Founding Fathers of the United States

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Declaration of Independence, an 1819 painting by John Trumbull, depicts the Committee of Five (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston) 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, depicts the Committee of Five (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston) 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

The Founding Fathers of the United States, or simply the Founding Fathers or Founders, were a group of American revolutionary 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 classical liberalism and republican principles during the later decades of the 18th century.

Contents

The phrase Founding Fathers was coined by Senator Warren G. Harding in 1916. [2] In 1973, historian Richard B. Morris identified 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. [3] [4] 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. [5] Jay, Adams, and Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris that brought an end to the American Revolutionary War. [6] Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and later 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, Adams and Jefferson as vice president, Jay as the nation's first chief justice, Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury, Jefferson and Madison as Secretary of State, 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 of the key founders – Washington, Jay, Hamilton, and Madison – were not signers. [7] 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. [8] [9] 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, [10] and 2) those who signed the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitutional document. [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 twelve of the thirteen American colonies except for 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. 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 their governance by 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.

List of Founding Fathers

Among the state documents promulgated between 1774 and 1789 by the Continental Congress, four are paramount: the Continental Association (CA) , the Declaration of Independence (DI) , the Articles of Confederation (AC), and the United States Constitution (USC). 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. Six men signed three of the four documents, and only Roger Sherman of Connecticut signed all of them. [16] The following persons are considered Founding Fathers of the United States of America, including some who did not sign a formative document:

NameProvince/stateNumber
Signed
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
Egbert Benson New York 0
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 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 Gadsen 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 1Yes
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
Robert R. Livingston New York 0
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
Luther Martin Maryland 0
George Mason Virginia 0
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 Read 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
Caleb Strong Massachusetts 0
John Sullivan New Hampshire 1Yes
George Taylor Pennsylvania 1Yes
Edward Telfair Georgia 1Yes
Charles Thomson Pennsylvania 0
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 Wison 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.

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. Joseph Siffrein Duplessis - Benjamin Franklin - Google Art Project.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 served as Washington's senior aide-de-camp during most of the Revolutionary War; wrote 51 of the 85 articles comprising the Federalist Papers; and created much of the administrative framework of the government. Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806.jpg
Alexander Hamilton served as Washington's senior aide-de-camp during most of the Revolutionary War; wrote 51 of the 85 articles comprising the Federalist Papers ; and created much of the administrative framework of the government.
John Jay was president of the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1779 and negotiated the Treaty of Paris with Adams and Franklin. Gilbert Stuart, John Jay, 1794, NGA 75023.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 Charles Willson Peale - Richard Henry Lee - NPG.74.5 - National Portrait Gallery.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. Roger Sherman 1721-1793 by Ralph Earl.jpeg
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. [17] [18]

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. [19]

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, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and the College of William and Mary. Some had previously been home schooled or obtained early instruction from private tutors or academies. [20] Others had studied abroad. Ironically, Franklin who had little formal education, would ultimately establish the College of Philadelphia (1755); "Penn" would have the first medical school (1765) in the thirteen colonies where another Founder, Rush, would eventually teach.

With a limited number of professional schools established in the colonies, 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

  • College of William and Mary: Jefferson, Harrison [21]
  • Harvard College: John Adams, Samuel Adams, Hancock and William Williams
  • King's College (now Columbia): Jay, Hamilton, [22] Gouverneur Morris, Robert Livingston and Egbert Benson. [23]
  • College of New Jersey (now Princeton): Madison, Bedford, Rush, and Paterson
  • College of Philadelphia, later merged into the University of Pennsylvania: eight signers of the Declaration of Independence and twelve signers of the U.S. Constitution [24]
  • Yale College: Wolcott and Andrew Adams
  • James Wilson attended the University of St Andrews and the University of Glasgow [25]

Advanced degrees and apprenticeships

Doctors of Medicine

  • University of Edinburgh: Rush [26]
  • University of Utrecht, Netherlands: Hugh Williamson

Theology

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

Several like Jay, Wilson, John Williams and Wythe [27] were trained as lawyers through apprenticeships in the colonies while a few trained at the Inns of Court in London. Charles Carroll earned his law degree at Temple in London.

Self-taught or little formal education

Franklin, Washington, John Williams and 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 eighteen were born in other parts of the British Empire:

Many of them had moved from one colony to another. Eighteen had lived, studied or worked in more than one colony: Baldwin, Bassett, Bedford, Dickinson, Few, Franklin, Ingersoll, Hamilton, Livingston, Martin, 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. [28]

Finances

In 1977, historian Caroline Robbins 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. [30]

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. [28]

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.

Nearly all of the Founding Fathers had some experience in colonial and state government, and the majority had held county and local offices. [32] Those who lacked national congressional experience were Bassett, Blair, Brearly, Broom, Davie, Dayton, Martin, Mason, McClurg, Paterson, Charles Pinckney, and Strong.

