The American Colonist’s Library
A TREASURY OF PRIMARY DOCUMENTS
Primary Source Documents Pertaining to Early American History
An invaluable collection of historical works which contributed to the formation of American politics, culture, and ideals
The following is a massive collection of the literature and documents which were most relevant to the colonists’ lives in America. If it isn’t here, it probably is not available online anywhere.
ARRANGED IN CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE (500 B.C.-1800 A.D.)
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Given the Supreme Court’s impending decision, the ultimate historic origins of the national motto, “In God We Trust” and the phrase “under God” are drawing interest. Click Here to learn the history.
Classical Literature Having Significant Influence Upon the American Colonists
Classic Philosophers and Poets, Most of the founding fathers in America were thoroughly familiar with these Greco-Roman authors: e.g., Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Virgil.
The Latin Library, (Cicero, Livy, Horace, etc.) Ability to read these sources extemporaneously was an entrance requirement at colonial schools such as Harvard.
The Vulgate, The Holy Bible in Latin.
The Bible, The best Bible online, which allows the user to immediately discover the Hebrew and Greek words behind the English words.
The Bible, This book was, of course, the most influential piece of literature in Colonial America.
St. Augustine, The church father of choice among American Puritans.
St. Augustine, English translations of his works on predestination which greatly influenced the Puritans.
Major Medieval Sources Having Significant Influence Upon the American Colonists
Ordinance of William the Conqueror Sowing the seeds of separation of Church and State in the English world.
Laws of William the Conqueror
Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) Established rights of laymen and the church in England.
Assize of Clarendon (1166) Defined rights and duties of courts and people in criminal cases. Foundation of the principle of “due process.”
Assize of Arms (1181) Defined rights and duties of people and militias.
Magna Carta (1215) One of the American colonists’ most revered documents, the Magna Carta established the principle that no one, not even the king or a lawmaker, is above the law of God.
De Legibus Et Consuetudinibus Anglić, Henry de Bracton (1268) This text was the most important legal treatise written in England in the medieval period as it organized, systematized, and explicated the principles of English Common Law later embraced by the American colonists.
Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas (1265-1273) Pinnacle of Scholasticism. Covering a wide range of topics, by the colonial times, most educated people in the Western world were thoroughly familiar with this important text.
Marco Polo’s Travels [excerpt] (@1300), the description of the South Pacific which inspired Columbus to attempt to go to India by way of the Atlantic.
The First Manual of Parliamentary Procedure (@ 1350)
An English Law Library, The sources studied by many of the lawyers who founded the U.S.
The Declaration of Arbroath (1320) Scotland’s declaration of independence from England. An early model for the U.S. Declaration, this document ends with a phrase parallel to that of the U.S. Declaration: “and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought.”
Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Sources Profoundly Impacting the History of America
Malleus Maleficarum, Directions for witch hunting (1486)
Journal, Christopher Columbus, (1492). This document begins with Columbus’ statement that the reason why Isabella sponsored his voyage was for the sake of going to India to convert Khan to Roman Catholicism.
Epistola De Insulis Nuper Inventis, Christopher Columbus (1493)
Letter to the King and Queen of Spain, Christopher Columbus (1494)
Prince Henry VII’s Commission to John Cabot (1497) Cabot was the first Englishman to discover New England.
The Prince, Machiavelli (1513) Practical advice on governance and statecraft, with thoughts on the kinds of problems any government must be able to solve to endure.
Works of Martin Luther, The father of the Protestant Reformation, his principles were a major part of the American colonists’ worldview.
On Secular Authority, Luther (1523). This document started the political discussion about religious liberty which led to the American Revolution. In this document Luther sets forth the idea of “two kingdoms,” one is political and the other is spiritual, and the two ought be separate. President James Madison commended this “due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due to God.” (Madison to F.L. Schaeffer, December 3, 1821).
The Bondage of the Will, Luther (1524). Luther claimed that this particular document was the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation; it argues the idea of predestination and God’s sovereignty, two principles which were paramount to many of the American colonists.
The Act of Supremacy, Henry VIII (1534). By this act, the English Reformation began, and the pope was stripped of his jurisdiction over the English Church. This allowed Lutheran principles to make their way into the English church, and led to the birth of Puritanism.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1540). Calvin’s magnum opus. The most celebrated American historian, George Bancroft, called Calvin “the father of America,” and added: “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.” To John Calvin and the Genevan theologians, President John Adams credited a great deal of the impetus for religious liberty (Adams, WORKS, VI:313). This document includes a justification for rebellion to tyrants by subordinate government officials; this particular justification was at the root of the Dutch, English, and American Revolutions.
Coronado’s Report to Mendoza (1540)
Coronado to the King of Spain (1541)
The Journey of Alvar Nuńez Cabeza De Vaca (1542)
Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, Bartolome de la Casas (1542)
On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, Copernicus (1543). This document touched off the Scientific Revolution as it repudiated the Geocentric theory and asserted a Heliocentric theory of the solar system.
The Council of Trent (1545) The Roman Catholic responses to the Protestant Reformation.
Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius Loyola (1548). Rules for the Jesuits written by the founder of the Jesuit Order.
The Magdeburg Bekenntnis or Magdeburg Confession (1550). A document written by followers of Luther stating a theological justification for resisting tyranny.
The Genevan Book of Order (1556) The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc. Used in the English Congregation at Geneva
A Short Treatise on Political Power, John Ponet, D.D. (1556) President John Adams credited this Calvinist document as being at the root of the theory of government adopted by the the Americans. According to Adams, Ponet’s work contained “all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated on by Sidney and Locke” including the idea of a three-branched government. (Adams, Works, vol. 6, pg. 4). Published in Strassbourg in 1556, it is the first work out of the Reformation to advocate active resistance to tyrannical magistrates, after the Magdeburg Bekenntnis (the Magdeburg Confession).
How Superior Powers Ought to Be Obeyed by Their Subjects, Christopher Goodman (1558). Justifying a Christian’s right to resist a tyrannical ruler. Goodman indicated that he had presented the thesis of this book to John Calvin, and Calvin endorsed it.
The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, John Knox (1558). A vigorous critique of the tyranny of “Bloody Mary’s” reign in England, and a call to resist. A large portion of the Americans who fought in the American Revolution were adherents to Knox’s doctrines as set forth in this document.
Act of Supremacy, Elizabeth I (1559). After the brief and bloody reign of her sister, Mary I, who executed numerous Protestants for the cause of Roman Catholicism, this document states Elizabeth’s intention to reaffirm the English Church’s independence from Rome. Her beloved status among her subjects caused the first settlers of America to name their colony “Virginia” in honor of this virgin queen.
Complete Works of Elizabeth I, Including her letters and her poems.
Writings and Speeches of Elizabeth I
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563). Detailing the bloody persecutions of Puritans during the reign of Mary I, this book was second only to the Bible in its popularity in the American colonies.
Supralapsarian Calvinism, Theodore Beza (1570) Laying out the principle that God willed and predestined the fall of Adam and the existence of sin and evil. This assertion became the most controversial philosophical conflict among American colonists up through the 19th century.
The Scholemaster (1570) Philosophy of Education among English people, particularly with respect to the importance of learning Latin.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1571) The official statement of faith of the Church of England; this document formally adopts the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination and repudiates common notion of “free will.”
Treasons Act (1571) Forbidding criticism of Queen Elizabeth.
The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572)
The Right of Magistrates Over Their Subjects, Theodore Beza (1574). Expanding upon Calvin’s political resistance theory set forth in the final chapters of his Institutes, this work by Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, was published in response to the growing tensions between Protestant and Catholic in France, which culminated in the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre in 1572. This text suggests that it is the right of a Christian to revolt against a tyrannical King: a principle central to the American colonists’ cause.
Of the Tabaco and of His Greate Vertues, Nicholas Monardes (1577)
The Works of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sponsor of the First Settlements in Virginia
De Jure Regni apud Scotos, George Buchanan (1579) Considered the most important piece of political writing in the 16th century as it articulated the doctrine of “the rule of law.”
Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, or, A Vindication Against Tyrants (1579). This Calvinist document is one of the first to set forth the theory of “social contract” upon which the United States was founded. The idea was disseminated through the English Calvinists to the pen of John Locke, and eventually into the Declaration of Independence. John Adams reported the relevance of this document to the American struggle.
