Founding Fathers of the United States

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Declaration of Independence, an 1819 painting by John Trumbull depicting the Committee of Five presenting their draft to the Second Continental Congress on June 28, 1776 Declaration of Independence (1819), by John Trumbull.jpg
Declaration of Independence , an 1819 painting by John Trumbull depicting the Committee of Five presenting their draft to the Second Continental Congress on June 28, 1776
Signature page of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that was negotiated on behalf of the United States by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay Treaty of Paris 1783 - last page (hi-res).jpg
Signature page of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that was negotiated on behalf of the United States by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay
A Committee of Five, composed of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, drafted and presented to the Continental Congress what became known as the U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. Committee of Five, 1776.png
A Committee of Five, composed of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, drafted and presented to the Continental Congress what became known as the U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776.

The Founding Fathers of the United States, or simply the Founding Fathers or Founders, were a group of American leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies, led the war for independence from Great Britain, and built a frame of government for the new United States of America upon republican principles during the latter decades of the 18th century.

Contents

Historian Richard B. Morris in 1973 identified the following seven figures as key Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington based on the critical and substantive roles they played in the formation of the country's new government. [2] [3] Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were members of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were authors of The Federalist Papers , advocating ratification of the Constitution. The constitutions drafted by Jay and Adams for their respective states of New York (1777) and Massachusetts (1780) were heavily relied upon when creating language for the U.S. Constitution. [4] Jay, Adams, and Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1783) that would end the American Revolutionary War. [5] Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and was president of the Constitutional Convention. All held additional important roles in the early government of the United States, with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison serving as president. Jay was the nation's first chief justice, Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, and Franklin was America's most senior diplomat, and later the governmental leader of Pennsylvania.

The term Founding Fathers is sometimes more broadly used to refer to the Signers of the embossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, although four significant founders – George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison – were not signers. [6] Signers is not to be confused with the term Framers; the Framers are defined by the National Archives as those 55 individuals who were appointed to be delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and took part in drafting the proposed Constitution of the United States. Of the 55 Framers, only 39 were signers of the Constitution. [7] [8] Two further groupings of Founding Fathers include: 1) those who signed the Continental Association, a trade ban and one of the colonists' first collective volleys protesting British control and the Intolerable Acts in 1774, [9] and 2) those who signed the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitutional document. [10]

The phrase Founding Fathers is a 20th-century appellation, coined by Warren G. Harding in 1916. [11]

Background

The Albany Congress of 1754 was a conference attended by seven colonies, which presaged later efforts at cooperation. The Stamp Act Congress of 1765 included representatives from nine colonies. Albany Congress.jpeg
The Albany Congress of 1754 was a conference attended by seven colonies, which presaged later efforts at cooperation. The Stamp Act Congress of 1765 included representatives from nine colonies.

The First Continental Congress met briefly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1774, consisting of 56 delegates from all thirteen American colonies except Georgia. Among them was George Washington, who would soon be drawn out of military retirement to command the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Also in attendance were Patrick Henry and John Adams, who, like all delegates, were elected by their respective colonial assemblies. Other delegates included Samuel Adams from Massachusetts, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania and New York's John Jay. This congress, in addition to formulating appeals to the British crown, established the Continental Association to administer boycott actions against Britain.

When the Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, it essentially reconstituted the First Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting participated in the second. [12] New arrivals included Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, John Hancock of Massachusetts, John Witherspoon of New Jersey, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton of Maryland, who was named as a late delegate due to his being Roman Catholic. Hancock was elected Congress president two weeks into the session when Peyton Randolph was recalled to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses. Thomas Jefferson replaced Randolph in the Virginia congressional delegation. [13] The second Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon was the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration. He also signed the Articles of Confederation and attended the New Jersey (1787) convention that ratified the Federal Constitution.

The newly founded country of the United States had to create a new government to replace the British Parliament. The U.S. adopted the Articles of Confederation, a declaration that established a national government with a one-house legislature. Its ratification by all thirteen colonies gave the second Congress a new name: the Congress of the Confederation, which met from 1781 to 1789. [14] The Constitutional Convention took place during the summer of 1787, in Philadelphia. [15] Although the convention was called to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset for some including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton was to create a new frame of government rather than amending the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention. The result of the convention was the United States Constitution and the replacement of the Continental Congress with the United States Congress.

