Last week saw the 239th celebration of America’s Independence Day. Considering many Americans today can’t even explain why we celebrate the 4thof July, it’s somewhat awe-inspiring to see how the American Founders were able to have the knowledge and ability to declare independence, fight a grueling war, and then lay the groundwork for our nation to be built upon. How did they do it?

One answer is that they were well-read.

A letter from Thomas Jefferson to a man named Robert Skipwith confirms this notion. In 1771, Skipwith wrote Jefferson asking for a list of good books with which to start a personal library. Skipwith was obviously not the scholarly type, for he asked that the selections be “suited to the capacity of a common reader who understands but little of the classicks [sic] and who has not leisure for any intricate or tedious study.” (An apt description for today’s reader, no?)

Jefferson responded with a list of over 100 titles, which are listed below:

fine arts

Observations on gardening. Payne.
Webb’s essay on painting.
Pope’s Iliad.
Dryden’s Virgil.
Milton’s works. 2 v. 8vo. Donaldson.
Hoole’s Tasso.
Ossian with Blair’s criticisms.
Telemachus by Dodsley.
Capell’s Shakespear.
Dryden’s plays.
Addison’s plays.
Otway’s plays.
Rowe’s works.
Thompson’s works.
Young’s works.
Home’s plays.
Mallet’s works.
Mason’s poetical works.
Terence. Eng.
Moliere. Eng.
Farquhar’s plays.
Vanbrugh’s plays.
Steele’s plays.
Congreve’s works.
Garric’s dramatic works.
Foote’s dramatic works.
Rousseau’s Eloisa. Eng.
——Emilius and Sophia. Eng.
Marmontel’s moral tales. Eng.
Gil Blas. by Smollett.
Don Quixot. by Smollett
David Simple.
Roderic Random. } these are written by Smollett.
Peregrine Pickle.
Launcelot by Graves.
Adventures of a guinea.
Pamela. } these are by Richardson
Fool of quality.
Feilding’s works.
Constantia. } by Langhorne.
Solyman and Almena
Belle assemblee.
Vicar of Wakefeild. by Dr. Goldsmith
Sidney Bidulph.
Lady Julia Mandeville.
Almoran and Hamet.
Tristam Shandy.
Sentimental journey.
Fragments of antient poetry. Edinburgh.
Percy’s Runic poems.
Percy’s reliques of antient English poetry.
Percy’s Han Kiou Chouan.
Percy’s Miscellaneous Chinese peices.
Waller’s poems.
Dodsley’s collection of poems.
Pearch’s collection of poems.
Gray’s works.
Ogilvie’s poems.
Prior’s poems. Foulis.
Gay’s works. Foulis.
Shenstone’s works.
Dryden’s works. Foulis.
Pope’s works. by Warburton.
Churchill’s poems.
Swift’s works.
Swift’s literary correspondence.
Ld. Lyttleton’s Persian letters.

criticism on the fine arts

Ld.Kaim’s elements of criticism
Burke on the sublime and beautiful.
Hogarth’s analysis of beauty.
Reid on the human mind.
Smith’s theory of moral sentiments.
Johnson’s dictionary.
Capell’s prolusions.

politicks, trade.

Montesquieu’s spirit of laws.
Locke on government.
Sidney on government.
Marmontel’s Belisarius. Eng.
Ld. Bolingbroke’s political works.
Montesquieu’s rise & fall of the Roman governmt.
Steuart’s Political oeconomy.
Petty’s Political arithmetic.


Locke’s conduct of the mind in search of truth.
Xenophon’s memoirs of Socrates. by Feilding.
Epictetus. by Mrs. Carter.
Antoninus by Collins.
Seneca. by L’Estrange.
Cicero’s Offices. by Guthrie.
Cicero’s Tusculan questions.
Ld. Bolingbroke’s Philosophical works.
Hume’s essays.
Ld. Kaim’s Natural religion.
Philosophical survey of Nature.
Oeconomy of human life.
Sterne’s sermons.
Sherlock on death.
Sherlock on a future state.


Ld. Kaim’s Principles of equity.
Blackstone’s Commentaries.
Cuningham’s Law dictionary.

history. antient.

Rollin’s Antient history. Eng.
Stanyan’s Graecian history.
Livy. (the late translation).
Sallust by Gordon.
Tacitus by Gordon.
Caesar by Bladen.
Josephus. Eng.
Vertot’s Revolutions of Rome.
Plutarch’s lives. by Langhorne.
Bayle’s Dictionary.
Jeffery’s Historical & Chronological chart.

history. modern.

Robertson’s History of Charles the Vth.
Bossuet’s history of France.
Davila. by Farneworth.
Hume’s history of England.
Clarendon’s history of the rebellion.
Robertson’s history of Scotland
Keith’s history of Virginia.
Stith’s history of Virginia.

natural philosophy.natural history &c.

Nature displayed.
Franklin on Electricity.
Macqueer’s elements of Chemistry.
Home’s principles of agriculture.
Tull’s horse-hoeing husbandry.
Duhamel’s husbandry.
Millar’s Gardener’s dict.
Buffon’s natural history. Eng.
A compendium of Physic & Surgery. Nourse.
Addison’s travels.
Anson’s voiage.
Thompson’s travels.
Lady M. W. Montague’s letters.


Ld. Lyttleton’s dialogues of the dead.
Fenelon’s dialogues of the dead. Eng.
Voltaire’s works. Eng.
Locke on Education.
Owen’s Dict. of arts & sciences.

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