Philosophy Pages

    Dictionary    Study Guide  Logic   F A Q s
  History Timeline Philosophers   Locke

American Political Theory

The founders of the American republic were well-versed in the tradition of Western political theory and made a self-conscious attempt to appropriate for their own purposes the work of prior political philosophers, especially Locke. Their use of such materials was not simply an uncritical acceptance, however; you will notice that several significant transformations of Lockean language are made in The Declaration of Independence (1776). The form and structure that our government must take is specified in detail by The Constitution of the United States of America (1787), as amended by succeeding generations and as interpreted by the federal courts. During the debate over ratification, several of the framers of the Constitution made an effort to clarify, interpret, and defend its major provisions in The Federalist Papers. These texts comprise the most basic expression of the concrete application of abstract political theory to American society.

American political thought neither began nor ended with the ratification of the Constitution, however. A long line of individual thinkers, from both inside and outside the established structures of government, have offered significant comments, criticisms, and reinterpretations of the conception of liberty that lies at the core of the American vision. You may wish, for example, to consider the work of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Martin Luther King, Jr., or the inaugural addresses of the Presidents of the United States of America.

Additional resources on American government.

Creative Commons License
The Philosophy Pages by Garth Kemerling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

©1997, 2011 Garth Kemerling.
Last modified 12 November 2011.
Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to: the Contact Page.