The Dutch Declaration of Independence (1581); This Calvinistic document served as a model for the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In his Autobiography, Jefferson indicated that the “Dutch Revolution” gave evidence and confidence to the Second Continental Congress that the American Revolution could likewise commence and succeed. Recent scholarship has has suggested that Jefferson may have consciously drawn on this document. John Adams said that the Dutch charters had “been particularly studied, admired, and imitated in every State” in America, and he stated that “the analogy between the means by which the two republics [Holland and U.S.A.] arrived at independency… will infallibly draw them together.”
A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, Thomas Hariot.
Discourse of Western Planting, Richard Hakluyt, (1584)
First Voyage To Virginia, Arthur Barlowe (1584)
Adam Winthrop’s Commonplace Book (1586) Early diary of a Puritan whose family eventually settled in America.
The Colony of Roanoke, Ralph Lane (1586). The first English attempt at colonizing the New World
Return To Roanoake, John White (1590) Relating the surprise of the loss of the Roanoake colony and the few clues left regarding their fate.
An Act Against Papists (1593) Parliament’s tough words against those who would attempt to depose Elizabeth for her Protestantism.
Works of Richard Hooker (1593) Anglican political commentator and major influence upon John Locke.
Journey of Coronado (1596)
A Trew Law of Free Monarchs, James I Stuart (1598). Championed the doctrine of “Divine Right of Kings.” This oppressive political theory contributed to the exodus of the Puritans to America in 1630, and resistance to it was the ultimate goal of three revolutions: 1) the Puritan Revolution of the 1640s, 2) the Glorious Revolution, and 3) the American Revolution.
The Dutie of A King, Sir Walter Raleigh (1599) Promoting the doctrine of “Divine Right of Kings.”
The Geneva Bible, 1599 update of the translation made by the Puritans in Geneva 1560. This was the Bible of choice in New England. These are the footnotes which provide a Calvinistic theological interpretation of the Bible
Seventeenth Century Sources Relating to American History
Charters of all the Colonies
Original Dictionaries of the 16th & 17th Centuries, six bilingual dictionaries — John Palsgrave (1530; English-French), Sir Thomas Elyot (1538; Latin- English), William Thomas (1550; Italian-English), Thomas Thomas (1587; Latin-English), John Florio (1598; Italian-English), and Randle Cotgrave (1611; French-English) — these give pairs of French, Italian, and Latin dictionaries, each pair separated by 50-80 years; four English hard-word dictionaries — Edmund Coote (1596), Robert Cawdrey (1604; courtesy of Raymond Siemens), John Bullokar (1616), and Henry Cockeram (1623) — and one English word-list by Richard Mulcaster (1582); the first full English-only dictionary — Thomas Blount (1656).
Queen Elizabeth’s Farewell (1601)
The Works of King James I
Voyages, Samuel de Champlain (1604)
Primary Sources Pertaining to the Gunpowder Plot (1605)
The First Virginia Charter (1606)
Instructions for the Virginia Colony (1606)
Works of Francis Bacon, Identified by Jefferson as one of his three most profound influences.
Works of Shakespeare
The Settlement at Jamestown, John Smith (1607) Including the famous account of Smith being saved by Pocahontas.
The Foundation of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain (1608)
Full Text of Robert Juet’s Journal (1609)
The Second Virginia Charter (1609)
John Smyth’s Confession (1609) the religion of a Baptist.
The Church At Jamestown, William Strachey (1610)
The Third Virginia Charter (1612)
Good News From Virginia, Alexander Whitaker (1613)
An Ordinance and Constitution of the Virginia Company in England for a Council
Pocahontas, John Smith (1616)
The Starving Time, John Smith.
Laws of Virginia (1610)
Pory to Carelton from Jamestown (1619)
Laws in Virginia (1619)
Works of Arminius Arminius was a Dutchman who dared to challenge Luther and Calvin on the predestination issue. His writings led to a major controversy in Holland while the “Pilgrims” were residing there. Arminius’s views were adopted by Archbishop Laud of England, which greatly contributed to the English Calvinists’ desire to leave England in 1630.
Canons of Dort (1619). The Synod at Dort in the Netherlands was called to respond to the views of the Arminians. Participating in this Synod moderated by Gomarus was the leader of the Pilgrims, as well as William Ames (the leading Puritan theologian of the day). As a result of this synod, the “five points of Calvinism” were developed. The “five points,” also called TULIP, became a centerpiece of Puritanism and were ardently defended by American Calvinists such as Jonathan Edwards. The conflict between Calvinists and Arminians was perhaps the most explosive debate in America in the early 18th century. On the Calvinist side, Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards wrote philosophical defenses; on the Arminian side, John Wesley was the premiere mouthpiece. While Madison wrote in defense of Calvinism, Thomas Jefferson utterly repudiated it.
Charter of New England (1620)
Mayflower Compact (1620). The first political covenant of the New England migration.
Of State and General Assembly, 24 July 1621.
Of Plymouth Plantation (Written 1630-1654, first published 1854). This is Governor William Bradford’s history of Plymouth, the most comprehensive primary source available on early Plymouth.
Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford. An eyewitness history of the first English settlers of New England.
Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth . (London, 1622). This journal, written by several Pilgrims–namely William Bradford and Edward Winslow–records events at Plymouth from the Mayflower’s arrival in November 1620 through the First Thanksgiving in October 1621, and everything in between.
The Sin and Danger of Self-Love (1621) There were no clergymen among the pilgrims at Plymouth when they first settled. This sermon was written and given by a layman, Robert Cushman, to the Plymouth congregation in December 1621. Robert Cushman was a member of the Pilgrims church in Leyden, Holland, and came on (and returned in) the ship Fortune.
Letters of the Plymouth Settlers
Last Wills and Testaments of the Settlers at Plymouth We can tell a lot about a culture by looking at their wills.
Letter Home (1623)
Good Newes from New England (London, 1624). This book, authored by Edward Winslow, continues the journal in Mourt’s Relation, covering the years 1622 and 1623 at Plymouth.
An Appeal for War Against Spain (1624)
Of the Law of War and Peace, Hugo Grotius (1625, Latin) One of the first works on international law.
Account of the Purchase of Manhattan (1626) The source of the $24 dollar legend.
The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, Sir Edward Coke (1628) Written by a Puritan leader of Parliament, this document was almost the only textbook for lawyers (e.g., Jefferson) during the American Colonial Period. Coke’s influence over the minds of American politicians is inestimable. Clear traces between Coke and the U.S. Constitution are apparent in this work.
The Petition of Right, Sir Edward Coke (1628). This document set forth complaints of the members of Parliament to King Charles I regarding rights of due process. Charles did not receive this complaint warmly. As a result, Charles I shut down Parliament, which ultimately culminated in the English Civil War, and contributed to the exodus of 20,000 Puritans to New England.
Protests of the House of Commons, Documents showing the growth of Parliament’s hatred for King Charles I, first complaining against his closet Catholicism, his Arminianism, and his presumptuousness in levying taxes without the consent of Parliament.
Experiencia , John Winthrop. A Journal of Religious Experiences.
The Salem Covenant (1629)
Charter of Massachusetts Bay (1629). This document sets forth the Puritans’ commission in New England.
The Library of John Winthrop’s Father, A catalogue of the books available for the Puritan Laywer who founded Boston.
Pratt’s Memoir of the Wessagussett Plantation, (1622/23)
Reasons for the Plantation in New England (circa 1628). This document states clearly and forcefully that the motivations of the Puritans who came to New England @ 1630 were fundamentally religious.
Adventurers who founded the Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth (1628-1630)
Savage’s Genealogical Dictionary of New England This comprehensive source lists the entire families who lived in New England in the early 17the century.
A Short and True Description of New England, by the Rev. Francis Higginson (1629)
The Cambridge Agreement among the leaders of the settlement (1629)
History of the First Settlements as told by Capt. John Smith, Admiral of New England (1629)
The Constitution of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay (1629)
Medulla Theologica (The Marrow of Theology), William Ames (1629). The Medulla was the principal required textbook in the Ivy League in the American Colonial Period. One cannot adequately grasp the intellectual climate of New England without understanding the concepts in this book. The following two sections on the Decrees of God and Predestination highlight the central peculiarities of Puritan theology. Ames was unequivocal in stating that God controls the universe and that humans do not “change” or “determine” God’s behavior in any way.
