When the Founding Fathers were drafting the US constitution, the world around them had been dominated by kingdoms and empires for almost two millennia. But the Founders looked back in time to an unusual moment in ancient history that we now call the Classical Period, where they saw a network of states that had defied monarchical rule. These states had no king; they were run by citizens; they were wealthy and powerful; and, in the eyes of the Founders, they were free. The Founding Fathers looked to those models and said, “That's what we want.”

It was an extremely bold move for them to try to implement a political system that had not been attempted in over one and a half thousand years. But they didn't just copy the ancient models – they also tried to improve on them and fix some of the systemic weaknesses that had led those early republics to their eventual downfall. Amazingly, the ancient-inspired constitution the Founders came up with not only worked but also formed the backbone of the wealthiest and most powerful country in history.

Joining us to explore the influence of classical models on early American history is Caroline Winterer, professor of American History and of Classics at Stanford University and director of Stanford's Center for Humanities. Winterer is the author of American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason and of The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750–1900 among many other books and articles exploring the connections between antiquity and the early American experience.