Syllabus: Founding of the American Republic

Syllabus, History 301; Founding of the American Republic, 1753-1806

Spring Semester, 2016; T/Th 9:30-10:45

Location: Lane 331

Assignments posted at:


Professor: Brad Birzer:

Delp 403


Scope of the Course

This course is a part of the U.S. surveys for upper-level students.  We’ll go straight through the chronology of the time, from the French and Indian War (the North American theater of the Great War for Empire) to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  That is, we’ll move from ca. 1753 to ca. 1806.  Along the way, we’ll look at the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) of the period, especially exploring their own understandings of the world, intellectually, culturally, and religiously.  Please note, this course will focus mostly on the ideas that animated the founding.  It will not give much time to the nuts and bolts of names and dates.  For an essential outline of such things, I’ve assigned Gordon Wood’s small but good overview, The American Revolution: A History.  Since it is a course about ideas, I will have you read mostly primary sources (listed below and all available online, generally from the Online Library of Liberty).


In many ways, the founding era is a time period without equal in all of modern history, as a dedicated group of citizens attempted to create and sustain the first republic on any large scale since the collapse of the Roman republic with the assassination of Senator Marcus T. Cicero (43B.C.).  They did so with an astounding amount of bravado and audacity, though certainly not without error and, at times, gut-wrenching compromise.



The founding generation—one of the single most literate generations in the history of the world—wrote much and, usually, for public consumption.  Indeed, they considered the writing out, the debating of, and the transmission of ideas, a crucial component of their own cherished republicanism and Protestantism.  Thus, I assign primarily primary documents in this class.  Thanks to the beauty and decentralization of the web, every source you’ll read is available online.  Please see semester dates (below) for actual assignments.  Unless otherwise stated, all readings are available at  N.B.: the readings may or may not correspond perfectly to the lectures of the week.  That is, you might very well be reading the Constitution, even though I’ve only reached 1779 in course lectures.



  • Essay/Paper, 20%
  • Quizzes and In-class Assignments, 20%
  • Midterm Examination, 30%
  • Final Examination, 30%


Essay/Paper.  Over the semester, I would like you to digest the primary readings as much as possible.  Your quizzes as well as your examinations will challenge your knowledge and understanding of them.  For your major paper, therefore, you should choose at least three of the primary readings assigned.  With these primary documents, find a coherent theme.  The theme is of your choosing.  It could and can be anything from the rhetorical strategy employed to, for example, the ideas of Natural Law or Natural Rights.  In 9-10 pages (12-point font, one-inch margins, double spaced), explore the chosen theme.  You should not have to do research beyond the chosen documents, but you should give considerable time to the essence of your thesis.  Play with it, explore it, and let it linger for a while, intellectually.


I encourage you to study in groups throughout the semester.  I tend to talk quickly and cover a lot of material in a semester, and I firmly believe that you should use any ethical means possible to learn a subject.  Feel free to trade notes, idea, etc. with one another.  Obviously, during each examination, you’ll be tested individually.  But, leading up to each exam, feel free to work with as many other students as you’d like.


Course schedule

  1. January 20-22

Readings: Cato Letters, Letters 84, 94, 106, 114-115

Readings: Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law


  1. January 25-29

Readings: Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, vol. 1, chapters 1-4


  1. February 1-5

Readings: Stephen Hopkins, The Rights of the Colonies Examined, 1764

Readings: Richard Bland, An Inquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies, 1766


  1. February 8-12

Readings: Demophilus: The Genuine Principles of Ancient Saxon Constitution; and Addison

Readings: Cato: A Tragedy.


  1. February 15-19

Readings: J. Adams, Instructions of the Town of Braintree to their Representative, 1765


  1. February 22-26

Readings: Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer, 1-3, 12

PWeekend Meetings: Saturday, February 27


  1. February 29-March 4

Readings: Continental Congress, Appeal to the Inhabitants of Quebec, 1774

Readings: Samuel West, On the Right to Rebel


  1. March 7-11

Readings: CX Letters (handout; emailed to you)

Readings: Declaration of Independence

Readings: Novanglus, Letters 1-4

Midterm: Thursday, March 10


  1. March 14-18

Readings: Hamilton, Continentalist Letters 1-3

Readings: Washington, Speech to the Officers of the Army, March 15, 1783

Spring Break, March 19-28


  1. March 29-March 1

Readings: Northwest Ordinance of 1787

Readings: Federalist Papers 1, 10, 37-39, 45-51


  1. April 4-8

Readings: Anti-Federalist Papers, Brutus (handout; emailed to you)

Readings: Anti-Federalist Papers, Old Whig (handout; emailed to you)

Readings: U.S. Constitution


  1. April 11-15

Readings: Bill of Rights


  1. April 18-22

Readings:  Washington, First Inaugural Address

Readings: Washington, Farewell Address


  1. April 25-29

Readings: Thomas Jefferson, Inaugural Address

Papers due (my office): Friday, April 29, 5pm.


  1. May 2-3

Lewis and Clark Toasts (handout; emailed to you)


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