The Marrow of Theology, William Ames (1629), Excerpts.
A Model of Christian Charity by John Winthrop (1630). A sermon preached aboard one of the ships carrying the Puritans to New England.
The Boston Covenant (1630)
The Watertown Covenant (1630)
The Humble Request of the Puritan emigrants (1630)
The Oath of a Freeman, including a list of men who took this oath (1630-36)
Advertisements to Planters of New England, by Capt. John Smith (1631)
Advertisements, continued, by Capt. John Smith (1631)
Letter to William Pond (1631)
The Indictment of Galileo (1633) The height of the conflict between religion and science.
The Glorious Work in Maryland, Andrew White, S.J. (1633)
Account of A Maryland Jesuit (1634)
Excerpts From Lion Gardiner’s Journal (1635)
The Constitution of Plymouth Colony (1636)
The Salem Covenant (1636)
The Dedham Covenant (1636)
Winthrop’s Testimony (1636), the Boston Governor’s account of his Christian experience.
John Cotton Condemns Democracy (1636)
Transcript of The Trial of Anne Hutchinson (1636)
Revels in New Canaan, Thomas Morton (1637)
Description of Indians, Thomas Morton (1637)
Essay Against the Power of the Church To Sit in Judgement on the Civil Magistracy, John Winthrop, Esq. (1637) A treatise indicating an early desire among the Puritans to keep church and state separate.
Officers of the Commonwealth from 1630 to 1686.
Freemen of the Commonwealth: the complete rolls from 1630 to 1636.
Sermons of Thomas Shephard
Letter of Thomas Shephard to his son at Harvard College
Residents of New Towne, (later called Cambridge) from the original town Court records, 1632-1635, alphabetized.
The Memoir of Capt. Roger Clapp (1609 -1691) Events in Massachusetts Bay Colony to about the year 1640.
The National Covenant (1639) Scotland’s declaration of resistance to Charles I.
Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) Acknowledged by scholars to be a prototype of the U.S. constitution.
The New Hampshire Compact (1639)
The Exeter Covenant (1639)
Description of New England Indians, William Wood (1639)
John Winthrop’s Journal, John Winthrop (excerpts), Tremendous and valuable insights into the mind of the Puritan leader.
The Wicked Capitalism of Robert Keayne, John Winthrop (1639) A merchant named Robert Keayne was practicing capitalistic economics in Boston and was squarely rebuked for it by John Cotton and Governor Winthrop.
Laws Regulating the Price of Tobacco in Virginia (1639-40)
A Brief Discourse Concerning the Power of Peers, John Selden (1640)
The First Constitution of Rhode Island (1640) A document guaranteeing liberty of conscience.
The Bay Psalm Book (1640) With an Introduction written by Richard Mather.
New England’s First Fruits, The first written history regarding the founding of Harvard College (@1640)
Court Records of Springfield, Massachusetts, Including information about crimes and punishments.
Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) Early written expression of the liberties asserted by the colonists in reaction to the oppressions of European governments.
The Citizen, Thomas Hobbes (1641-47) Discussion of the natural law foundations of government.
Protestation (1641) An oath taken by British citizens loyal to the Puritan interests in Parliament.
Declaration to Justify Their Proceedings and Resolutions to Take Up Arms (1642) Thomas Jefferson, in his Autobiography,said that this Puritan “precedent” was an inspiration to the American cause.
The True Constitution of a Particular Visible Church, by John Cotton (1642)
Massachusetts Bay School Laws (1642) Requiring that every father teach his children the Catechism; if not, the children shall be taken from the home.
Harvard College Admission and Graduation Requirements (1642-1700)
Jesuit Encounters With the Indians (1642-43)
The Establishment of the United Colonies of New England (1643) The first attempt at a union of colonies, foreshadowing the United States. This document combines several colonies together for the primary purpose of national defense. This is the first document resembling a federal constitution in America.
Religio Medici, Thomas Browne (1643) The Religion of a Physician; showing the link between religion and Enlightenment science in the 17th century.
The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience, Roger Williams
A Plea for Religious Liberty, Roger Williams (1644) Early expression of the principle of religious tolerance by the founder of the colony of Rhode Island.
The Solemn League and Covenant (1643-44) The document which allied the Scotch Presbyterians and the Puritans in their struggle against Charles I.
First-Hand Military Accounts of the English Civil War
Lex Rex This treatise systematized the Calvinistic political theories which had developed over the previous century. Rutherford was a colleague of John Locke’s parents. Most of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government is reflective of Lex Rex. From Rutherford and other Commonwealthmen such as George Lawson, through Locke, these theorists provided the roots of the Declaration of Independence. This page provides the list of questions Lex Rex addresses.
Lex Rex, Samuel Rutherford (1644).
Lex, Rex, Samuel Rutherford (1644). This excerpt shows Rutherford’s social contract theory and includes the Puritan theory of resistance to a tyrant.
Areopagitica, John Milton (1644). A treatise arguing that true Christianity can win its own arguments, and does not need to worry about challenges from other points of view, and therefore, the Government should not prevent the publication of any ideas. This idea was later articulated by Locke in his Letters Concerning Toleration, and picked up by Madison and Jefferson in their establishment of religious liberty in the U.S.
A Description of New Amsterdam by Isaac Joques (1644)
Description of the Iroquois, Rev. John Megapolensis (1644)
Massachusetts Government Vindicated, John Winthrop (1644)
On Liberty , John Winthrop (1645) Discusses liberties demanded by the colonists.
Hypocricie Unmasked (London, 1646). This is a religious treatise written by Edward Winslow.
The Character of A Puritan, John Geree (1646)
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) In addition to being the decree of Parliament as the standard for Christian doctrine in the British Kingdom, it was adopted as the official statement of belief for the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Although slighlty altered and called by different names, it was the creed of Congregationalist, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches throughout the English speaking world. Assent to the Westminster Confession was officially required at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Princeton scholar, Benjamin Warfield wrote: “It was impossible for any body of Christians in the [English] Kingdoms to avoid attending to it.”
The Westminster Catechism (1646) Second only to the Bible, the “Shorter Catechism” of the Westminster Confession was the most widely published piece of literature in the pre-revolutionary era in America. It is estimated that some five million copies were available in the colonies. With a total population of only four million people in America at the time of the Revolution, the number is staggering. The Westminster Catechism was not only a central part of the colonial educational curriculum, learning it was required by law. Each town employed an officer whose duty was to visit homes to hear the children recite the Catechism. The primary schoolbook for children, the New England Primer, included the Catechism. Daily recitations of it were required at these schools. Their curriculum included memorization of the Westminster Confession and the Westminster Larger Catechism. There was not a person at Independence Hall in 1776 who had not been exposed to it, and most of them had it spoon fed to them before they could walk.
A Petition to Establish the Laws of England in America (1646)
New England’s Salamander Discovered (London, 1647). This is another religious treatise written by Edward Winslow.
The Old Deluder Act (1647)
The Simple Cobbler of Aggawamm in America, Nathaniel Ward (1647).
An Agreement of the People (1647) A proposal for a republican government in England.
The Laws of Massachusetts (1648)
The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) An attempt at religious peace in Europe.
Blue Laws, New Haven
The Original Indian Deed for East-Hampton (1648)
The Cambridge Platform (1649)
The Maryland Toleration Act (1649)
King Charles I’s Speech at His Trial (1649); Including Judge Bradshaw’s response appealing to social contract theory.
The Execution of Charles I Stuart (1649)
King Charles I’s Speech Just Before His Execution (1649)
Of the Non-Compelling of Heathens, Samuel Rutherford (1649) Exploring the extent to which a government can coerce religious conformity.
An Agreement of the Free People of England (1649) The manifesto of the Levellers, the leaders of the 1649 English Civil War that deposed Charles I and brought a period of parliamentary rule. It expresses many of the ideals that later inspired the American Revolution.
