First Principles

The following is a selection of links to primary documents and key resources for understanding the foundations of America and the principles of conservatism:

The Second Treatise of Civil Government” by John Locke – The classic exposition of natural law theory and one of the chief influences of the Declaration of Independence, no work is more vital to understanding the concept of a right under our Constitution.

Declaration of Independence – The document that launched America. A succinct statement of America’s core principles, the source of government’s legitimacy, and the proper ends of the Constitution.

United States Constitution – The instructions for running and the tools for restraining the federal government. Not optional.

The Federalist Papers – James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay’s definitive explanation of the meaning and purpose of the Constitution.

The Founders’ Constitution” – Compiled by the University of Chicago, this is an invaluable collection of the Founding Fathers’ writings organized to provide a historical context and intellectual basis for the Constitution’s every provision.

Heritage Guide to the Constitution – In a similar vein, the Heritage Foundation’s interactive, searchable version of the Constitution offers modern essays explaining the meaning of every clause, written by experts in the relevant fields. – This is a Claremont Institute website compiling both primary documents from the American Founding and contemporary writing exploring the Founding’s principles.

Teaching American History – A collection of historical documents from the colonial era to the present day, as well as resources for educators and supplemental materials on our nation’s history.

Vindicating the Founders – The companion website to Professor Thomas West’s indispensable book of the same name, here you’ll find selections from the Founders’ writings revealing their true thoughts on slavery, women, property rights, democracy, poverty, and immigration.

Liberty Fund Educational Resources – A series of websites offering a wide range of historical writings and contemporary analysis on conservatism’s roots in the classical liberal tradition and liberty-minded approaches to individual rights, economics, and the rule of law.

Heritage Foundation First Principles Initiative – A series of essays and videos exploring the Founders’ principles, Abraham Lincoln’s defense of them, progressivism’s rejection of them, and modern conservatism’s championing of them.

Hillsdale College US Constitution Reader – The digital edition of Hillsdale College’s core political science textbook, this selection of historical documents offers critical insight into the foundations of western democracy, natural rights, the American Revolution, the genesis of the Constitution, the structure of our government, the Civil War, progressivism, and more.

The Founders’ Compass: A Guide to America’s Constitutional Crisis” – Courtesy of Hillsdale’s Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies, this guide contains a variety of writings and speeches connecting America’s founding principles to culture, faith, law, economics, education, foreign affairs, and more.

The Papers of George Washington – A comprehensive collection of our first president’s correspondences, courtesy of the University of Virginia.

Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty – a voice for limited, constitutional government and a free, virtuous society with a special emphasis on the Founding Father who declared, “give me liberty or give me death!” Henry’s life story and collections of his words are also featured.

Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville – The most insightful study of the United States ever written offers a firsthand account of the kind of society the American Revolution gave us: its strengths and weaknesses, the brilliance of the Founders and the preciousness of their grand experiment, and chillingly prescient warnings of how it could all come crashing down.

The Law” by Frederic Bastiat – The nineteenth-century economic and political theorist’s seminal work on property rights, the limits of just government, and the folly of socialism.

Abraham Lincoln Online – A collection of historical information, speeches and writings, and further reading on the president who saved the Constitution from its greatest threat and fulfilled the Declaration’s promise of equal liberty to all.

Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism – A Witherspoon Institute website offering primary documents and modern commentary focusing on the natural law tradition’s development, from Plato and Aquinas through Locke and Lincoln to Martin Luther King.

Ethical Monotheism” by Dennis Prager – A brilliant case for the Judeo-Christian tradition as history’s greatest force for a just and compassionate society.

Prager University – An excellent weekly video series in which a wide variety of thinkers and experts take a wide variety of political, moral, and cultural topics and make them accessible to everyone.

Reagan 2020 – A website dedicated to modern conservatism’s greatest leader, complete with information on Ronald Reagan’s life, explorations of his record, and collections of his speeches and writings.

Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal – An educational organization based on the thought of one of the modern conservative movement’s key figures, including summaries of Kirk’s thought, analysis of his significance, and selections from his writing.