Social background and commonalities

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy (1940) Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States.jpg
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy (1940)
George Washington served as president of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg
George Washington served as president of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
Benjamin Franklin, an early advocate of colonial unity, was a foundational figure in defining the US ethos and exemplified the emerging nation's ideals. BenFranklinDuplessis.jpg
Benjamin Franklin, an early advocate of colonial unity, was a foundational figure in defining the US ethos and exemplified the emerging nation's ideals.
Robert R. Livingston, member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Robert R Livingston, attributed to Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828).jpg
Robert R. Livingston, member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence.
Alexander Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers with Jay and Madison. Alexander Hamilton.jpg
Alexander Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers with Jay and Madison.
John Jay was president of the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1779 and negotiated the Treaty of Paris with Adams and Franklin. John Jay (Gilbert Stuart portrait).jpg
John Jay was president of the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1779 and negotiated the Treaty of Paris with Adams and Franklin.
James Madison, called the "Father of the Constitution" by his contemporaries Gilbert Stuart, James Madison, c. 1821, NGA 56914.jpg
James Madison, called the "Father of the Constitution" by his contemporaries
Peyton Randolph, as president of the Continental Congress, presided over creation of the Continental Association. PeytonRandolph.jpeg
Peyton Randolph, as president of the Continental Congress, presided over creation of the Continental Association.
Richard Henry Lee, who introduced the Lee Resolution in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain Richard Henry Lee at Nat. Portrait Gallery IMG 4471.JPG
Richard Henry Lee, who introduced the Lee Resolution in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain
John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, renowned for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence John Hancock 1770-crop.jpg
John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, renowned for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence
John Dickinson authored the first draft of the Articles of Confederation in 1776 while serving in the Continental Congress as a delegate from Pennsylvania, and signed them late the following year, after being elected to Congress as a delegate from Delaware. John Dickinson portrait.jpg
John Dickinson authored the first draft of the Articles of Confederation in 1776 while serving in the Continental Congress as a delegate from Pennsylvania, and signed them late the following year, after being elected to Congress as a delegate from Delaware.
Henry Laurens was president of the Continental Congress when the Articles were passed on November 15, 1777. Henry laurens.jpg
Henry Laurens was president of the Continental Congress when the Articles were passed on November 15, 1777.
Roger Sherman, a member of the Committee of Five, the only person who signed all four U.S. founding documents. RogerShermanPortrait.jpg
Roger Sherman, a member of the Committee of Five, the only person who signed all four U.S. founding documents.
Robert Morris, president of Pennsylvania's Committee of Safety and one of the founders of the financial system of the United States. Robert morris portrait.jpg
Robert Morris, president of Pennsylvania's Committee of Safety and one of the founders of the financial system of the United States.

The Founding Fathers represented a cross-section of 18th-century U.S. leadership. According to a study of the biographies by Caroline Robbins:

The Signers came for the most part from an educated elite, were residents of older settlements, and belonged with a few exceptions to a moderately well-to-do class representing only a fraction of the population. Native or born overseas, they were of British stock and of the Protestant faith. [16] [17]

They were leaders in their communities; several were also prominent in national affairs. Virtually all participated in the American Revolution; at the Constitutional Convention at least 29 had served in the Continental Army, most of them in positions of command. Scholars have examined the collective biography of the Founders, including both the signers of the Declaration and of the Constitution. [18]

Education

Many of the Founding Fathers attended or graduated from the colonial colleges, most notably Columbia known at the time as "King's College", Princeton originally known as "The College of New Jersey", Harvard College, the College of William and Mary, Yale College and University of Pennsylvania. Some had previously been home schooled or obtained early instruction from private tutors or academies. [19] Others had studied abroad. Ironically, Benjamin Franklin who had little formal education himself would ultimately establish the College of Philadelphia (1755); "Penn" would have the first medical school (1765) in the thirteen colonies where another Founder, Benjamin Rush would eventually teach.

With a limited number of professional schools established in the U.S., Founders also sought advanced degrees from traditional institutions in England and Scotland such as the University of Edinburgh, the University of St. Andrews, and the University of Glasgow.