The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1650) by John Milton in defense of the execution of Charles I by the British Parliament a few days after its occurance. It includes an excellent evaluation and summation of the political literature produced on the Continent in the 16th Century. Charles I was the first monarch executed in Europe by his subjects, setting the stage for a religious struggle which would grip Britain for several decades to come. The language and spelling of this edition has been done directly from the 1650 edition.
Works of John Milton
Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes (1651) Laid basis for social contract theory, providing branching point for the theories of constitutionalism and fascism.
Salem Residents, to the year 1651
The Gospel Covenant, Rev. Peter Bulkely (1651)
Sumptuary Laws in New England (1651) Laws regarding what one may and may not wear.
The Deed Assignment to the Inhabitants of East-Hampton (1651)
The Instrument of Government, 1653; The Constitution of the English Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. Many of the founders, such as Samuel Adams, considered Oliver Cromwell their hero, and considered the Commonwealth as the glory years of England.
Healing Question, Sir Henry Vane, 1656, published the following tract, expounding the principles of civil and religious liberty, and proposed that method of forming a constitution, through a convention called for the purpose, which was actually followed in America after the Revolution.
The Commonwealth of Oceana, James Harrington (1656) Outline of a plan for republican government.
The Flushing Remonstrance (1657) Proclamation granting liberty to “Jews, Muslims, and Quakers” on Long Island, New York, on the grounds of New Testament graciousness. Extremely progressive for the American colonies.
Goody Garlick Testimony in Witchcraft Trial (1657)
Forward to the Revision of the New Plymouth Laws (1658)
A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes; Showing That it Is Not Lawful For Any Power on Earth to Compel in Matters of Religion, John Milton (1659). A formative influence upon the ideals of religious toleration adopted by John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
The Declaration of Breda, King Charles II Stuart (1660), As the Stuart King was to be restored to the throne after the end of the reign of the Puritan Protectorates, one of his first decisions was to attempt to avoid another religious war, by granting religious liberty to “tender consciences,” so long as they did not disturb the peace.
The Restoration of Charles II to the Throne of England (1660); A Declaration of Both Houses of Parliament.
Excerpts from the Navigation Acts, 1660-1696, The first Parliamentary legislation toward the colonies which would lead to the colonial rebellion of the eighteenth century.
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, [excerpt on predestination] Francis Turretin (1660) The principle textbook used by students in American colleges in the 18th century (used at Princeton into the late 19th century).
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Francis Turretin (1660). Excerpts.
Narrative of the Pequot War, Lion Gardiner (1660)
Narrative of the Pequot War, John Mason
The Status of Religion in Virginia (1661)
Court Records Dealing with Runaway Slaves in Virginia
The Book of Common Prayer (1662) As the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell came to an end and Charles II was restored to the throne of England, the Church of England once again introduced a new Book of Common Prayer. This was the guiding document for many throughout the American colonies, particularly in Virginia
The Anglican Catechism (1662) The document which provided the religious training for many of the founding fathers of the U.S. (e.g., Washington, Madison, Henry, Wythe, Mason).
Connecticut Colony Charter (1662)
Deposition of Phineas Pratt (1662) Recounting the settlement at Plymouth
The Day of Doom and other Poems, Michael Wigglesworth (1662)
Death Penalties in Maryland (1664)
Fines and Punishments in Massachusetts (1664-1682)
Witchcraft Trials in New York (1665)
Excerpts From The Duke of York’s Laws (1665-75)
A Description of Carolina, Robert Horne (1666)
The Nicolls Patent (1666)
Paradise Lost, John Milton (1667)
Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, John Locke (1669)
Theologico-Political Treatise, Baruch de Spinoza (1670) Discussed the ultimate source of legitimate political power.
Groton in Witchcraft Times, Samuel Green, ed. (c.1671)
De Jure Naturae, Samuel Puffendorf (1672, tr. Basil Kennett 1703)
De Officio Hominis Et Civis Juxta Legem Naturalem Libri Duo , Samuel Pufendorf (1673). The political theorist of choice among American Puritans in the early 18th century.
Works of John Bunyan, According to Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, Bunyan was his “favorite author.”
Quaker Documents I A tremendous library of 17th and 18th century Quaker writings.
Quaker Documents II
First Thanksgiving Proclamation (1676)
A Compleat Body of Divinity, Samuel Willard. The primary textbook used at Harvard College.
The New England Primer, The best-selling textbook used by children in the colonial period. Millions of copies were in print. Filled with Calvinist principles, the influence of this little document is inestimable.
Memoir… Dangers That Threaten Canada and the Means to Remedy Them, January 1687
Bacon’s Declaration in the Name of the People, 30 July 1676
On Bacon’s Rebellion, Governor William Berkely, 19 May 1676
The Captivity of Mary Rowlandson (1676)
Political Treatise, Baruch de Spinoza (1677) Constitutional considerations of various forms of government, including ideas that later influenced the Founders.
Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry (1678)
Poems for Her Husband, Anne Bradstreet (1678)
Edward Taylor’s Poems
Habeas Corpus Act (1679) English Parliament established key right which was embraced in America.
Findings of the New England Synod (1679), a “Jeremiad.”
Patriarcha, Robert Filmer. A treatise defending the “divine right of Kings.” This was the document which Locke and Sydney both had in mind as they wrote their political tracts which formed the American founders’ political theory. Although this was written around 1640 in defense of Charles I’s divine right, it was not published until 1680.
Bill to Exclude the Duke of York (1680), Attempts by the Whig Party to keep James II off the throne.
The Pueblo Revolt (1680)
Proposals for the Carrying on the Negro’s Christianity, Morgan Goodwyn (1681).
Plato Redivivus, Henry Neville (1681)
Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1682) Early model for written constitutions.
Some Fruits of Solitude In Reflections And Maxims, William Penn (1682)
William Penn to His Family (1682)
Petition for a Democratic Government (1682)
Condemnation of the Massachussetts Bay Company, Edward Randolph, 12 June 1683
The Original Constitution of New York (1683)
Causes of King Phillip’s War, Edward Randolph (1685)
Instructions to Sir Edmund Andros (1686)
Charter of East Hampton (1686)
Scottish Declaration of Toleration (1686)
Commercial Orders to Governor Andros (1686-1687)
Principia, Isaac Newton (1687) One of the three most significant influences upon Jefferson.
On the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, Samuel Pufendorf (1688) Based law and right on natural law.
James II Creates the Dominion of New England, April 7, 1688
Parliament Invites William of Orange to England (1688)
Declaration of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal (1688) Parliament pledges its loyalty to William and Mary.
The Full Text of Huntington’s Declaration of Rights
Orders For Sending Sir Edmund Andros To England (1689)
The King’s Oath (1689) Established the requirement that the monarch uphold “the Protestant reformed religion”
English Bill of Rights (1689) Early model for recognizing natural rights in writing. Much of its language appeared later in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.
Second Treatise on Government John Locke (1689) Principal proponent of the social contract theory which forms the basis for modern constitutional republican government.
A Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke (1689) Classic statement of the case for toleration of those holding different views.
The Reasonableness of Christianity, John Locke.
Toleration Act of William and Mary (1689)
The Boston Uprising, Samuel Prince (1689)
The London Confession of Faith (1689) Drawn from the Westminster Confession, this document set for the beliefs of English Baptists during this era.
The Re-Establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland (1690)
Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, Cotton Mather (1698)
Discourses Concerning Government, Table of Contents. Algernon Sidney (1698) Built principles of popular government from foundation of natural law and the social contract. This book has been considered by scholars the “textbook of the American Revolution.”
Discourses Concerning Government, Algernon Sidney, excerpts.
Journal of George Fox, Founder of the Quakers.
Transcripts of the Salem Witch Trials (1692) This is one of the web’s best and most complete primary source documents, containing all of the court records of the Salem Witch trials. An invaluable resource.
The Confession of Anne Foster at Salem (1692)
Wonders of the Invisible World (excerpts), Cotton Mather (1693)
Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits, Increase Mather (1693)
The Character of a Good Ruler, Samuel Willard (1694)
Penn’s Plan for a Union (1697)
Judge Samuel Sewall Repents His Participation in the Salem Witch Trials (1697)
The Story of Squanto, Cotton Mather (1698)
The Execution of Hugh Stone, Cotton Mather (1698)
An Account of West Jersey and Pennsylvania, Gabriel Thomas (1698)
Eighteenth Century Sources Which Profoundly Impacted American History
One Hundred Documents Pertaining to Africans and Slavery in America Massive collection of primary sources regarding slavery in America.