Religion

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 Protestant, and two were Roman Catholic (Daniel Carroll and Fitzsimons; Charles Carroll was Roman Catholic but was not a Constitution signatory). [33] 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. [33]

A few prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical, notably Jefferson. [34] [35] 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". [36] 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. [37]

Slavery

George Washington and his valet slave William Lee, by John Trumbull, 1780 George Washington by John Trumbull (1780).jpg
George Washington and his valet slave William Lee, by John Trumbull, 1780

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 Jefferson, historian Annette Gordon-Reed discusses this topic, "Others of the founders held slaves, but no other founder drafted the charter for freedom". [38] In addition to Jefferson, 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. Jay and Hamilton led the successful fight to outlaw the slave trade in New York, with the efforts beginning as early as 1777. [39] [40] Conversely, many Founders such as Samuel Adams and John Adams were against slavery their entire lives. Rush wrote a pamphlet in 1773 which criticizes the slave trade as well as the institution of slavery. In the pamphlet, Rush argues on a scientific basis that Africans are not by nature intellectually or morally inferior, and that any apparent evidence to the contrary is 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 contained a clause which banned any Patriot involvement in slave trading. [41] [42] [43] [44]

Franklin, though he was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, [45] originally owned slaves whom he later manumitted. While serving in the Rhode Island Assembly, in 1769 Hopkins introduced one of the earliest anti-slavery laws in the colonies. When Jefferson entered public life as a young member of the House of Burgesses, he began his career as a social reformer by an effort to secure legislation permitting the emancipation of slaves. Jay 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. Hamilton opposed slavery, as his experiences in life left him very familiar with slavery and its effect on slaves and on slaveholders, [46] although he did negotiate slave transactions for his wife's family, the Schuylers. [47] Many of the Founding Fathers never owned slaves, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Paine. [48]

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". [45] [49] 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. [49] In 1782, Virginia passed a manumission law that allowed slave owners to free their slaves by will or deed. [50] As a result, thousands of slaves were manumitted in Virginia. [50] In 1784, Jefferson proposed to ban slavery in all the western territories, which failed to pass Congress by one vote. [49] Partially following Jefferson's plan, Congress did ban slavery in the Northwest Ordinance, for lands north of the Ohio River. [49]

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. [49] However, the domestic slave trade was allowed for expansion or for diffusion of slavery into the Louisiana Territory. [49]

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 Henry, 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 the convention organizers were intent on building would trample upon the rights of citizens. [51] Also, Rhode Island's lack of representation at the convention was the result of 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. [52]

Spouses and children

Only four (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Martin) were lifelong bachelors. Many of the Founding Fathers' wives—such as 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. [53]

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. Washington, who became known as "The Father of His Country", [54] had no biological children, though he and his wife raised two children from her first marriage and two grandchildren.

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. [55] Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe served in the highest U.S. office of President. Jay was appointed as the first Chief Justice of the United States and later was elected to two terms as governor of New York. Hamilton was 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. [53] 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.

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: Hamilton was 21 and Gouverneur Morris was 24. The oldest was Franklin at 70. [56] A few Founding Fathers lived into their nineties, including: Charles Carroll, who died at age 95; Thomson, who died at 94; William Samuel Johnson, who died at 92; and John Adams, who died at 90. The last remaining Founders, also poetically called the "Last of the Romans", lived well into the 19th century. [57] The last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll, who died in 1832. [58] The last surviving member of the Continental Congress was John Armstrong Jr., who died in 1843. [59] Three (Hamilton, Spaight, and Gwinnett) were killed in duels. Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4, 1826. [60]

Legacy

Institutions formed by Founders

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

Noted collections of the Founding Fathers

Scholarship on the Founders

Articles and books by 21st-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 2010 biography of Washington. His 2004 bestselling book about Hamilton inspired the 2015 blockbuster musical of the same name. Both Peter S. Onuf and Jack N. Rakove researched Jefferson extensively.

According to Joseph 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. 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.

Daniel Webster, 1825. [61]

Joanne B. Freeman's area of expertise is the life and legacy of Hamilton as well as political culture of the revolutionary and early national eras. [62] [63] [64] 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." [65]

Annette Gordon-Reed is an American historian and Harvard Law School professor. She is noted for changing scholarship on Jefferson regarding his relationship with Sally Hemings and her children. She has studied the challenges faced by 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." [38]

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

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, and Madison—were reimagined in Hamilton, a 2015 musical inspired by Ron Chernow's 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. [66]

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). [67]

Presidents of the United States

The first five U.S. Presidents are regarded as Founding Fathers because of their active participation in the American Revolution: Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. They all previously served as delegates in the Continental Congress.

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

See also

Related Research Articles

James Madison Fourth president of the United States from 1809 to 1817

James Madison Jr. was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the 4th president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He is hailed as the "Father of the Constitution" for his pivotal role in drafting and promoting the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. He co-wrote The Federalist Papers, co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party, and served as the 5th Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809 under President Thomas Jefferson.

