The Founders recognized man’s natural self-interest and built an economic system that harnessed those private interests—by focusing them on acquiring the goods of the marketplace that served the larger economy—to work for the benefit of all. By pursuing their own gain in the context of the free market, in which buyers and sellers freely provide and trade goods and services based on agreed market prices that meet common interests, individuals promote the economic gain of others, and that leads to greater prosperity.

—Excerpted from We Still Hold These Truths by Matthew Spalding

Below you'll find a list of Hillsdale's best resources from Imprimis, the Kirby Center's lectures, and the College's faculty; key primary sources from The U.S. Constitution: A Reader; a selection of books for further reading; and a timeline of critical events in American history.

 

Latest Videos

 


Fundamental Writings and Videos  |  Primary Sources  |  Further Reading  |  Economics in History

 

Free Market Economics and the American Founding

 

This lecture is part of Hillsdale College's free, 10-part online course,  Economics 101: The Principles of Free Market Economics.

 

FUNDAMENTAL WRITINGS AND VIDEOS

Economics 101: The Principles of Free Market Economics 
Larry P. Arnn and Gary Wolfram  |  2014  |  Hillsdale College Online Course

How Our Economic Liberty Can Be Restored
Larry P. Arnn  |  April 16, 2011  |  Lecture

Whatever Happened to Free Enterprise?
Ronald Reagan  |  January 1978  |  Imprimis

Free to Choose: A Conversation with Milton Friedman
Milton Friedman  |  July 2006  |  Imprimis

 

PRIMARY SOURCES

 

The Constitution of the United States of America

Fifty-five delegates from twelve states (Rhode Island declined to participate) traveled to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention, which began in May 1787. They quickly scrapped the existing Articles of Confederation, and after four months they concluded their business by adopting a new frame of government. On September 17, thirty-nine delegates signed the Constitution. It was nine months before the requisite nine states ratified the Constitution, putting it into effect. The thirteenth state, Rhode Island, did not ratify it until 1790. Subsequently, it has been amended twenty-seven times.

Federalist 10

James Madison

Whereas democracy entails direct rule of the people, in a republic the people rule indirectly, through their representatives. A republic can therefore encompass a greater population and geographical area. This difference is decisive in the American experiment, Publius argues, for an expansive republic is able to control the inherent danger of majority faction.

On Property

James Madison

Madison, known as the "Father of the Constitution," was elected from Virginia to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1788, where he served four terms. This essay, which then-Congressman Madison wrote for a New York newspaper, connects the idea of property rights as commonly understood to man's natural rights, culminating in the right of conscience.

A Time for Choosing

Ronald Reagan

In this nationally televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican Party presidential candidate, Reagan challenges the Progressive principles behind President Johnson's Great Society. The speech propelled Reagan to national prominence.

First Inaugural Address

Ronald Reagan

Breaking with historical precedent, Reagan's first inauguration was held on the Capitol's West Front, allowing him to refer in his speech to the presidential memorials and to Arlington National Cemetery in the distance. The first post-New Deal president to challenge the principles of the New Deal, Reagan presents his opposition in terms of reviving the idea of consent of the governed.

 

 
 
 

FURTHER READING

 

 

Uncle Sam Can't Count

Burton W. Folsom, Jr. and Anita Folsom

A Capitalist Manifesto

Gary Wolfram

New Deal or Raw Deal

Burton W. Folsom, Jr.

   

The Myth of the Robber Barons

Burton W. Folsom, Jr. and Forrest McDonald

   

 

 
 

ECONOMICS IN HISTORY

 

The Boston Tea Party
1774

Patriots in Boston were infuriated by the Tea Act of 1773. A group of colonists led by Samuel Adams boarded East India Company ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor. In response, Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts, punishing all of Massachusetts and expanding British authority in the colonies.

The Intolerable Acts
1774

The Boston Tea Party provoked a quick reprisal from the British Parliament, which passed the Coercive Acts. The colonists called this series of acts the “Intolerable Acts,” and formed the First Continental Congress the following September in response.

The First Bank of the United States
1791

Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the Treasury, argued that a federal central bank was crucial to the United States’ fiscal health. Upon his recommendation, Congress established the first national bank, though it allowed its 20-year charter to expire just before the War of 1812.

 

"The American System" Speech
1824

Speaker of the House Henry Clay outlined an economic plan that was largely adopted in the decade following. The plan included a second national bank, a high tariff, and extensive internal improvements funded by the national government. The plan was largely adopted over the following decade.

Second Bank of the United States Expires
1836

Viewing the Second Bank of the United States as a source of inflation and corruption, President Andrew Jackson promised to destroy it during his term of office. Though the bank’s charter renewal passed in Congress in 1836, Jackson vetoed the bill. The bank continued to exist as a state institution, but Jackson cut off its federal support. The troubled bank finally closed several years later.

Sherman Antitrust Act
1890

One of the earliest progressive laws, the Sherman Antitrust Act declared illegal all monopolies, combinations, and contracts which aimed at the “restraint of trade or commerce among the Several states.” The federal government was empowered to enforce this legislation and penalize companies or individuals deemed in violation of it.

Federal Reserve
1913

Signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, the Federal Reserve Act created the third national bank in American history.

16th Amendment
1913

The 16th Amendment, passed at the height of the Progressive era, granted Congress the power to levy direct taxes and income taxes.

Clayton Antitrust Act
1914

The Clayton Antitrust Act built on the foundation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Trumpeted by President Woodrow Wilson, the act prohibited anti-competitive price discrimination and mergers between private businesses.

Black Tuesday Stock Market Crash
1929

The Wall Street Crash of 1929, commonly known as the “Great Crash” or “Black Tuesday,” marked the beginning of the Great Depression.

Smoot-Hawley Tarriff
1930

One of the initial federal attempts to bring an end to the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff raised tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods. The Act backfired, as both imports and exports drastically fell, further crippling the economy.

The New Deal
1933

Franklin D. Roosevelt promised the American people a 'new deal," designed to end the Great Depression through a series of new government agencies and commissions, most of which were passed by Congress between 1933 and 1935.

The Great Society
1964

As president, Lyndon B. Johnson proposed a series of domestic economic programs in pursuit of creating what he called the "Great Society." It included many new agencies and entitlement programs including the War on Poverty, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Black Monday Stock Market Crash
1987

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 508 points in a single day, setting a record for the largest single-day percentage drop. Despite predictions of a new Great Depression, the markets recovered with surprising speed.