The Selling of Joseph, Samuel Sewall (1700) An argument against the slave trade.
A Memorial Representing the Present State of Religion on the Continent of North America , Thomas Bray, D.D. (1700) Documenting the Anglican view of the colonists and appended with a proposition to found the SPG (Society for Progating the Gospel).
King William Addresses Parliament on the French Question, 31 December 1701
A Christian At His Calling, Cotton Mather (1701)
Magnalia Christi Americana, Cotton Mather (1702)
Robert Beverley on Bacon’s Rebellion (1704)
Money and Trade Considered With a Proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money, by John Law (1705)
Slave Laws in Virginia (1642-1705)
The Repentance of a Salem Witchcraft Accuser, Ann Putnam (1706)
Act of Union (1707) The document creating “Great Britain”
Philosophical Commentary, Pierre Bayle (1708) A writer recommended by Thomas Jefferson, Bayle criticised French Catholic persecution of Protestants; and argued for toleration as a matter of Biblical principle.
William Byrd’s Diary [excerpt] (1709)
William Byrd’s Diary [excerpts regarding slave punishments] (1709)
Theopolis Americana (“God’s City: America”), Cotton Mather (1709) This excerpt from Mather’s sermon shows how Mather, with other Puritans, believed that America was truly the “Promised Land.” This thinking led ultimately to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, whereby Anglo-Americans believed that it was their divine commission to spread their culture from Atlantic to Pacific.
Awakening Truths Tending to Conversion, Increase Mather (1710). A sermon wrestling with the paradox between predestination and man’s effort toward salvation. Mather appears nearly contradictory throughout.
About the Duties of Husbands and Wives, Benjamin Wadsworth (1712)
Curriculum of the Boston Latin Grammar School (1712)
The History of the Common Law of England, Matthew Hale (1713)
Documents Concerning the Jacobite Rebellion
The North Carolina Biennal Act (1715)
Vindication of the Government of New England Churches, John Wise (1717) A Puritan political sermon which included most of the principles of government embraced by the founders of the U.S.
The Angel of Bethesda, Cotton Mather. Here, as a watershed in the history of medical science in America, Mather takes a position in favor of inoculation.
Selections from Cato’s Letters, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon (1720-23) English newspaper articles advocating Whig principles, which much influenced the American colonists.
Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy A model for a federal system of government for several Native American nations, Franklin lauded the Iroquois for their ability to confederate.
Statutes of the College of William and Mary (1727) The rules governing the college where Thomas Jefferson received his training.
Massachusetts House of Representatives on the Governor’s Salary, 11 September 1728
Governor Burnet of Massachusetts on the Governor’s Salary, 17 September 1728
The Story of Venture Smith (1729-1809)
Plain Reasons for Presbyterians Dissenting, Andrew Clarkson (1731); arguing against unconditional submission to the National Church and magistrates.
Dissertation Upon Parties, Henry St. John Bolingbroke (1733). A heavy influence upon Jefferson.
Founding Vision for Georgia, General James Oglethorpe (1733)
Negotiations Regarding the Settlement of the Georgia Colony, Count Zinzendorf (1733)
Transcript of the Trial of Peter Zenger (1735)
Letters on the Study and Use of History, Henry St. John Bolingbroke (1735)
On Patriotism, Bolingbroke (1736)
Governor Gabriel Johnston’s request to repeal the Biennal act, 18 October 1736
Disposition of the North Carolina Biennal Act (1737)
The Idea of a Patriot King, Bolingbroke (1738)
Discourse on the Five Points [Of Calvinism], Daniel Whitby. The text which incited Jonathan Edwards to write his most important book, The Freedom of the Will.
On Efficacious Grace, John Gill (1738) Defense of Calvinism by a celebrated English Calvinist.
Intentions of the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) (1740) The desire of this group to land an Anglican Bishop in the American colonies ignited the American Revolution.
The True Scripture-Doctrine Concerning Some Important Points of the Christian Faith, Jonathan Dickinson (1741) Jonathan Dickinson was the first President of the College at Princeton, New Jersey. In this excerpt, Dickinson states that atheism is pure “stupidity” and “madness.” Dickinson’s opinion in this regard represented the consensus in America. Subsequently all of the founders of the United States were certain of the existence of a Deity. On the other hand, Dickinson here emphasizes the doctrine of Predestination, which was the central controversy of the eighteenth century in the Colonies. Colonists’ opinions were divided in this regard. Earlier in the century predestination was the majority view, but by the end of the century a belief in “free-will” had become prevalent among many such as Methodists.
The Works Of Jonathan Edwards , Enlightenment Philosopher, Theologian, Orator, Scientist; Edwards was the most important American-born Great Awakening preacher and defender of orthodox Calvinism.
Sermons of George Whitefield, Known for his supreme oratory skills, Whitefield was the most famous inter-colonial celebrity during the Great Awakening. The inter-colonial nature of Whitefield’s ministry was an important step in the development of the intercolonial union which commenced in the 1760’s and 70’s. A strong advocate of predestination, Whitefield entered into a bitter dispute with his Methodist colleague, John Wesley over the issue, and the movement was split.
The Works of John Wesley, An English preacher, Wesley developed the practice of itinerant preaching: out of doors, traveling long distances on horseback. Wesley was a strong opponent of the Calvinism which was prevalent in America.
Letters of John Wesley
The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants, Elisha Williams (1744) An excerpt explaining what makes something a person’s property, from a Boston minister who vigorously promoted liberty of conscience.
Regulations at Yale College (1745) Showing the centrality of Calvinism and the Westminster Confession in colonial higher education.
The Presence of Great God in the Assembly of Political Rulers, John Barnard (1746) A early warning against tyranny from one of Boston’s ministers.
Narrative of the Deliverance of Briton Hammond, An account of an African-American taken captive by Native Americans (1747)
The Principles of Natural Law, J. Burlamaqui, tr. Thomas Nugent (1748, tr. Thomas Nugent 1752) This was the textbook on political theory used at Harvard. It was this book that gave James Otis, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and John Adams their understanding of political science.
The Principles of Politic Law, J. Burlamaqui, tr. Thomas Nugent (1748, tr. Thomas Nugent 1752) Sequel to The Principles of Natural Law carrying natural law into constitutional law. Commentary on the ideas of Grotius, Hobbes, Puffendorf, Barbeyrac, Locke, Clarke, and Hutchinson.
The Spirit of Laws, Charles de Montesquieu, (1748, tr. Thomas Nugent 1752) Laid the foundations for the theory of republican government, particularly the concepts of the separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial, a federal republic, representatives elected from political subdivisions, a bicameral legislature, and a system of checks and balances. Montesquieu was the most frequently cited political theorist during the founding of the U.S.
An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy, James Steuart. Recommended by Jefferson as one of the best books on political science.
History of Massachusetts Bay, Thomas Hutchinson, excerpt regarding coinage.
Remarks on the Fable of the Bees, Frances Hutcheson (1750)
Indian Captivity Narrative, Mary Jemison (1750)
A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, Jonathan Mayhew (1750) About this document, John Adams wrote, “It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies… It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament.” This sermon has been called the spark which ignited the American Revolution. This illustrates that the Revolution was not only about stamps and taxes but also about religious liberty.
Petition to Parliament: Reasons for Making Bar, as well as Pig or Sow-iron (ca. 1750)
Petition to Parliament: Reason Against a General Prohibition of the Iron Manufacture in Plantations
Memoir on the English Aggression, October 1750
Memoir on the French Colonies in North America, December 1750
Adams, Franklin, and Madison: Accounts of Their Original Plans to be Christian Clergymen
Of Party Divisions, William Livingston (1753)
A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1754) Discussion on political inequality, its origins and implications.
A Discourse on Political Economy, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1755) Discussion on the economic principles affecting the politics of a society.
Dictionary, Samuel Johnson (1755) This was the standard dictionary of the late 18th century.
The Value and Purpose of Princeton College, Samuel Davies and Gilbert Tennent (1754); an appeal to British citizens to support the seminary which became Princeton University.
