Syllabus: CWC4000: American Founding and the Classics

CWC4000: “The Classical Origins of the American Founding”

Instructor: Dr. Bradley Birzer (

Class time: MWF: 12-12:50PM; KTCH 118

Office Hours: 9:30-1:00 and by appointment (Woodbury 302)

Autumn 2014

Assignments/messages/note will appear at:



Required Reading: The Lineage

  • Livy, The Early History of Rome (Book 1: 1:1-1:26; Book 3: 3:16-3:35)

  • Cicero, On the Laws (Book 1) [I’ll lecture from On Duties and On the Republic]

  • Tacitus, Germania (all of it)

  • Virgil, The Aeneid (Books 1-3; 8; 12) [I’ll lecture from the Eclogues and Georgics]

  • Magna Carta [I’ll lecture from Bede, King Alfred, Aquinas, Sydney, and Coke]


Required Reading: The Revolution (or close, give or take a century)[1]

  • Catos Letters: 72-76, 85
  • Thomas Gordon, “A Discourse of Standing Armies”
  • Demophilus, “The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution”
  • Addison, Cato: A Tragedy
  • Dickinson, Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer: 1, 3, 8-10, 12
  • CX Letters (will be emailed to you)
  • Articles of Confederation
  • Declaration of Independence (Jefferson’s version; will be emailed to you)
  • Northwest Ordinance, Articles 1-6
  • James Wilson, “Speech to the Pennsylvania Convention” (December 1787)
  • John Dickinson as “Fabius,” letters 10-3
  • Noah Webster, “A Citizen of America”
  • Tench Coxe, “An American Citizen”
  • James Wilson, “Of the Law of Nature”
  • James Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals”



Why did the Federalists take the name Publius?  Why is the American Capitol (the same name as the temple to Jupiter) modeled on Roman republican architecture?  How was Washington the American Cincinnatus?  Why is the upper body of Congress named the Senate?  Why did the Revolutionary Army have “Cato: A Tragedy” performed seven times during the winter at Valley Forge?  Why is the symbol of the House of Representatives the Roman fasces. Over the past 100 years a number of traditions have emerged to explain the American Founding, variously labeled: Whig, neo-Whig, Commonwealth, Liberal/Enlightenment, neo-Liberal, and Protestant.  All of these schools of thought are correct, but only within their contexts. First and foremost, the authors and signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights saw themselves in a western tradition that ran from Leonidas and his Spartans at Thermopylae to the English Common Law tradition of King Alfred to the modern constitutional theories of Blackstone.  They did, after all, create ares publica, Latin for the “good thing” or “common good.” Western Civilization 4000 considers the republicanism of the ancients—especially as understood by Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus, and Livy—as it influenced the American Founders.  In particular, the course will focus on the revolutionary thought of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Dickinson, James Wilson, and Mercy Otis Warren.



  • Semester-long Research Paper: 30%
  • Midterm Examination: 30%
  • Final Examination: 40%


Research Paper

Worth 30% of your grade, your research paper can cover any topic dealing with the subject matter of the course: the classical and medieval influences on the American Founding. The paper should be in normal 12-point font (Cambria, Times, etc.), double spaced, footnoted, and with 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides; roughly 10-15 pages total. I encourage you to own a (real; tangible—not just e-version) of a good dictionary and thesaurus. As to computer programs/apps, I suggest Endnote as the best for bibliographical reference and formatting, and Scrivener as the best writing program. Our library possesses excellent primary document collections, on the shelves as well as online. While I do not mind you using secondary sources, I would encourage you strongly to use as many primary sources as possible. Frankly, it is very difficult to find satisfactory secondary sources on almost any aspect of the founding, as almost every author comes at the topic with some agenda. Every writer (especially American writers)—left, right, above, below, next to—desires to co-opt and use the founders for personal goals. Hence, the desire to teach and learn almost exclusively from primary documents.



[1] Unless otherwise stated, all available at:


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