Major Documents, Books, Essays, Pamphlets, & Tracts in the Historical Development of the American Constitutional Republic
Anglo-American Antecedents in the Struggle of Private Rights
& Freedom through Constitutionally Limited Government
From Magna Carta to the U.S. Bill of Rights
Ancient Greek and Roman Sources

The Charter of Liberties of King Henry I (1100)
(Through this charter, also known as the Coronation Charter, written by Henry I when he ascended the throne, the king formally bound himself to the laws, setting the stage for the development of the rule of law and constitutionalism.)

Magna Carta (1215)

Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England (attributed to Henry of Bratton, c. 1210-1268)

Petition of Right (1628)
(This petition championed the common law against the encroachments of the royal prerogative claimed by Charles I. See also InfoPlease entry, John Pym, & Sir Edward Coke)

Areopagitica by John Milton (1644)

Tracts of John Lilburne and the "Levellers"
    An Arrow Against All Tyrants (1646) Richard Overton
    An Agreement of the People of England [3rd] (May 1, 1649)
    Other Leveller Tracts

Lex, Rex by Samuel Rutherford (1648)
(Theological arguments for the rule of law over the whims of those in authority)

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 by John Milton (1659)
(This is said to have been a formative influence upon the ideals of religious toleration adopted by John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.)

Act of Habeas Corpus passed by Parliament (1679)

On the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law by Baron Samuel von Pufendorf (1673 in German & 1682 in English)

An Enquiry into the Measures of Submission to the Supream Authority (1688) by Bishop Gilbert Burnet
(This tract set forth Lockean ideas of the rights of individual man and the origins of civil society.  Thousands of copies were printed in Holland and distributed upon the arrival of William of Orange in England)

English Bill of Rights (1689)
(Passed by Parliament just after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which established a constitutionally limited monarchy after the abdication and flight from England of James II, this document inspired George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, and other American founders and served as a model for the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the U.S. Bill of Rights.)

Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke (1689)
(Although not published until 1689, the manuscript may have been written ten years earlier and its main ideas of natural individual rights and government limited by law had been circulating in "underground" form for several years.)

Discourse Concerning Government by Algernon Sidney (1690)
(After Sidney's execution in 1683, his essay responding to Filmer's defense of absolute monarchism in Patriarcha, was published after the Glorious Revolution.)

The Independent Whig (1720) & Cato's Letters (1724) by Trenchard & Gordon

The Spirit of the Laws by Charles De Secondat Montesquieu (1748)

Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir William Blackstone (1771-72 in Philadelphia)
 See also Blackstone In America by Greg Bailey
               Blackstone's Influence on American Constitutional Thought by Schmidt

Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress (1774)

Common Sense (1776)
( First published anonymously on January 10, 1776, this small book made publishing history in terms of the rapidity with which it attained a widespread circulation and readership throughout the American colonies and in Europe. In it Thomas Paine argued passionately for American political independence from Great Britain and, reiterating the basic Lockean state-of-nature model, persuasively critiqued monarchism in general and the King of England in particular. Instead, he advocated a constitutional republic where the rule of law would supplant the arbitrary dictates of kings. "For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.")

Virginia Declaration of Rights by George Mason (1776)
(This document, written by George Mason, was drawn upon by Thomas Jefferson for the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. It was widely copied by the other colonies and became the basis of the U. S. Bill of Rights.)

American Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson (1776)

Articles of Confederation (written and proposed, 1777; ratified, 1781)

The Federalist Papers by "Publius" (Madison, Hamilton, & Jay)

The Papers of James Madison

The Anti-Federalist Papers (1787-1789)

United States Constitution  (1787, ratified 1788)

U.S. Bill of Rights (proposed in 1789)
    Preamble of the U.S. Bill of Rights (1789)
    The Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791)

         The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
          (These were written in 1798 by Jefferson and Madison in response to the Alien and
          Sedition Acts enacted by the Hamiltonians)

         Disquisition on Government by John C. Calhoun
 
 

Recommended Web Sites

Constitution.org-- the website of the Constitution Society!

The Liberty Foundation's List of Important Historical Documents and Political Tracts which Advanced the Cause of Individual Rights and Limited Constitutional Government-- this excellent website includes one of the largest collections of Leveller texts on-line.

The Claremont Institute's List of Philosophic Sources of the American Founding-- What were some of the sources the founding fathers read and which influenced their political thinking in establishing the American Republic?

The American Colonist's Library-- A Treasury of Primary Source Documents Pertaining to Early American History!

The John Locke Institute-- one of the best, most scholarly websites!
 
 

Anthologies & Commentaries

From Magna Carta to the Constitution  Documents in the Struggle for Liberty by David Brooks

The Struggle for Sovereignty:  Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts by Joyce Lee Malcolm

"The Levelers: Libertarian Revolutionaries" by Nick Elliott  The importance of the English "Levelers" in setting the stage for the success of the American Constitutional system has been greatly under-estimated.
 

Selected Classics on Natural Individual Rights & Limited Constitutional Government

On the Proper Role of Government by Ezra Taft Benson

The Law by Frederic Bastiat

Textbook of Americanism by Ayn Rand

The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State by Auberon Herbert
 
 
 


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