Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison

Overview

America's founding fathers were remarkably well-rounded people, not least in their understanding of science. Thomas Jefferson was the only president who could read and understand Newton's Principia. Benjamin Franklin, in 1775, held international fame in science. John Adams had the finest education in science the new country could provide, including "Pnewmaticks, Hydrostaticks, Mechanicks, Staticks, Opticks." And James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, peppered his Federalist Papers with reference to ...
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Overview

America's founding fathers were remarkably well-rounded people, not least in their understanding of science. Thomas Jefferson was the only president who could read and understand Newton's Principia. Benjamin Franklin, in 1775, held international fame in science. John Adams had the finest education in science the new country could provide, including "Pnewmaticks, Hydrostaticks, Mechanicks, Staticks, Opticks." And James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, peppered his Federalist Papers with reference to physics, chemistry, and the life sciences. For these men science was an integral part of life - including political life. This is the story of their scientific education and of how they employed that knowledge in shaping the political issues of the day, incorporating scientific reasoning into the Constitution. General readers, students of American history, and professional historians alike will profit from reading this engaging presentation of an aspect of American history conspiculously absent from the usual textbooks and popular presentations of the political thought of this crucial period.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cohen's eye-opening, elegant study shows that America's Founding Fathers were true citizens of the Age of Reason who sought links between scientific principles and constitutional government. Thomas Jefferson, naturalist and inventor, had a consuming passion for scientific pursuits ranging from paleontology to zoology. The Declaration of Independence, which he wrote, reverberates with echoes of Newtonian science, as when he invokes ``self-evident'' truths or ``laws of nature.'' Benjamin Franklin, far from being a mere tinkerer or inventor, pioneered the science of electricity. Franklin also developed a demographic theory that North America would become a population center of the British world; this led to the policy according to which the British annexed Canada rather than Guadeloupe as the spoils in the war against the French 1754-63. John Adams, who studied astronomy and physics at Harvard, was a founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston. And James Madison, a devoted amateur scientist, drew on scientific metaphors and analogies in his Federalist articles. Illustrated. Cohen is Victor S. Thomas professor emeritus of the history of science at Harvard University. July
Booknews
Cohen (history of science, Harvard U.) reveals that science was an integral part of political life for four founding fathers, and tells the story of their scientific educations and how they employed their knowledge in shaping the political issues of the day. An introductory section discusses scientific analogy in political thought, and other chapters describe Jefferson's interest in natural science and Newton, Franklin's experiments and political career, and the Constitution as a Newtonian document. Includes b&w illustrations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Boston Globe
“Intellectually engaging . . . deftly written.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780830004966
  • Publication date: 4/1/1995

Meet the Author

I. Bernard Cohen was Victor S. Thomas Professor, Emeritus, of the History of Science at Harvard University, where he taught from 1942 to 1984. He was the first American to receive the degree of Ph.D. in the History of Science. He was the author of many books, including Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison; The Science of Benjamin Franklin; Revolution in Science; The Newtonian Revolution; The Birth of a New Physics; and, with Anne Whitman, Isaac Newtonís Principia: A New Translation of Newtonís Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. He edited several series of works, including Harvard Monographs in the History of Science, Three Centuries of Science in America, and the ongoing Studies & Texts in the History of Computing. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Astronomical Society, the British Academy, and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.
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Table of Contents

Preface 11
1 Science and American History 19
2 Science and the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson: The Declaration of Independence 61
3 Benjamin Franklin: A Scientist in the World of Public Affairs 135
4 Science and Politics: Some Aspects of the Thought and Career of John Adams 196
5 Science and the Constitution 237
Supplements 281
Notes 315
Acknowledgments 351
Index 355
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