Access the Writings of the Founding Fathers on Founders Online

This summer we launched a brand new online tool—Founders Online—a searchable archive of the correspondence and other writings of six of the Founding Fathers.Images of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington

You can read and search through thousands of transcriptions of records from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. You and your students can access the written record of the original thoughts, ideas, debates, and principles of our democracy.

For example, if you find this letter from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson regarding the neutral role of the United States in the War Between Great Britain and France—in the holdings of the National Archives and available on DocsTeach—you can find its transcription on Founders Online:

Letter from Washington to Jefferson and its transcription on Founders Online

Search across the records of all six Founders and read first drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the spirited debate over the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the very beginnings of American law, government, and our national story. You can compare and contrast the thoughts and ideas of these six individuals and their correspondents as they discussed and debated through their letters and documents.

You—or your students—can use the site to:

  • Research a person: Search by author and recipient, or for someone mentioned in the writing of another.
  • Research a time period: Choose a predefined time period and then narrow the results with search terms. Or enter a start date, end date, or both.
  • Research a concept: Experiment with search terms. For example, you can search for concepts like liberty, freedom, bill of rights, freedom of the press, or checks and balances. (The site includes instructions and strategies for searching.)

Founders Online doesn’t just include documents in the holdings of the National Archives, though. Scholars have collected—from archives across the country and around the world—copies of original 18th- and 19th-century documents, transcribed them, provided annotations, and produced hundreds of books. Founders Online includes transcriptions of thousands of documents that appeared in the published volumes, as well as some that have not been published. This site takes the contents of 242 books and 120,000 documents, with 55,000 more to come, and puts them in a single, searchable database freely accessible to all.Volumes of the Papers of George Washington

The website was created by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the grant-making arm of the National Archives, and The University of Virginia Press.

3 thoughts on “Access the Writings of the Founding Fathers on Founders Online

  1. This resource is breathtaking in its scope and value. I already have student accessing it for their class projects. It defies description. Powerful, powerful resource.

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