Science and the Founding Fathers

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

I. Bernard Cohen (Author, Harvard University)

Overview | Inside the Book

General readers, students of American history, and professional historians alike will profit from reading this engaging presentation of an aspect of American history conspicuously absent from the usual textbooks and popular presentations of the political thought of early America.

Thomas Jefferson was the only president who could read and understand Newton's Principia. Benjamin Franklin is credited with establishing the science of electricity. John Adams had the finest education in science that the new country could provide, including "Pnewmaticks, Hydrostaticks, Mechanicks, Staticks, Opticks." James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, peppered his Federalist Papers with references 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.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • January 1997
  • ISBN 978-0-393-31510-3
  • 6.1 × 9.3 in / 368 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Intellectually engaging…deftly written.” — Boston Globe

“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.” — Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating study…the founding fathers appear in an interesting new light, thanks to Cohen's fresh, not to say iconoclastic, vision.” — Kirkus Reviews

Also by I. Bernard Cohen All

  1. Book CoverNewton


  2. Book CoverThe Triumph of Numbers: How Counting Shaped Modern Life


All Subjects