James Monroe 5th president of the United States from 1817 to 1825

James Monroe was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat and Founding Father who served as the 5th president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. A member of the Democratic-Republican Party, Monroe was the last president of the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation; his presidency coincided with the Era of Good Feelings, concluding the First Party System era of American politics. He is perhaps best known for issuing the Monroe Doctrine, a policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas. He also served as governor of Virginia, a member of the United States Senate, U.S. ambassador to France and Britain, the 7th Secretary of State, and the 8th Secretary of War.

United States Declaration of Independence 1776 assertion of colonial Americas independence from Great Britain

The United States Declaration of Independence is the pronouncement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. Enacted during the American Revolution, the Declaration explains why the Thirteen Colonies at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain regarded themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule. With the Declaration, these new states took a collective first step in forming the United States of America. The declaration was signed by 56 of America's Founding Fathers, congressional representatives from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Alexander Hamilton American founding father and statesman

Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman, who was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the founder of the nation's financial system, the Federalist Party, the United States Coast Guard, and the New York Post newspaper. As the first secretary of the treasury, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of the administration of President George Washington. He took the lead in the federal government's funding of the states' American Revolutionary War debts, as well as establishing the nation's first two de facto central banks, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. His vision included a strong central government led by a vigorous executive branch, a strong commercial economy, support for manufacturing, and a strong national defense.

Charles Pinckney (governor) American politician (1757-1824)

Charles Pinckney was an American Founding Father, planter, and politician who was a signer of the United States Constitution. He was elected and served as the 37th Governor of South Carolina, later serving two more non-consecutive terms. He also served as a US Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. He was first cousin once removed of fellow signer Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

Edward Rutledge

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History of the United States (1776–1789) Aspect of history

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Robert Morris, Jr. was an English-born merchant and a Founding Father of the United States. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, the Second Continental Congress, and the United States Senate, and he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. From 1781 to 1784, he served as the Superintendent of Finance of the United States, becoming known as the "Financier of the Revolution." Along with Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, he is widely regarded as one of the founders of the financial system of the United States.

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History of the United States Constitution Aspect of history

The United States Constitution has served as the supreme law of the United States since taking effect in 1789. The document was written at the 1787 Philadelphia Convention and was ratified through a series of state conventions held in 1787 and 1788. Since 1789, the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times; particularly important amendments include the ten amendments of the United States Bill of Rights and the three Reconstruction Amendments.

Gunning Bedford Jr. American judge

Gunning Bedford Jr. was an American Founding Father, delegate to the Congress of the Confederation, Attorney General of Delaware, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 which drafted the United States Constitution, a signer of the United States Constitution, and a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware.

Constitutional Convention (United States) 1787 meeting of U.S. state delegates in which the U.S. Constitution was drafted

The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1787. Although the convention was intended to revise the league of states and first system of government under the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York, was to create a new Frame of Government rather than fix the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington of Virginia, former commanding general of the Continental Army in the late American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and proponent of a stronger national government, to become President of the convention. The result of the convention was the creation of the Constitution of the United States, placing the Convention among the most significant events in American history.

<i>1776</i> (film) 1972 film by Peter H. Hunt

1776 is a 1972 American musical drama film directed by Peter H. Hunt. The screenplay by Peter Stone was based on his book for the 1969 Broadway musical of the same name. Set in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776, it is a fictionalized account of the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The song score was composed by Sherman Edwards. The film stars William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Donald Madden, John Cullum, Ken Howard and Blythe Danner.

The Confederation Period was the era of United States history in the 1780s after the American Revolution and prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution. In 1781, the United States ratified the Articles of Confederation and prevailed in the Battle of Yorktown, the last major land battle between British and American forces in the American Revolutionary War. American independence was confirmed with the 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris. The fledgling United States faced several challenges, many of which stemmed from the lack of a strong national government and unified political culture. The period ended in 1789 following the ratification of the United States Constitution, which established a new, more powerful, national government.

John Jay 1st chief justice of the United States from 1789 to 1795

John Jay was an American statesman, patriot, diplomat, Founding Father, abolitionist, negotiator, and signatory of the Treaty of Paris of 1783. He served as the second governor of New York and the first chief justice of the United States. He directed U.S. foreign policy for much of the 1780s and was an important leader of the Federalist Party after the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788.

<i>A More Perfect Union</i> (film) 1989 American film

A More Perfect Union: America Becomes a Nation is a 1989 American feature film dramatizing the events of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The film was produced by Brigham Young University to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the drafting of the United States Constitution, and many professors from BYU's School of Fine Arts and Communications were involved in its production either as actors or in other capacities. After its release, the film was officially recognized by the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution as "of exceptional merit".

Events from the year 1790 in the United States.

Signing of the United States Constitution

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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Further reading



America was founded when America was founded.