Colleges attended

Advanced degrees and apprenticeships

Doctors of Medicine

  • University of Edinburgh: Rush [24]
  • University of Utrecht, Netherlands: Williamson

Theology

  • University of Edinburgh: Witherspoon (attended, no degree)
  • University of St. Andrews: Witherspoon (honorary doctorate)

Several like John Jay, James Wilson, John Williams and George Wythe [25] were trained as lawyers through apprenticeships in the colonies while a few trained at the Inns of Court in London. Charles Carroll of Carrollton earned his law degree at Temple in London.

Self-taught or little formal education

Franklin, Washington, John Williams and Henry Wisner had little formal education and were largely self-taught or learned through apprenticeship.

Demographics

The great majority were born in the Thirteen Colonies. But at least nine were born in other parts of the British Empire:

Many of them had moved from one colony to another. Eighteen had already lived, studied or worked in more than one colony: Baldwin, Bassett, Bedford, Davie, Dickinson, Few, Franklin, Ingersoll, Hamilton, Livingston, Alexander Martin, Luther Martin, Mercer, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, Read, Sherman, and Williamson.

Several others had studied or traveled abroad.

Occupations

The Founding Fathers practiced a wide range of high and middle-status occupations, and many pursued more than one career simultaneously. They did not differ dramatically from the Loyalists, except they were generally younger and less senior in their professions. [26]

Finances

Historian Caroline Robbins in 1977 examined the status of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and concluded:

There were indeed disparities of wealth, earned or inherited: some Signers were rich, others had about enough to enable them to attend Congress. ... The majority of revolutionaries were from moderately well-to-do or average income brackets. Twice as many Loyalists belonged to the wealthiest echelon. But some Signers were rich; few, indigent. ... The Signers were elected not for wealth or rank so much as because of the evidence they had already evinced of willingness for public service. [28]

A few of them were wealthy or had financial resources that ranged from good to excellent, but there are other founders who were less than wealthy. On the whole they were less wealthy than the Loyalists. [26]

Prior political experience

Several of the Founding Fathers had extensive national, state, local and foreign political experience prior to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787. Some had been diplomats. Several had been members of the Continental Congress or elected president of that body.

Nearly all of the 55 Constitutional Convention delegates had some experience in colonial and state government, and the majority had held county and local offices. [30] Those who lacked national congressional experience were Bassett, Blair, Brearly, Broom, Davie, Dayton, Alexander Martin, Luther Martin, Mason, McClurg, Paterson, Charles Pinckney, Strong, and Yates.

Religion

Franklin T. Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of some of the Founders. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 28 were Anglicans (i.e. Church of England; or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), 21 were other Protestants, and two were Roman Catholics (D. Carroll and Fitzsimons). [31] Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists. [31]

A few prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical notably Jefferson. [32] [33]

Historian Gregg L. Frazer argues that the leading Founders (John Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, Morris, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington) were neither Christians nor Deists, but rather supporters of a hybrid "theistic rationalism". [34]

Many Founders deliberately avoided public discussion of their faith. Historian David L. Holmes uses evidence gleaned from letters, government documents, and second-hand accounts to identify their religious beliefs. [35]

Ownership of slaves and position on slavery

Portrait of George Washington and his valet slave William Lee GW-painting.jpg
Portrait of George Washington and his valet slave William Lee

The founding fathers were not unified on the issue of slavery. Many of them were opposed to it and repeatedly attempted to end slavery in many of the colonies, but predicted that the issue would threaten to tear the country apart and had limited power to deal with it. In her study of Thomas Jefferson, historian Annette Gordon-Reed discusses this topic, "Others of the founders held slaves, but no other founder drafted the charter for freedom". [36] In addition to Jefferson, George Washington, and many other of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners, but some were also conflicted by the institution, seeing it as immoral and politically divisive; Washington gradually became a cautious supporter of abolitionism and freed his slaves in his will. John Jay led the successful fight to outlaw the slave trade in New York. [37] Conversely, many founders such as Samuel Adams and John Adams were against slavery their entire lives. Benjamin Rush wrote a pamphlet in 1773 which criticized the slave trade as well as the institution of slavery. In the pamphlet, Rush argued on a scientific basis that Africans were not by nature intellectually or morally inferior, and that any apparent evidence to the contrary was only the "perverted expression" of slavery, which "is so foreign to the human mind, that the moral faculties, as well as those of the understanding are debased, and rendered torpid by it." The Continental Association of 1774 contained a clause which banned any Patriot involvement in slave trading. [38] [39] [40] [41]