Religion and Patriotism the Constituents of a Good Soldier, Samuel Davies (1755). Davies, a Presbyterian preacher and president of the College at Princeton, here interprets the French and Indian war as a religious war. In this excerpt from a sermon preached in Virginia, Davies rouses the anti-Catholic sentiment of his hearers to rally them to arms against the French in the Ohio country.
Military Documents of the French and Indian War
Primary Sources Pertaining to the French and Indian War
A Complete Poem by Jupiter Hammon (1760)
The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1762) Discussed legitimate government as the expression of the general will.
The Curse of Cowardice, Samuel Davies (1758)
Against the Writs of Assistance, James Otis (1761)
The Role of the Indians in the Rivalry Between France, Spain, and England , Governor Glen (1761)
Elements of Criticism, Lord Kaims [Henry Homes] (1762), Highly recommended by Jefferson, in this excerpt Kaims discusses the problems with fiction.
Treaty of Paris (1763) Ended the French and Indian War and gave the English control of all the land east of the Mississippi River.
Acts of Parliament concerning the American Colonies
- The Royal Proclamation of 1763 Forbid colonists from crossing the Appalachians.
- The Currency Act, 1764
- The Sugar Act, 1764
- The Quartering Act, 1765
- The Stamp Act, 1765 Precipitated the “Stamp Act Crisis” which fomented rebellion throughout the colonies
- The Declaratory Act, 1766 The English Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but couldn’t leave well enough alone, and adopted this statement of parliamentary supremacy over the British colonies.
- The Townshend Act, 1767
- The Tea Act, 1773
- The Administration of Justice Act, 1774
- The Boston Port Act, 1774
- The Massachusetts Government Act, 1774
- The Quebec Act, 1774
- The Quartering Act, 1774
The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, James Otis (1764)
Blackstone’s Commentaries (1765) Considered the book that “lost the colonies” for England. This text delineates the legal principles of common law which ensure the fundamental rights of Englishmen. Blackstone was quoted by the colonists twice as often as they quoted Locke.
Blackstone’s Contents (1765)
“Offenses Against God and Religion,” William Blackstone (1765). Showing the common understanding that the integrity of the judicial system depends upon the participants’ belief in God.
“Offenses Against the Public Peace” William Blackstone (1765)
“On Husband And Wife”, William Blackstone (1765)
Considerations, Daniel Dulany, October 1765
The Objections to the Taxation Consider’d, Soame Jenyns (1765)
The Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress, October 19, 1765
The Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Act Congress (1765) Developed the concept that people could not legitimately be taxed except by their elected representatives.
William Pitt’s Speech on the Stamp Act, January 14, 1766
Examination of Benjamin Franklin in the House of Commons (1766)
On Crimes and Punishments, Cesare Beccaria (1766) Set out rights of the accused in criminal proceedings. Argues for crime prevention over punishment, and against the death penalty and torture.
On the History of Civil Society, Adam Ferguson
John Dickinson’s Letter 2, from Letters from a Farmer, 1767-1768
John Dickinson’s Letter 4, from Letters from a Farmer, 1767-1768
On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants, Gottlieb Mittelberger
An Election Sermon, Daniel Shute; Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts-Bay, 26 May 1768.
Charter of Dartmouth College (1769)
Virginia Nonimportation Resolutions (1769)
Excerpts From Mary Cooper’s Diary (1769)
Daniel Boone’s Journal
Anna Bergen Rapelje’s Full Manuscript (1770-1797)
The Boston Massacre, The Boston Gazette, 12 March 1770
Anonymous Account of the Boston Massacre, 5 March, 1770
Captain Thomas Preston’s account of the Boston Massacre, 13 March 1770
The Hymnbook of Isaac Watts, After the Bible and the Catechism, this was the third most commonly used book in colonial New England.
The Rights of the Colonists, Samuel Adams (1772) John Adams indicated that all the concepts which Jefferson later set forth in the Declaration of Independence were first introduced here.
An Oration on the Beauties of Liberty, Reverend John Allen (1772)
Oration Deliverd at Boston, Joseph Warren (1772)
Second Oration Delivered at Boston, Joseph Warren (1772)
Journal of John Woolman
An Election Sermon, Simeon Howard (1773) Demonstrating that an armed war against a tyrant was a Christian’s duty.
The Sovereign Decrees of God, Isaac Backus (1773)
Eyewitness Account of the Boston Tea Party, George Hewes (1773)
Resolution of the Virginia House of Burgesses for Establishing an Intercolonial Committee of Correspondence (1773)
Early Virginia Religious Petitions (1774-1802) Thomas Jefferson, a member of the Virginia Committee on Religion, was greatly impacted by these petitions in developing his thoughts about religious liberty.
Boston Massacre Oration, John Hancock (1774)
A Plea Before the Massachusetts Legislature, Isaac Backus (1774)
Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament, James Wilson (1774)To the Inhabitants of the Several Anglo-American Colonies, William Livingston (1774)Declaration of Colonial Rights of the Continental Congress (1774) John Adams said that the Declaration of Independence was not much more than a recapitulation of this document.First Prayer Given in the Continental Congress, Rev. Jacob Duche (1774)
Journals of the Continental Congress, 34 Volumes. This invaluable collection of documents tells what took place in Philadelphia as the United States was being birthed.
Resolution of the House of Burgesses in Virginia (1774) This resolution was inspired by similar resolutions made in the Puritan Revolution of 1641; the Burgesses resolved to commit their crisis to prayer and fasting.
Sermon on Civil Liberty, Nathaniel Niles (1774) An example of how clergymen stoked the revolutionary spirit.
The Olive Branch Petition (1774). This document is a last-ditch attempt to mend the tears between Britain and America. But George III never read this petition.
A Plan for the Union of Great Britain and the Colonies, Joseph Galloway (1774)
The Suffolk Resolves, Joseph Warren (1774)
Phyllis Wheatley to Samson Occam (1774)
Works of Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress
Authors Most Frequently Cited by the Founders
John Adams Discusses the Historic Sources Which Provided the Intellectual Foundations of American Political Theory
Documents of the Founding Fathers, This is the most comprehensive site online featuring the writings of the founding fathers.
Works of Benjamin Franklin
- A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity (1725), A little known theological work in which Franklin made a metaphysical argument for predestination and against free-will. Franklin concluded that all things are ultimately good, because God is in total control and God is good.
- The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, The most complete site containing Franklin’s works.
- Franklin’s Advice Concerning His Friend’s Sexual Affairs (1745), Illustrating a side of Franklin’s character which is seldom exposed.
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1733)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1734)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1735)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1736)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1737)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1738)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1739)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1740)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1741)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1742)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1743)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1744)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1745)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1746)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard (1747)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard Improved (1748)
- Franklin, Benjamin: Poor Richard Improved (1752)
- Observations and Suppositions Towards Forming a New Hypothesis for Explaining the Several Phenomena of Thunder Gusts, (1749) The insights which led to Franklin’s famous Kite experimentation, which, in turn, gave Franklin his international reputation which mattered greatly as the U.S. was being birthed.
- Observations on the Increase of Mankind (1751)
- Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
- Albany Plan for a Union (1754) Ben Franklin’s first attempt to Unite the States.
- In Defense of a Plan for Colonial Union, Benjamin Franklin (1754) Arguments in favor of the Albany Plan of Union, which was rejected as too democratic.
- Benjamin Franklin, How I Became a Printer in Philadelphia
- Franklin’s Motion for Prayer at the Constitutional Convention
- Franklin’s Advice to Thomas Paine Regarding the Age of Reason, In this letter, Franklin advises Paine to burn his manuscript of the Age of Reason, because it undermines religious ideals.
- Franklin’s Tentative Approval of the Constitution
- Franklin’s last Letter to Ezra Stiles, Detailing Franklin’s religious opinions
- Ben Franklin’s Will
Works of Sam Adams
- Writings of Samuel Adams One of the most thorough internet sites of its kind including numerous letters and newspaper articles.
Works of George Washington
- Prayer Journal
- Papers of George Washington (Library of Congress). This is the most comprehensive source on the web for documents authored by George Washington.
