
John Trenchard (1662-1723) and Thomas Gordon (?-1750)
Jean Louis Delolme (1740-1805)
Samuel, Baron von Pufendorf (1632-1694)
Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)
Cicero (106-43 BC)
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
William Robertson (1721-1793)
Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751)
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Richard Price (1723-1791)
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Titus Livius (Livy) (59BC - AD17)
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
John Milton (1608-1674)
Tacitus (c. 56-120)
Plato (c. 427-347 BC)
Abbe Guillaume Raynal (1713-1796)
Abbe Gabriel Mably (1709-1785)
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Emerich de Vattel (1714-1767)
William Petyt (1636-1707)
Francois Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778)
John Robinson (1575-1625)
Algernon Sidney (1622-1683)
John Somers (1651-1716)
James Harrington (1611-1677)
Paul de Rapiin-Thoyras (1661-1725)
Donald S. Lutz, "The Relative Importance of European Writers on Late Eighteenth Century American Political Thought," American Political Science Review 1984, no. 189, pp. 189-97.
Donald S. Lutz, "Appendix: European Works Read and Cited by the American Founding Generation," in A Preface to American Political Theory (University Press of Kansas, 1992), pp. 159-164.
Douglas L. Wilson, Jefferson's Books (Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1996). Originally published in Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1986).
Thomas Jefferson's Library: A Catalog with the Entries in his own Order, ed. James Gilreath and Douglas L. Wilson (Washington: Library of Congress, 1989).
Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Colbourn has compiled a useful Appendix of "History in the Colonial Library", pp. 245-86, including a section on the history books owned by Thomas Jefferson, pp. 267-73.
Thomas Jefferson, "Letter to Peter Carr. Paris, Aug. 10, 1787," pp. 900-906 and "Letter to Robert Skipworth with a List of Books. Monticello, Aug. 3, 1771," pp. 740-45 in Thomas Jefferson, Writings (The Library of America).
The Library of Congress online exhibition of Jefferson's Library, August 9, 2001 at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jefflib.html
Rick Gardiner's The American Colonist's Library: A Treasury of Primary Documents at http://personal/pitnet.net/primarysources/ Visited: August 14, 2001.
Last modified April 13, 2016