Commentary on the Constitution

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United StatesThe Federalist Papers

The Anti-Federalist Papers

The Heritage Foundation has an online guide to the Constitution that is part of their First Principles project.

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution is intended to provide a brief and accurate explanation of each clause of the Constitution as envisioned by the Framers and as applied in contemporary law. Its particular aim is to provide lawmakers with a means to defend their role and to fulfill their responsibilities in our constitutional order. Yet while the Guide will provide a reliable reference for lawmakers and policy-makers, and be especially useful for the trained jurist, it is written to be explanatory and educational, accessible and helpful for informed citizens and students of the Constitution generally….

In addition to the text of the Constitution itself, and as reflected by extensive references throughout the Guide, we have taken three widely recognized sources to be especially authoritative in this project. First, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, the definitive collection of the records and debates of the Constitutional Convention, written by participants of the Convention, including in particular the extensive notes taken by James Madison. Second, The Federalist Papers, the great series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in 1787 and 1788 to defend the Constitution during the debates over the document’s ratification. And third, Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, a classic and substantive work on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, written in 1833 by one of its best scholars and one of the greatest justices of the Supreme Court.

The first edition of The Heritage Guide to the Constitution was published in 2005. Ed Whelan wrote that it was “an invaluable reference work that anyone interested in learning more about the Constitution should have on his bookshelf.” A second edition was published in 2014.

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, Second Edition takes into account a decade of Supreme Court decisions and legal scholarship on such issues as gun rights, religious freedom, campaign finance, civil rights, and health care reform.

Hillsdale College has a free online course, Constitution 101: “The Meaning and History of the Constitution.”

The Witherspoon Institute has primary documents and commentary at its Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism.

The Witherspoon Institute’s online center for Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism. This resource is conceived as an archive for and a commentary and study guide to the seminal documents of the natural law and natural rights tradition, especially as that tradition relates to American constitutionalism and political thought.

The University of Chicago has a number of primary documents posted online at The Founders’ Constitution. I would caution you that the University of Chicago is not a conservative institution, and its progressive bias is evident in the introduction, and may even find its way into the choice of documents. There are many at the site, and I’m not a qualified historian to evaluate the selected documents. There is some overlap with the other sites I’ve listed.

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