- Rules for Civility (1744)
- Journal (1754)
- Braddock’s Defeat (1755)
- Letter to Presbyterians
- Letter to State Governments
- General Orders, July 2, 1776
- Letter to John Hancock, September 24, 1776
- The Battle of Trenton (1776)
- Testimony about George Washington Praying at Valley Forge, 1778
- Address to the Members of the Volunteer Association and Other Inhabitants… , December 2, 1783
- Letter to George Chapman, December 15, 1784 (On importance of education)
- Letter to Robert Morris, April 12, 1786 (On the abolition of slavery)
- Letter to the President of the Continental Congress, September 17, 1787
- First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789
- Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May 10, 1789
- Excerpts from Drafts of the First Inaugural Address (1789)
- Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789)
- First Annual Message, January 8, 1790 (Order of business for a young Union)
- Excerpts of Washington’s Diaries (1790)
- Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, August, 1790 (On what is a just and good government)
- Proclamation of Neutrality, 1793
- The Diary of George Washington 30 September-19 October 1794
- Letter to the Vice President, November 15, 1794
- Letter to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, January 28, 1795 (On education and establishment of a university)
- Farewell Address, September 19, 1796 (Public opinion should be enlightened)
- Papers of George Washington (Yale Library)
- Last Will And Testament of George Washington (1799)
- Several Obituaries of George Washington
- George Washington’s Adopted Daughter Discusses Washington’s Religious Character Nelly Custis lived with the Washingtons at Mt. Vernon for twenty years (1779 until 1799). As a daily observer of his life, she was qualified perhaps more than any other to assess George Washington’s religion (even perhaps more than George himself, who was reluctant to speak about his own religious affections).
- Mason Weems’ Biography of George Washington (1800), the classic source for most of the greatest stories about George Washington, including the “cherry tree” story.
Works of John Adams
- Diary of John Adams, excerpts illustrating Adams’ sentiments regarding religion.
- Liberty of Conscience Traced to Back Calvin’s Geneva (1776)
- Letter to James Sullivan, May 26, 1776 (On women and voting rights)
- Letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776 (On reason, honor, and love of liberty)
- Correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, March-April 1776 (On nature and liberty)
- Abigail Adams’ Correspondence
- “Discourse on Davila–XV,” 1776 (Contrast of natural equality and inequalities)
- “Thoughts on Government”, 1776 (On republican government)
- A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law
- Defense of the American Constitutions, An important excerpt in which Adams recommends various writings of Protestant political theorists
- Appendix to the Defence of the Constitutions, 1787 (On the good effects of local institutions)
- John Adams Inaugural Address (1797)
- The Constitution is Inadequate to Govern Atheists, 1798
- Message to the Senate on the Death of George Washington, December 23, 1799
- Letters to Benjamin Rush and Samuel Miller, illustrating Adams’ hatred for Thomas Paine and his admiration for Calvinists.
- American Independence Achieved Upon the Principles of Christianity (1813)
- Letter to Evans, June 8, 1819 (The founding’s opposition to slavery)
- Letter to H. Niles, February 13, 1818 (On the Revolution as a religious revolution of ideas and principles)
- Letter to Timothy Pickering, August 6, 1822. Detailing Adams’ recollection of the production of the Declaration of Independence. Adams states here that there is not an idea in the Declaration which had not been hackneyed in Congress for two years before. According to Adams, the substance of the Declaration is contained in the in the Declaration of Colonial Rights of the Continental Congress, and the essence of it is contained in The Rights of the Colonists, written before the first Congress met, by Samuel Adams.
- The Papers of John Adams, This is the best source of material written by John Adams that is available on the web.
Works of Thomas Jefferson
- Notes on the State of Virginia
- Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence
- Declaration of Independence, 4 July, 1776
- Jefferson’s Bible
- Jefferson’s Manual For Parliamentary Procedure
- Draft for a Bill for Establishing Relgious Freedom (1779)
- Letter to the Danbury Baptists (1802). Source of the phrase “wall of separation between church and state.”
- Papers of Thomas Jefferson This is the best site online that contains documents authored by Thomas Jefferson.
Annual and Special messages to Congress
- First Annual Message to Congress
- Second Annual Message to Congress
- Third Annual Message to Congress
- Fourth Annual Message to Congress
- Fifth Annual Message to Congress
- Sixth Annual Message to Congress
- Seventh Annual Message to Congress
- Eighth Annual Message to Congress
- Special Message on the Burr Conspiracy
- Special Message on Gun-Boats
Messages to Congress
- Message to the Senate of April 8, 1802 Regarding Article 6 of the Jay Treaty
- Message to the House of December 30, 1802 Transmitting a letter from Manuel de Salcedo, Governor of Louisiana to William Claiborne Regarding the Treaty with Spain of 1795
- Message to the Senate of January 11, 1803 Regarding Louisiana
- Message to the Senate of October 17, 1803 Regarding the Louisiana Purchase
- Message to the Senate and House of October 21, 1803 Regarding the Louisiana Purchase
- Message to the Senate and House of January 16, 1804 Regarding the Louisiana Purchase
- To the Brothers of the Choctaw Nation
- To Brother Handsome Lake
- To Brother John Baptist de Coigne
- To the Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation
- To the Wolf and People of the Mandan Nation
- Draft Constitution for Virginia
- Draft Declaration and Protest of the Commonwealth of Virginia
- Draft of the Kentucky Resolutions – October 1798
- Kentucky Resolution (1799)
- From the Minutes of the Board of Visitors, University of Virginia, 1822 – 1825
- Observations on the Whale – Fishery
- Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank
- Opinion on the French Treaties
- Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States
- Report on the Privileges and Restrictions on the Commerce of the United States in Foreign Counies
- Report on Government for Western Territory
- Resolutions of Congress on Lord North’s Conciliatory Proposal
- A Summary View Of The Rights Of British America
Works of James Madison
- Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, James Madison. These are the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, an essential guide to interpreting the intent of the Framers.
- Works of James Madison, Probably the best such source available online at this time.
- James Madison, First Inaugural (1809)
- James Madison, Second Inaugural (1813)
- The Federalist Papers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay (1787-88) Arguments for ratification of the proposed Constitution.
- Memorial and Remonstrance (Virginia, 1785)
- James Madison, speech proposing the Bill of Rights, June 8, 1789
- Detached Memoranda (>1817), detailing Madison’s views of the importance of no religious establishments
- Letter to F.L. Schaeffer (1821) in which Madison credits Luther with leading the way for the appropriate distinction between church and state.
The Works of Thomas Paine
- The American Crisis, 1776 – 1783
- Common Sense (1776)
- African Slavery in America (1775)
- Age Of Reason (1795)
- The Age of Reason – Part 1 Paine demonstrates the absurdity of a word of God existing in print. As a Deist, Paine believed that the true word of God is nature.
- The Age of Reason – Part 2 Paine demonstrates that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament can be the Word of God.
- Agrarian Justice
- Answer to Bishop LLandaff Publication of The Age of Reason generated a storm of controversy. One of Paine’s critics was Bishop Llandaff, who published a detailed rebuttal to The Age of Reason. This is Paine’s reply to that rebuttal.
- Biblical Blasphemy
- Dissertation on First Principles of Government (1795)
- An Essay On Dream (1807)
- Examination of the Prophecies (1807)
- The Existence of God
- Letter to Andrew Dean (1806) Thomas Paine on death and Christianity.
- Letters Concerning “The Age of Reason” (1797-1803) Thomas Paine’s correspondence concerning The Age of Reason . Includes correspondence with Samuel Adams.
- Of the Religion of Deism Compared with the Christian Religion In this hard-hitting article, Paine argues that Deism is superior to Christianity.