Franklin, though he was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, [42] originally owned slaves whom he later manumitted. While serving in the Rhode Island Assembly, Stephen Hopkins introduced one of the earliest anti-slavery laws in the colonies, and John Jay would try unsuccessfully to abolish slavery as early as 1777 in the State of New York. [43] He nonetheless founded the New York Manumission Society in 1785, for which Hamilton became an officer. They and other members of the Society founded the African Free School in New York City, to educate the children of free blacks and slaves. When Jay was governor of New York in 1798, he helped secure and signed into law an abolition law; fully ending forced labor as of 1827. He freed his own slaves in 1798. Alexander Hamilton opposed slavery, as his experiences in life left him very familiar with slavery and its effect on slaves and on slaveholders, [44] although he did negotiate slave transactions for his wife's family, the Schuylers. [45] John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Paine never owned slaves. [46]

Slaves and slavery are mentioned only indirectly in the 1787 Constitution. For example, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 prescribes that "three-fifths of all other Persons" are to be counted for the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives and direct taxes. Additionally, in Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3, slaves are referred to as "persons held in service or labor". [42] [47] The Founding Fathers, however, did make important efforts to contain slavery. Many Northern states had adopted legislation to end or significantly reduce slavery during and after the American Revolution. [47] In 1782 Virginia passed a manumission law that allowed slave owners to free their slaves by will or deed. [48] As a result, thousands of slaves were manumitted in Virginia. [48] Thomas Jefferson, in 1784, proposed to ban slavery in all the Western Territories, which failed to pass Congress by one vote. [47] Partially following Jefferson's plan, Congress did ban slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, for lands north of the Ohio River. [47]

The international slave trade was banned in all states except South Carolina, by 1800. Finally in 1807, President Jefferson called for and signed into law a Federally-enforced ban on the international slave trade throughout the U.S. and its territories. It became a federal crime to import or export a slave. [47] However, the domestic slave trade was allowed, for expansion, or for diffusion of slavery into the Louisiana Territory. [47]

Attendance at conventions

In the winter and spring of 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states chose a total of 74 delegates to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Nineteen delegates chose not to accept election or attend the debates. Among them was Patrick Henry of Virginia, who in response to questions about his refusal to attend was quick to reply, "I smelled a rat." He believed that the frame of government convention organizers were intent on building would trample upon the rights of citizens. [49] Also, Rhode Island's lack of representation at the convention was due to leader's suspicions of the convention delegates' motivations. As the colony was founded by Roger Williams as a sanctuary for Baptists, Rhode Island's absence at the convention in part explains the absence of Baptist affiliation among those who did attend. Of the 55 who did attend at some point, no more than 38 delegates showed up at one time. [50]

Spouses and children

Only four (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Alexander Martin) were lifelong bachelors. Many of the Founding Fathers' wives, like Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sarah Livingston Jay, Dolley Madison, Mary White Morris and Catherine Alexander Duer, were strong women who made significant contributions of their own to the fight for liberty. [51]

Sherman fathered the largest family: 15 children by two wives. At least nine (Bassett, Brearly, Johnson, Mason, Paterson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Sherman, Wilson, and Wythe) married more than once. George Washington, who became known as "The Father of His Country", [52] had no biological children, though he and his wife raised two children from her first marriage and two grandchildren.

Signatories to founding documents

Among the state documents promulgated between 1774 and 1789 by the Continental Congress, four are paramount: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. Altogether, 145 men signed at least one of the four documents. In each instance, roughly 50% of the names signed are unique to that document. Only a few people (6) signed three of the four, and only Roger Sherman of Connecticut signed all of them. [53] The following persons signed one or more of these United States formative documents:

NameProvince/state#
DS
CA (1774) DI (1776) AC (1777) USC (1787)
Andrew Adams Connecticut 1Yes
John Adams Massachusetts 2YesYes
Samuel Adams Massachusetts 3YesYesYes
Thomas Adams Virginia 1Yes
John Alsop New York 1Yes
Abraham Baldwin Georgia 1Yes
John Banister Virginia 1Yes
Josiah Bartlett New Hampshire 2YesYes
Richard Bassett Delaware 1Yes
Gunning Bedford Jr. Delaware 1Yes
Edward Biddle Pennsylvania 1Yes
John Blair Virginia 1Yes
Richard Bland Virginia 1Yes
William Blount North Carolina 1Yes
Simon Boerum New York 1Yes
Carter Braxton Virginia 1Yes
David Brearley New Jersey 1Yes
Jacob Broom Delaware 1Yes
Pierce Butler South Carolina 1Yes
Charles Carroll of Carrollton Maryland 1Yes
Daniel Carroll Maryland 2YesYes
Richard Caswell North Carolina 1Yes
Samuel Chase Maryland 2YesYes
Abraham Clark New Jersey 1Yes
William Clingan Pennsylvania 1Yes
George Clymer Pennsylvania 2YesYes
John Collins Rhode Island 1Yes
Stephen Crane New Jersey 1Yes
Thomas Cushing Massachusetts 1Yes
Francis Dana Massachusetts 1Yes
Jonathan Dayton New Jersey 1Yes
Silas Deane Connecticut 1Yes
John De Hart New Jersey 1Yes
John Dickinson Delaware 3 [lower-alpha 1] YesYes
Pennsylvania Yes
William Henry Drayton South Carolina 1Yes
James Duane New York 2YesYes
William Duer New York 1Yes
Eliphalet Dyer Connecticut 1Yes
William Ellery Rhode Island 2YesYes
William Few Georgia 1Yes
Thomas Fitzsimons Pennsylvania 1Yes
William Floyd New York 2YesYes
Nathaniel Folsom New Hampshire 1Yes
Benjamin Franklin Pennsylvania 2YesYes
Christopher Gadsden South Carolina 1Yes
Joseph Galloway Pennsylvania 1Yes
Elbridge Gerry Massachusetts 2YesYes
Nicholas Gilman New Hampshire 1Yes
Nathaniel Gorham Massachusetts 1Yes
Button Gwinnett Georgia 1Yes
Lyman Hall Georgia 1Yes
Alexander Hamilton New York 1Yes
John Hancock Massachusetts 2YesYes
John Hanson Maryland 1Yes
Cornelius Harnett North Carolina 1Yes
Benjamin Harrison Virginia 2YesYes
John Hart New Jersey 2Yes
John Harvie Virginia 1Yes
Patrick Henry Virginia 1Yes
Joseph Hewes North Carolina 2YesYes
Thomas Heyward Jr. South Carolina 2YesYes
Samuel Holten Massachusetts 1Yes
William Hooper North Carolina 2YesYes
Stephen Hopkins Rhode Island 2YesYes
Francis Hopkinson New Jersey 1Yes
Titus Hosmer Connecticut 1Yes
Charles Humphreys Pennsylvania 1Yes
Samuel Huntington Connecticut 2YesYes
Richard Hutson South Carolina 1Yes
Jared Ingersoll Pennsylvania 1Yes
William Jackson South Carolina 1Yes
John Jay New York 1Yes
Thomas Jefferson Virginia 1Yes
Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Maryland 1Yes
Thomas Johnson Maryland 1Yes
William Samuel Johnson Connecticut 1Yes
Rufus King Massachusetts 1Yes
James Kinsey New Jersey 1Yes
John Langdon New Hampshire 1Yes
Edward Langworthy Georgia 1Yes
Henry Laurens South Carolina 1Yes
Francis Lightfoot Lee Virginia 2YesYes
Richard Henry Lee Virginia 3YesYesYes
Francis Lewis New York 2YesYes
Philip Livingston New York 2YesYes
William Livingston New Jersey 2YesYes
James Lovell Massachusetts 1Yes
Isaac Low New York 1Yes
Thomas Lynch South Carolina 1Yes
Thomas Lynch Jr. South Carolina 1Yes
James Madison Virginia 1Yes
Henry Marchant Rhode Island 1Yes
John Mathews South Carolina 1Yes
James McHenry Maryland 1Yes
Thomas McKean Delaware 3YesYesYes
Arthur Middleton South Carolina 1Yes
Henry Middleton South Carolina 1Yes
Thomas Mifflin Pennsylvania 2YesYes
Gouverneur Morris New York 2 [lower-alpha 2] Yes
Pennsylvania Yes
Lewis Morris New York 1Yes
Robert Morris Pennsylvania 3YesYesYes
John Morton Pennsylvania 2YesYes
Thomas Nelson Jr. Virginia 1Yes
William Paca Maryland 2YesYes
Robert Treat Paine Massachusetts 2YesYes
William Paterson New Jersey 1Yes
Edmund Pendleton Virginia 1Yes
John Penn North Carolina 2YesYes
Charles Pinckney South Carolina 1Yes
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney South Carolina 1Yes
Peyton Randolph Virginia 1Yes
George Read Delaware 3YesYesYes
Joseph Reed Pennsylvania 1Yes
Daniel Roberdeau Pennsylvania 1Yes
Caesar Rodney Delaware 2YesYes
George Ross Pennsylvania 2YesYes
Benjamin Rush Pennsylvania 1Yes
Edward Rutledge South Carolina 2YesYes
John Rutledge South Carolina 2YesYes
Nathaniel Scudder New Jersey 1Yes
Roger Sherman Connecticut 4YesYesYesYes
James Smith Pennsylvania 1Yes
Jonathan Bayard Smith Pennsylvania 1Yes
Richard Smith New Jersey 1Yes
Richard Dobbs Spaight North Carolina 1Yes
Richard Stockton New Jersey 1Yes
Thomas Stone Maryland 1Yes
John Sullivan New Hampshire 1Yes
George Taylor Pennsylvania 1Yes
Edward Telfair Georgia 1Yes
Matthew Thornton New Hampshire 1Yes
Matthew Tilghman Maryland 1Yes
Nicholas Van Dyke Delaware 1Yes
George Walton Georgia 1Yes
John Walton Georgia 1Yes
Samuel Ward Rhode Island 1Yes
George Washington Virginia 2YesYes
John Wentworth Jr. New Hampshire 1Yes
William Whipple New Hampshire 1Yes
John Williams North Carolina 1Yes
William Williams Connecticut 1Yes
Hugh Williamson North Carolina 1Yes
James Wilson Pennsylvania 2YesYes
Henry Wisner New York 1Yes
John Witherspoon New Jersey 2YesYes
Oliver Wolcott Connecticut 2YesYes
George Wythe Virginia 1Yes

