Commercial Republic Initiative

The Commercial Republic Initiative aims to broaden undergraduate education to include a vital understanding of the origins of our modern constitutional order.

The Commercial Republic Initiative

Three-Year Project, Far-Reaching Results

June 2016 marked the finale of the Commercial Republic Initiative, JMC’s three-year national interdisciplinary project to enrich teaching and scholarship on campuses from MIT to UCLA.

Made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the Commercial Republic Initiative advanced the study of the central ideas of enterprise, commerce, law and science that emerged during the 18th century—ideas that critically influenced the American Founders, shaping their experiment in constitution making.

“This has been an extraordinary opportunity to bring the best scholars from a range of disciplines to consider the deep sources of our modern ideas and institutions,” said Dr. Pamela Edwards, executive director of partner programs and research initiatives.

“What are the sources of innovation in science and technology? How do new understandings of markets, contracts and rights influence prosperity and the long-term possibilities of free commercial societies? These are not only questions for the humanities, they are critical for all students, whether in business, law or engineering.”

The initiative began with projects at six major universities—Yale, MIT, Northwestern, UW-Madison, UCLA and IIT—and later joined by UC-Davis and Roosevelt University.

Working to integrate the humanities into scientific and technical education, the initiative focused on pre-professional students in business, science, engineering and law.

Two JMC Summer Institutes were conducted as part of the project with 80 scholars and teaching faculty participating along with multiple publishing workshops for fellows, all to support scholarship and teaching.

“The outcomes of the Commercial Republic Initiative cannot be fully realized yet,” said Mike Ratliff, JMC president.

“Thanks to the support of the John Templeton Foundation, this initiative has sparked a new direction in education and research, paving the way for students across campuses and across disciplines in the coming decades to learn about the innovative ideas that inspired the Founders and made possible modern commercial society.”


The battle for the soul of our nation will be won or lost in our classrooms.™ –Jack Miller

Northwestern University – The Alexander Hamilton Project

Laura Beth Nielsen, Director

The Alexander Hamilton Project promotes the study of law and economics, particularly as it relates to the philosophical foundations of American political thought, American Founding Principles and the Constitution. The Project associates itself with Alexander Hamilton because of his cosmopolitan roots, connection to American financial systems and influence on American government.

Illinois Institute of Technology – Benjamin Franklin Project

Harold Krent, Director

The Benjamin Franklin Project seeks to inspire a new generation of students who, like Franklin, seek to innovate by crossing disciplinary and professional lines. The Project is particularly interested in bringing the sciences into conversation with the humanities, accepting the premise that positive innovation in any discipline requires mutual understanding.

Yale University – Yale Center for the Study of Representative Institutions

Steven Smith and Keith Wrightson, Directors

The Yale Center for the Study of Representative Institutions is an interdisciplinary pilot program, established for the purpose of developing the study of the theory and practice of representative government in the Anglo-American tradition. It is hosted by the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.

UCLA – Commercial Republic Project

Daniel Lowenstein, Director

The Commercial Republic Project studies the intellectual history, political economy, and ethical architecture of commercial society as it took shape through the eighteenth century in Europe and America.

Roosevelt University – Montesquieu Forum

Stuart Warner, Director

Recently joining the Commercial Republic initiative, the Montesquieu Forum’s principal purpose is to facilitate and further the study of the Classical and European heritage informing the American founding period.  In particular, the Forum focuses on the contributions of thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Polybius, Plutarch, Francis Bacon, Renee Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Montesquieu and the Bible.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Benjamin Franklin Project

Bernhardt Trout, Director

The MIT Benjamin Franklin Project is a new educational initiative with the aim of training engineers more broadly, the measure being the education of Benjamin Franklin. The Project offers students an opportunity to consider thoughtfully and in a sustained manner how engineering is part of the human good. The approach is a careful consideration of the ethical, philosophical, political, and historical, all within the context of engineering. The goal is to understand engineering as it fits into the whole.

University of Wisconsin-Madison – Benjamin Franklin Initiative

John Zumbrunnen, Director

The Benjamin Franklin Initiative seeks explore how innovation in science and technology influenced American founding principles and political practice in the Atlantic Enlightenment more broadly.

