From the Reformation to the American Revolution:

Primary Sources and Works on English, French and American Political Thought

Establishing "a Due Form of Government, Both Civil and Ecclesiastical": a Reassessment of Theocracy, Aristocracy and Democracy in Early New England: the html edition of my Master's Thesis

  1. Up to 16th Century Political thought and theory

  2. Up to16th century calvinistic theology: theories of resistance and predestination

  3. 17th and 18th century political thought

  4. 17th and 18th century calvinist theology and the issue of toleration

  5. The American Revolution

1. Acts of Parliament concerning the American Colonies
2. The Rhetoric of the Revolutionaries
3. Key Official Documents (from 1776)
4. The Works of the Founders



The little commentaries following the links are by Rick Gardiner, to whom I am much indebted. Most of the following links have been extracted from his excellent - if perhaps too comprehensive - page on primary sources of all kinds related to American colonial history. What I have done is to rearrange the links I was the most interested in by themes and periods and not just by centuries. I've also changed the outlook of the page. I haven't found it necessary to change the comments since they are perfectly relevant so I've left them as such. My aim is pedagogical: I wanted to make Rick's astounding page more accesible to students and beginners, to whom the comments are destined. This approach is in keeping with my other web directory on English Puritanism and Puritan New England (for which it was I who collected the links and wrote the comments!!!)
In its present state, this page must be considered as the starting point of a life-long project devoted to research in American (colonial) history. I intend to expand the list of links and to write articles to comment on both the texts and their contexts, philosophical as well as historical. The problem is that I am extremely busy at the moment, and since I wanted "something" to be available as soon as possible, I resorted to this intermediary (awkward) solution.
Any comments, suggestions, questions welcome:

I. Up to 16th Century Political thought and theory

Aristotle, Politics
Plato, The Republic
Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513

Elizabethan Religious Statutes and The Queen's Works

Complete Works of Elizabeth I, Including her letters and her poems.

Writings and Speeches of Elizabeth I

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.

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.

An Act Against Papists (1593) Parliament's tough words against those who would attempt to depose Elizabeth for her Protestantism.

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 one of the first works out of the Reformation to advocate active resistance to tyrannical magistrates, with the exception of the Magdeburg Bekkentis (the Magdeburg Confession). 

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."

Works of Richard Hooker (1593) Anglican political commentator and major influence upon John Locke.

The Governour, Sir Thomas Elyot

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."


II. Up to16th Century Calvinistic Theology: Resistance and Predestination

The first four links, of course, cannot be said to be of a Calvinist character, but they have been used by Calvin, and, in a sense, can be said to have paved the way
Augustine (St Augustin), The City of God
_______, The Confessions
St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Martin Luther, Works

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion

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.

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 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.

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.



III. 17th Century (English) Political Thought

The Citizen, Thomas Hobbes (1641-47) Discussion of the natural law foundations of government.

Lex, Rex, Samuel Rutherford (1644). This excerpt shows Rutherford's social contract theory and includes the Puritan theory of resistance to a tyrant.

Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana (1646)

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 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.

Hobbes, Leviathan (1658)

Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, John Locke (1669)

Theologico-Political Treatise, Baruch de Spinoza (1670) Discussed the ultimate source of legitimate political power.

Habeas Corpus Act (1679) English Parliament established key right which was embraced in America.

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.

A Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke (1689) Classic statement of the case for toleration of those holding different views.
Locke, Second Treatise on Government (1689)

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."


18th Century Political Thought

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.

Rousseau, The Social Contract - Du contrat social (1762)

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (1748)


IV. 17th and 18th Century Calvinist Theology and the Issue of Toleration

The Indictment of Galileo (1633) The height of the conflict between religion and science

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.

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.

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).

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.

Magnalia Christi Americana, Cotton Mather (1702)

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.

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.


V. The American Revolution

1. Acts of Parliament concerning the American Colonies

Another English view:
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.


2. The Rhetoric of the Revolutionaries

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.

The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, James Otis (1764)

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.

John Dickinson's Letter 2, from Letters from a Farmer, 1767-1768
John Dickinson's Letter 4, from Letters from a Farmer, 1767-1768

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.

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.

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.

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

Letters From an American Farmer, Hector St John de Crevecour (1782)

The Federalist Papers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay (1787-88) Arguments for ratification of the proposed Constitution.


3. Key Official Documents (from 1776)

Sources of the Declaration of Independence (1776) Documents which prove that Jefferson modeled the Declaration largely upon the 1689 Declaration of Rights.
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.

State Constitutions A collection of the constitutions of each colony.

U.S. Articles of Confederation The first Constitution of the United States.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason (1776) Unquestionably a document which Jefferson had in mind when writing the Declaration of Independence.

The Annapolis Convention (1786), prelude to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

United States Constitution (1787)

Bill of Rights and the Amendments to The Constitution (1791) The concession to the Anti-Federalists to win their acceptance of the Constitution.


4. The Works of the Founders

Authors Most Frequently Cited by the Founders

John Adams Discusses the Historic Sources Which Provided the Intellectual Foundations of American Political Theory

Writings of Samuel Adams One of the most thorough internet sites of its kind including numerous letters and newspaper articles.

Jefferson's Letters
Other Letters - Alpabetic List / Chronological List

Thomas Paine: Common Sense (1776)
____________: Rights Of Man (1792)


Copyright Lauric Henneton 2000