Notes:

  1. Dickinson signed three of the documents, two as a delegate from Delaware and one as a delegate from Pennsylvania.
  2. Morris signed two of the documents, one as a delegate from New York, and one as a delegate from Pennsylvania.

Post-constitution life

Subsequent events in the lives of the Founding Fathers after the adoption of the Constitution were characterized by success or failure, reflecting the abilities of these men as well as the vagaries of fate. [54] Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe served in highest U.S. office of president. Jay would be appointed as the first chief justice of the United States and later elected to two terms as Governor of New York. Alexander Hamilton would be appointed the first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789, and later Inspector General of the Army under President John Adams in 1798.

Seven (Fitzsimons, Gorham, Luther Martin, Mifflin, Robert Morris, Pierce, and Wilson) suffered serious financial reversals that left them in or near bankruptcy. Robert Morris spent three of the last years of his life imprisoned following bad land deals. [51] Two, Blount and Dayton, were involved in possibly treasonous activities. Yet, as they had done before the convention, most of the group continued to render public service, particularly to the new government they had helped to create.

Youth and longevity

Death age of the Founding Fathers Death Age-Founding Fathers.svg
Death age of the Founding Fathers

Many of the Founding Fathers were under 40 years old at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776: Aaron Burr was 20, Alexander Hamilton was 21, Gouverneur Morris was 24. The oldest were Benjamin Franklin, 70, and Samuel Whittemore, 81. [55]

A few Founding Fathers lived into their nineties, including: Paine Wingate, who died at age 98; Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who died at age 95; Charles Thomson, who died at 94; William Samuel Johnson, who died at 92; and John Adams, who died at 90. Among those who lived into their eighties were Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Whittmore, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Armstrong Jr., Hugh Williamson, and George Wythe. Approximately 16 died while in their seventies, and 21 in their sixties. Three (Alexander Hamilton, Richard Dobbs Spaight, and Button Gwinnett) were killed in duels. Two, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died on the same day, July 4, 1826. [56]

The last remaining founders, also poetically called the "Last of the Romans", lived well into the nineteenth century. [57] The last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who died in 1832. [58] The last surviving member of the Continental Congress was John Armstrong Jr., who died in 1843. He gained this distinction in 1838 upon the death of the only other surviving delegate, Paine Wingate. [59]

Other notable patriots of the period

The following men and women also advanced the new nation through their actions.

