The Founding Fathers of the United States were among the best-read generations in history.  Because of their extensive reading, they knew human nature was flawed, but also capable of greatness.  That is why they constructed a government that divided power, gave each division the ability to check and balance the other, and insisted that only a knowledgeable and virtuous people could maintain a free government, even with the best of constitutions.  They cited writers, historians, philosophers, lawyers, and statesmen from many nations across thousands of years of history.  Here is a list of those books and authors that were either in their libraries, and/or cited in their public and private writings.  This list will continue to be updated. (Last updated October 2, 2018)

Pre-Classical Period

Sacred Books
Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament)

Classical Period

Plato (c. 428-c. 348 BC)
The Republic
The Laws

Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Nicomachean Ethics

Demosthenes (384-322 BC)
The Orations

Polybius (c. 200-c. 118 BC)
The Histories

Titus Livius, “Livy” (59 BC-17 AD)
History of Rome

Epictetus (c. 50-135)

Tacitus (c. 56-120)
On the Origin and Situation of the Germanic Peoples (“Germania”)

Marcus Aurelius (121-80)

  • The Republic (c. 380)

  • The Laws

  • Rhetoric

  • Poetics

  • Discourses

  • Enchiridion


Herodotus (484-425 BC)
The Histories

Thucydides (c. 460-c. 400 BC)
History of the Peloponnesian War

Cicero (106-43 BC)
On the Laws
On Duties
On Oratory
On the Commonwealth

Plutarch (c. 46-125 BC)
Parallel Lives

Virgil (70-19 BC)

Pliny the Elder (23-79)
Natural History

Pliny the Younger (61-c. 113)
Epistuale (Letters)

Sacred Books
The New Testament

  • Iliad and the Odyssey

  • Natural History (79)

Medieval Period

Henry de Bracton (c. 1210-c. 1268)
On the Laws and Customs of England (13th century)

John Fortescue (1394-1479)
In Praise of the Laws of England (c. 1468-71)
The Governance of England (1471)

Thomas More (1478-1535)
Utopia (1551)

Justinian (c. 482-565)
Corpus Juris Civilis (the “Civil Law”) (6th century)

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Summa contra gentiles (c. 1259-65)

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (1531)
The Prince

Early Modern Period

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)
Coke’s Reports (1600-15)
Institutes of the Laws of England

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
The Advancement of Learning (1605)
Novum Organum (“New Instrument”) (1620)
De Augmentis Scientarum (“Partitions of Science”) (1623)
Essays (1625)
The New Atlantis (1627)

John Selden (1584-1654)
Table Talk (1689)

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
Leviathan (1651)

John Milton (1608-74)
Areopagitica: Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing (1644)
The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660)
Paradise Lost (1674)

John Somers (1651-1716)
Vocx populi, vox dei: Judgment of Kingdoms and Nations Concerning the Rights, Privileges, and Properties of the People (1709)

Michel de Montaigne (1533-92)

Richard Hooker (1554-1600)
On the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
All the plays and sonnets

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)
On the Law of War and Peace (1625)

Matthew Hale (1609-76)

A History and Analysis of the Common Law of England (1713)
The History of the Pleas of the Crown (1736)

James Harrington (1611-77)
Oceana (1656)

William Petyt (1636-1707)
The Ancient Right of the Commons of England Asserted (1680)

Algernon Sidney (1622-83)
Discourses Concerning Government (posth. 1698)

“Enlightenment” Period

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
Principia (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) (1687)

John Trenchard and Walter Moyle (1672-1721)
A Short History of Standing Armies in England (1698)

John Trenchard (1662-1723) and Thomas Gordon (c. 1691-1750)
Cato’s Letters (1724)

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713)
All the works, essays, etc.

Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751)
The Freeholder’s Political Catechism (1733)
A Dissertation Upon Parties (1735)
Remarks on the History of England
The Idea of a Patriot King (1749)
A Letter on the Spirit of Patriotism (1749)
Letter on the Study and Use of History (1752)

Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
Persian Letters (1734)
Reflections on the Causes of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (1734)
The Spirit of the Laws (1748)

Francois Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778)
Letters on the English Nation (1733)
Works (1751)
General History and State of Europe (1756)

David Hume (1711-76)
A Treatise of Human Nature (c. 1739-40)
An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding
An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
Political Discourses
History of England
The Natural History of Religion
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Adam Smith (1723-90)
Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
The Wealth of Nations (1776)

Richard Price (1723-91)
Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty (1776)
Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution (1784)

Edward Gibbon (1737-94)
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88)

John Locke (1632-1704)
Two Treatises of Civil Government (1689)
A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
Some Considerations [on] the Value of Money (1691)
On the Reasonableness of Christianity (1696)

Paul de Rapin (1661-1725)
History of England (c. 1726-31)

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
All the works, essays, etc.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
All the works, essays, plays, etc.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
The Dunciad (1728)
Of False Taste
Of the Uses of Riches
An Essay on Man
(c. 1733-34)

Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (1694-1748)
The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1747)

Abbé Gabriel Mably (1709-85)
Observations on the Romans (1740)
Observations on the Government and Laws of the United States (1784)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78)
Discourse on the Origin of the Inequality of Men (1754)
The Social Contract (1762)

Emerich de Vattel (1714-67)
The Law of Nations (c. 1759-60)

William Blackstone (1723-80)
Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69)

Catharine Macaulay (1731-91)
History of England (1763-83)

Cesare Beccaria (1738-94)
An Essay on Crimes and Punishments (1764)

Jean Louis de Lolme (1740-1805)
The Constitution of England (1771)