Celebrating Independence with the US Constitution

As we prepare for a day full of barbecues, fireworks, family, and friends, let’s not forget the foundation upon which American independence rests: the US Constitution, which continues to shape our nation’s identity and guide its course.

For those seeking a deeper understanding of this document, there’s no better time to delve into the wealth of academic scholarship dedicated to its history, meaning, and ongoing influence. As such, we’ve compiled this reading list of Colonial, Revolutionary Era & Early American History titles published by UNC Press and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787: Constructing the American Republic by John Patrick Coby

A Reacting to the Past Gamebook

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 brings to life the debates that most profoundly shaped American government. As representatives to the convention, students must investigate the ideological arguments behind possible structures for a new government and create a new constitution.

Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution by Jeff Broadwater

A 2019 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” were two of the most important Founders of the United States as well as the closest of political allies. In this book, Jeff Broadwater explores the evolution of the constitutional thought of these two seminal American figures, from the beginning of the American Revolution through the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

“Although there are other scholarly works that touch on the same subject, Broadwater has written in a style that will appeal to a wider audience. . . . [Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution] belongs in the libraries of institutions of higher education and in major public libraries.”—Choice

Between Authority and Liberty: State Constitution-making in Revolutionary America by Marc W. Kruman

In a major reinterpretation of American political thought in the revolutionary era, Marc Kruman explores the process of constitution making in each of the thirteen original states and shows that the framers created a distinctively American science of politics well before the end of the Confederation era. 

“Demonstrates that more of the inventing of America may have taken place amid the first state constitution debates than many previously might have supposed. . . . A classic work!”—Journal of American History

“A valuable contribution to a rich literature on the creation of state constitutions in the revolutionary era.”—Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

The Antifederalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788 by Jackson Turner Main

Published in association with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

1958 Jamestown Prize, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

The Antifederalists come alive in this state-by-state analysis of politics during the Confederation and the debates over the enlargement of Congressional powers prior to the formation of the Constitution. Main presents a perceptive account of the deliberations of the ratifying conventions, the local circumstances that affected decisions, the alignment of delegates, and the factors that influenced some of the delegates to change their minds.

“This study of the Antifederalists is welcomed for its penetrating conclusions about the role of individuals, the content of their thought, and the means whereby they expressed their opposition to the projected American Constitution.”—American Historical Review

The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828 by Saul Cornell

Published in association with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

A 2000 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
2001 Society of the Cincinnati Prize

Fear of centralized authority is deeply rooted in American history. The struggle over the U.S. Constitution in 1788 pitted the Federalists, supporters of a stronger central government, against the Anti-Federalists, the champions of a more localist vision of politics. But, argues Saul Cornell, while the Federalists may have won the battle over ratification, it is the ideas of the Anti-Federalists that continue to define the soul of American politics.

“This book is profound, persuasive, and a much-needed taxonomy of Anti-Federalism. . . . The Other Founders notably succeeds in clarifying the importance of dissenting texts in American political culture. This highly readable, comprehensive, and original work deserves to be placed alongside The Federalist Papers on Americans’ bookshelves.”—Historian