The American Revolution:  A Constitutional Conflict Readings


The best brief summary is Gordon Wood, The American Revolution:  A History.

The best detailed account is John R. Alden, A History of the American Revolution.

The best collection of documents is Jack P. Greene, Colonies to Nation, 1763-1789:  A Documentary History of the American Revolution.

The Library of America volumes on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and John Adams are wonderful collections of the most important primary materials.  They are a joy to read.

  1.  The North American Setting
    Alan Taylor, American Colonies:  The Settling of North America, vol. 1
  2. Sam Adams
    Ira Stoll, Samuel Adams:  A Life
  3. The Stamp Act Crisis
    Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis:  Prologue to Revolution
  4. Charles Townshend’s Clampdown
  5. John Adams
    The two best works on Adams are C. Bradley Thompson, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty (on his intellectual life) and Joseph J. Ellis, Passionate Sage:  The Character and Legacy of John Adams (on his retirement).
    Also see Lester J. Cappon, The Adams-Jefferson Letters:  The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams.
  6. The Boston Massacre
    Neil L. York, The Boston Massacre:  A History With Documents
  7. To the Tea Act
  8. The Boston Tea Party
  9. And the War Came
    Robert A. Gross, The Minutemen and Their World
  10. George Washington
    The starting place remains Douglas Southall Freeman’s 7-volume biography.
    For his military career, see Edward G. Lengel, General George Washington:  A Military Life.
    For his presidency, see Forrest McDonald’s Hamiltonian The Presidency of George Washington.
    For his very important relationship with James Madison, consult Stuart Leibiger, Founding Friendship:  George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic.
    On an overlooked but crucial aspect of his career, read Glenn A. Phelps, George Washington and American Constitutionalism.
  11. Independence
    The best treatment, bar none, is Pauline Maier, American Scripture:  Making the Declaration of Independence.
  12. Thomas Jefferson
    The greatest biography of any American is Dumas Malone’s 6-volume Jefferson and His Time.
    The best brief introduction is R. B. Bernstein, Thomas Jefferson.
    For Jefferson’s presidency, the masterpiece is Henry Adams’ A History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Originally nine volumes, it has been published by the Library of America in two—the first of which is composed of the section on the Jefferson Administration.
    Readers who prefer a Hamiltonian Federalist approach to Henry Adams’ defense of his ancestor and/or brevity to verbosity should see Forrest McDonald’s wickedly insightful The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson.
    For Jefferson’s constitutionalism, consult David N. Mayer, The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson, which is an appreciative account by a libertarian scholar.
  13. Saratoga:  The Tide Turns
  14. A Long Slog to Victory
  15. The Confederation
  16. Counter-Revolution?
    Henry Mayer, A Son of Thunder:  Patrick Henry and the American Republic is the best biography of the chief Antifederalist.
    Kent J. McGaughy, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia:  A Portrait of an American Revolutionary, shows why one of the other most influential Antifederalists opposed the ratification of the unamended Constitution.
    Kevin R. C. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, is a biography of Madison with a focus on his role in writing, ratifying, and implementing the US Constitution.
  17. James Madison
    Kevin R. C. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, corrects numerous significant errors of interpretation common in other scholars’ accounts.
  18. The Revolution’s Significance
  19. The American Revolution:  Retrospect and Prospect

I am happy to provide reading suggestions on these and related topics.  Just ask.