Schools for Statesmen

The Divergent Educations of the Constitutional Framers

Andrew H. Browning

“Whatever Principles are imbibed at College will run thro’ a Man’s whole future Conduct.”——William Livingston, signer of the Constitution

Schools for Statesmen explores the fifty-five individual Framers of the Constitution in close detail and argues that their different educations help explain their divergent positions at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Those educations ranged from outlawed Irish “hedge schools” to England’s venerable Inns of Court, from the grammar schools of New England to ambitious new academies springing up on the Carolina frontier. The more traditional schools that focused on Greek and Latin classics (Oxford, Harvard, Yale, William and Mary) were deeply conservative institutions resistant to change. But the Scottish colleges and the newer American schools (Princeton, Philadelphia, King’s College) introduced students to a Scottish Enlightenment curriculum that fostered more radical, forward-thinking leaders. Half of the Framers had no college education and were often self-taught or had private tutors; most were quiet at the convention, although a few stubbornly opposed the new ideas they were hearing. Nearly all the delegates who took the lead at the convention had been educated at the newer, innovative colleges, but of the seven who rejected the new Constitution, three had gone to the older traditional schools, while three others had not gone to college at all.

Schools for Statesmen constitutes the most comprehensive analysis ever published of the education of the Framers of the US Constitution. Its detailed account of the Framers’ tutors, grammar schools, colleges, and legal training is unparalleled. Its thesis—that the close personal connections between Framers of different states that were formed at colonial colleges, in combination with the ideas they imbibed together there, played a crucial role in the momentous decisions they reached at the Constitutional Convention—is especially provocative.””

——Carl Richard, author of The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment

““Myths abound about the US Constitution and the men who created it. By contrast, this exceedingly well-researched book digs deeply into primary and secondary sources to illuminate the varied educational experiences of the Framers. The result is a remarkably helpful study of those men and a book full of insights concerning the varied intellectual currents of the eighteenth century, the work of the Constitutional Convention itself, and the nature of the document it produced.””

—Mark Noll, author of Princeton and the Republic, 1768–1822

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Schools for Statesmen is an unprecedented analysis of the sharply divergent educations of the Framers of the Constitution. It reveals the ways in which the Constitutional Convention, rather than being a counterrevolution by conservative elites, was dominated by forward-thinking innovators who had benefited from the educational revolution beginning in the mid-eighteenth century.

Andrew Browning offers a new and persuasive explanation of key disagreements among the Framers and the process by which they were able to break through the impasse that threatened the convention; he provides a fresh understanding of the importance of education in what has been called the “Critical Period” of US history.

Schools for Statesmen takes a deep dive into the diverse educational world of the eighteenth century and sheds new light on the origins of the US Constitution.

About the Author

Andrew H. Browning is author of The Panic of 1819: The First Great Depression. He was educated at Princeton and the University of Virginia and has taught history in Washington, DC; Portland, Oregon; and Honolulu, Hawaii.