Magazine December 09, 2019, Issue

Taking the Founders’ Moral Ideas Seriously

Detail of a portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown, 1786 (National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)
America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It, by C. Bradley Thompson (Encounter Books, 584 pp., $32.99)

America’s Founding Fathers often said that a “frequent recurrence to fundamental principles” is essential for the survival of freedom. They meant that in bustling commercial republics, such as they expected the United States to become, people can be distracted from the basic premises on which freedom depends, or duped by demagogues who, in the words of The Federalist, “possess [the people’s] confidence more than they deserve it.” In America’s Revolutionary Mind — the first half of a planned two-volume study — C. Bradley Thompson lays out those fundamental principles in a comprehensively researched and patiently organized way. The result is

This article appears as “America’s Moral Mind” in the December 9, 2019, print edition of National Review.

Timothy Sandefur is the Goldwater Institute’s vice president for litigation. He authored a friend-of-the-court brief in Brackeen v. Bernhardt.

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Readers write in with fond memories of fatherhood, some long-held admiration, and some prefix pedantry.

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