Abigail Adams, close advisor to her husband John Adams Abigail Adams.jpg
Abigail Adams, close advisor to her husband John Adams
George Mason, author of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights and co-father of the United States Bill of Rights George Mason.jpg
George Mason, author of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights and co-father of the United States Bill of Rights

Legacy

Institutions formed by Founders

Several Founding Fathers were instrumental in establishing schools and societal institutions that still exist today:

Scholarship on the Founders

Articles and books by twenty-first century historians combined with the digitization of primary sources like handwritten letters continue to contribute to an encyclopedic body of knowledge about the Founding Fathers.

Historians who focus on the Founding Fathers

Ron Chernow won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of George Washington. His bestselling book about Alexander Hamilton inspired the blockbuster musical of the same name.

Joseph J. Ellis – According to Ellis, the concept of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. emerged in the 1820s as the last survivors died out. Ellis says "the founders", or "the fathers", comprised an aggregate of semi-sacred figures whose particular accomplishments and singular achievements were decidedly less important than their sheer presence as a powerful but faceless symbol of past greatness. For the generation of national leaders coming of age in the 1820s and 1830s – men like Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun – "the founders" represented a heroic but anonymous abstraction whose long shadow fell across all followers and whose legendary accomplishments defied comparison.

We can win no laurels in a war for independence," Webster acknowledged in 1825. "Earlier and worthier hands have gathered them all. Nor are there places for us ... [as] the founders of states. Our fathers have filled them. But there remains to us a great duty of defence and preservation. [88]

Joanne B. Freeman – Freeman's area of expertise is the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton as well as political culture of the revolutionary and early national eras. [89] [90] [91] Freeman has documented the often opposing visions of the Founding Fathers as they tried to build a new framework for governance, "Regional distrust, personal animosity, accusation, suspicion, implication, and denouncement—this was the tenor of national politics from the outset." [92]

Annette Gordon-Reed is an American historian and Harvard Law School professor. She is noted for changing scholarship on Thomas Jefferson regarding his relationship with Sally Hemings and her children. She has studied the challenges facing the Founding Fathers particularly as it relates to their position and actions on slavery. She points out "the central dilemma at the heart of American democracy: the desire to create a society based on liberty and equality" that yet does not extend those privileges to all." [36]

David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize winning 2001 book, John Adams. , focuses on the Founding Father, and his 2005 book, 1776 , details George Washington's military history in the American Revolution and other independence events carried out by America's founders.

Peter S. Onuf – Thomas Jefferson

Jack N. Rakove – Thomas Jefferson

Noted collections of the Founding Fathers

In stage and film

The Founding Fathers were portrayed in the Tony Award–winning 1969 musical 1776, which depicted the debates over, and eventual adoption of, the Declaration of Independence. The stage production was adapted into the 1972 film of the same name.

The 1989 film A More Perfect Union , which was filmed on location in Independence Hall, depicts the events of the Constitutional Convention. The writing and passing of the founding documents are depicted in the 1997 documentary miniseries Liberty! , and the passage of the Declaration of Independence is portrayed in the second episode of the 2008 miniseries John Adams and the third episode of the 2015 miniseries Sons of Liberty . The Founders also feature in the 1986 miniseries George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation , the 2002-03 animated television series Liberty's Kids , the 2020 miniseries Washington , and in many other films and television portrayals.

Several Founding Fathers—Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr—were reimagined in Hamilton, a 2015 musical inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical won eleven Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. [93]

Children's books

In their 2015 children's book, The Founding Fathers author Jonah Winter and illustrator Barry Blitt categorized 14 leading patriots into two teams based on their contributions to the formation of America – the Varsity Squad (Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, John Adams, Madison, Jay, and Hamilton) and the Junior Varsity Squad (Sam Adams, Hancock, Henry, Morris, Marshall, Rush, and Paine). [94]

See also

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Events from the year 1790 in the United States.

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The Signing of the United States Constitution occurred on September 17, 1787, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, representing 12 states, endorsed the Constitution created during the four-month-long convention. In addition to signatures, this endorsement, the Constitution's closing protocol, included a brief declaration that the delegates' work has been successfully completed and that those whose signatures appear on it subscribe to the final document. Included are, a statement pronouncing the document's adoption by the states present, a formulaic dating of its adoption, along with the signatures of those endorsing it. Additionally, the convention's secretary, William Jackson, added a note to verify four amendments made by hand to the final document, and signed the note to authenticate its validity.

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