- Origin of Free-Masonry (1818)
- Prospect Papers (1804)
- Rights Of Man (1792)
- Worship and Church Bells (1797)
American Revolution Military Documents
- First-hand Account of the Midnight Ride, Paul Revere (1775)
- The Royal Proclamation of Rebellion (1775)
- First-Hand Accounts of Revolutionary War Battles
- Military Records of the American Revolution
- Espionage Documents of the American Revolution
- The Battle of Bunker Hill, Major-General Sir John Burgoyne to Lord Stanley, June 1775
- The Battle of Bunker Hill, Lieutenant J. Waller, First Royal Marine Battalion, to His Brother, Camp of Charlestown Heights, 22 June 1775
- The Battle of Trenton , George Washington (1776)
- The Recruiting Service, Captain Alexander Graydon, 1776
- Army Life, Captain Georg Pausch, 8 September 1776
- Christopher Vail’s Journal (1775-1782)
- Nathan Hale’s Capture (1776)
- The Battle of Saratoga , Hessian Account (1777)
- Saratoga , Major-General Burgoyne to his nieces, Albany, 20 October 1777
- Washington at Brandywine, Captain Ferguson, 70th Foot, September 1777
- From the Diary of a Surgeon at Valley Forge, Albigence Waldo (1777)
- Letters from Valley Forge (1778)
- Alliance with France (1778)
- Papers of General Nathaniel Greene
- US-France: Treaty of Amity and Commerce February 6, 1778
- Comments on Hessian Troops, Lieutenant W. Hale, Philadelphia, 23 March 1778
- Monmouth Court House, Lieutenant Hale, Neversunk, 4 July 1778
- Treaty with the Delawares (1778)
- Benedict Arnold’s Treason and other Spy Documents (1780)
- Washington’s Headquarters, Francois Jean, Marquis de Chastellux, 1780
- The Norfolk Chronicle , Saturday, February 17, 1781
- The Surrender of Cornwalis (1781)
- From the Diary of Ebenezer Denny (1781) describing the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown
- Contract Between the King and the Thirteen United States of North America, signed at Versailles July 16, 1782
- Preliminary Articles of Peace, U.S. and Great Britain, 30 November 1782
- Declarations for Suspension of Arms and Cessation of Hostilities, Signed at Versailles January 20, 1783
- Journal, John Paul Jones; Naval Hero
- Treaty of Paris (1783)
- George III Laments the Loss of the Colonies
Letters of the Founding Fathers, The most comprehensive source for letters written by the members of the Continental Congress.
Works of Ethan Allen, Revolutionary War hero and Deist.
The Farmer Refuted, Alexander Hamilton (1775). In this defense of the American cause in response to an Anglican minister’s criticism of the revolution, Hamilton states that laws, rights, and political principles are all based in the existence and law of God.
John Newton Criticizing Arminians (1775) A letter from the author of “Amazing Grace” claiming that repentance is the not key to atonement.
Daniel Leonard’s Letter of January 9, 1775
Defensive War in a Just Cause Sinless, David Jones (1775). Sermon justifying the revolution.
Speech on Conciliation with America, Edmund Burke, March 22, 1775; Burke describes the character of the American colonists and links their commitment to liberty to their Protestantism.
Government Corrupted by Vice, and Recovered by Righteousness, Samuel Langdon, May 31, 1775; This sermon preached a year before Jefferson wrote his declaration, included this phrase: “By the law of nature, any body of people, destitute of order and government, may form themselves into a civil society, according to their best prudence, and so provide for their common safety and advantage.”
On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Nonresistance, Jonathan Boucher (1775)
A Calm Address To Our American Colonies, John Wesley (1775)
The American Vine, Jacob Duche (1775)
The Charlotte Town Resolves (1775) Resolutions of Presbyterians of Mecklenberg, North Carolina.
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, Patrick Henry (1775). Famous oration which motivated Southerners to join in the battle already taking place in New England.
Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, Jefferson and Dickinson, July 6, 1775. This document was inspired by the Puritan Declaration of August, 1642, “Declaration of the Lords and Commons to Justify Their Taking Up Arms,” available in John Rushworth, ed., Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, Weighty Matters in Law, Remarkable Proceedings in Five Parliaments (1680-1722),vol. 4, pp. 761-768.
Yankee Doodle The anthem of the Continental Army
The Church’s Flight into the Wilderness, Samuel Sherwood, January 17, 1776; A sermon which labels British tyranny Satanic.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason (1776) Unquestionably a document which Jefferson had in mind when writing the Declaration of Independence.
Sources of the Declaration of Independence (1776) Documents which prove that Jefferson modeled the Declaration largely upon the 1689 Declaration of Rights .
The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, John Witherspoon, May 1776. This sermon was preached by a member of the Second Continental Congress during the period in which the members were deciding upon American Independence.
The Declaration of Independence (1776) According to recent scholarship, this document was modeled after the Dutch Calvinist Declaration of Independence. In other words, this statement of basic principles was simply a restatement of what Protestant Political theorists and preachers had been saying for centuries.
Reflections on the Mood at the time of the Signing, Benjamin Rush
State Constitutions A collection of the constitutions of each colony.
Religious Clauses of State Constitutions Demonstrating that most states had establishments of religion.
On the Right to Rebel against Governors, Samuel West (1776)
The True Interest of America Impartially Stated, Charles Inglis (1776). A statement of an American loyal to the King.
Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1776). The manual for capitalism, the economic backbone of the United States. Jefferson said this was the best book of its kind.
Resolves of the Continental Congress
Divine Judgements Upon Tyrants, Jacob Cushing, April 20, 1778; a sermon on the three year anniversary of the war.
Election Sermon, Phillips Payson (1778)
Defensive Arms Vindicated (1779) A sermon vindicating the activity of General George Washington.
A Sermon on the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution, Samuel Cooper (1780)
U.S. Articles of Confederation The first Constitution of the United States.
The Origins and Progress of the American Revolution Peter Oliver (1781). Oliver, a tory, names the persons he feels are most responsible for the rebellion. James Otis and the Calvinist clergy (“black regiment”) were the chief culprits.
United States Articles of Confederation (1781)
Annuit Coeptis (1782), the religious motto for the U.S.A. that was approved by the founding fathers.
Letters From an American Farmer, Crevecour (1782)
Essay on Money, John Witherspoon, Presbyterian theologian and president of Princeton University.
Sketches of American Policy, Noah Webster (1785)
Memorial and Remonstrance, James Madison (1785). Championing the principal of religious liberty.
Land Ordinance of 1785 (Jefferson). Detailing the manner in which the Northwest Territory shall be partitioned and sold.
The Annapolis Convention (1786), prelude to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
The Federalist Papers 1-85, Madison, Jay, and Hamilton’s defense of Federalism
Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, James Madison. These are the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, an essential guide to interpreting the intent of the Framers.
Denominational Affiliations of the Framers of the Constitution, contrary to the myth, this chart shows that only 3 out of 55 of the framers classified themselves as Deists.
Records of the Constitutional Convention (Farrand’s Records)
United States Constitution (1787)
Elliot’s Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution
Northwest Ordinance (1787) Detailing the manner in which new states may be added to the United States.
Shay’s Rebellion (1787)
Debates in the First Federal Congress Regarding A Religious Amendment to the Constitution (1789), edited by Jim Allison. An important source for understanding the intention of the framers concerning religious liberty. Mr. Allison has collected together the debates in the House and the Senate on this most important subject.
Bill of Rights and the Amendments to The Constitution (1791) The concession to the Anti-Federalists to win their acceptance of the Constitution.
Statutory Laws and Judicial Precedents in Early America
Federal Legislative Documents
Records of the First Sixteen Federal Congresses
Slave Trade and the Middle Passage, Alexander Falconbridge (1788)
The Life of Olaudah Equiano, A Slave’s Autobiography (1789)
The Virginia Chronicle, John Leland (1790). Champion of religious disestablishment. Friend and influence upon James Madison.
On Dissenting from the Episcopal Church, John Leland (1790)
Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, James Wilson (1790-91)
On the Equality of the Sexes, Judith Sargent Murray (1790)
The Funeral of Arminianism, William Huntington (1791)
Fugitive Slave Law of 1793
Greenville Treaty with a number of Indian Tribes (1795)
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, William Godwin (1793) Part of Jefferson’s library of political works.
William Godwin’s Works
Treaty of Tripoli (1795)
Washington’s Farewell Address
The Sedition Act (1798)
On the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic (1798), Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, emphasizing the religious foundation and goal of all education.
Four Discourses On The General First Principles of Deism (1798), Samuel E. McCorkle, D. D. The biggest intellectual controversy of the 1790’s was called the “deist controversy.” On the one side were the followers of Thomas Paine, on the other side were the orthodox Christians as represented here by the Rev. McCorkle.
The Kentucky Resolutions (1799)
Obituaries of George Washington
This Library is maintained by Rick Gardiner.
Please send Rick Gardiner email with your comments, questions, or feedback about this project.