University of California, Davis – Davis Political Theory Forum Seminar Series

The 2015-2016 seminar series at the David Political Theory Forum is titled “Faith, Philosophy, and Politics in Modern Political Thought.”

*In addition to these lectures, graduate student seminars will be held.

Daniel Doneson (University of Chicago, PhD) – Benjamin Franklin Project, MIT

Dr. Doneson is a Senior Fellow and Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering for the MIT Benjamin Franklin Project at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His areas of specialty include ancient, medieval, and modern political philosophy, the American political tradition, and 19th and 20th century German philosophy. He is currently completing a book on the discovery of politics and the origins of classical constitutionalism.

Courses taught for MIT’s Benjamin Franklin Project

  • Foundations of Principled Entrepreneurship
  • Ethics, Politics, and Modern Science
  • Ethics for Engineers

Michelle Schwarze (University of California, Davis, PhD) – Benjamin Franklin Initiative, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Dr. Schwarze’s research interests include political theory, moral psychology, David Hume, Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson, and James Wilson.

Courses taught for UW’s Benjamin Franklin Initiative

  •  Passions and Political Deliberation
  • Politics and the Sentimental Society in 18th Century Scotland and America
  • 17th and 18th century Empiricism
  • Legitimacy and American Democracy
  • Is Inequality Good? Economic Inequality and Political Theory

Carolyn Purnell (University of Chicago, PhD) – Benjamin Franklin Project, IIT

Dr. Purnell’s research interests include the history of the senses, the relationship between medicine, philosophy, and social reform, and the history of everyday life. She has taught courses on European history, social theory, gender and sexuality, and history of science. Dr. Purnell is currently completing a book on the body and the French Enlightenment.

Courses taught for IIT’s Benjamin Franklin Project

  • Perceiving the World: Self, Society, and the Senses in Historical Context
  • The Economy of the Senses in the 18th Century
  • Inventors and Innovation

Steven Bilakovics (University of Texas, Austin, PhD) – Commercial Republic Project, UCLA

Dr. Bilakovics’ research interests include democratic social and political theory, capitalism, American political thought, the history of political thought and contemporary theory. He is the author of Democracy Without Politics.

Courses taught for UCLA’s Commercial Republic Project

  • Rights, Representation, and Revolution: The Making of Liberal Democracy in European Thought
  • Nature, Culture, and the Individual: The Making of Capitalism in European Thought
  • The Rise of Liberal Democracy

Susan Gaunt Stearns (University of Chicago, PhD) – Alexander Hamilton Project, Northwestern.

Dr. Stearns’ current research focuses on the political economy of the early American frontier, through an examination of the Mississippi River. Prior to becoming the postdoctoral fellow for the Alexander Hamilton Project, she taught at Mary Baldwin College. Her current work focuses on the American founding and the history of economics markets in the early trans-Appalachian west.

Courses taught for Northwestern’s Alexander Hamilton Project

  • The Rhetoric and Politics of the American Revolution
  • The Constitution, Then and Now
  • Ratifying the Constitution

Benjamin Lynerd (University of Chicago, PhD) – Montesquieu Forum, Roosevelt University

Dr. Lynerd’s research and teaching interests include political theory, political theology and civil religion, American political thought, American political institutions, moral philosophy, and the Scottish Enlightenment. He is the author of the recently released book Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals, which explores the question of American evangelicals maintaining a pronounced and qualified commitment to an ideology of limited government.

Courses taught for Roosevelt University’s Montesquieu Forum

  • The Federalist and Antifederalist Papers
  • The Enlightenment
  • The Philosophy of Frederick Douglass

Ariel Ron (University of California, Berkeley, PhD) – Yale Center for the Study of Representative Institutions

Dr. Ron was a visiting research associate at the NcNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a lecturer for the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey during the 2013-2014 academic year.    He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Early American Economy and Society at the Library Company of Philadelphia.  He has taught courses on the American Civic War and 19th century political economy.  He has published “‘Scientific Agriculture’ and Economic Development in the American School of Political Economy” in the Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

Courses taught for the Yale Center for the Study of Representative Institutions 

  • Capitalism and Government in Nineteenth Century America
  • Emergence of the Nation State