Founding Fathers of the United States

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Declaration of Independence, a painting by John Trumbull depicting the Committee of Five presenting their draft to the Congress on June 28, 1776[1]
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, were a group of philosophers, politicians, and writers who led the American Revolution against the Kingdom of Great Britain. Most were descendants of colonists settled in the Thirteen Colonies in North America.

Historian Richard B. Morris in 1973 identified the following seven figures as the key Founding Fathers: Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington.[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 used to refer to the Signers of the embossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.[6]Signers should not 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] or 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. Prior to, and during the 19th century, they were referred to as simply the "Fathers". The term has been used to describe the founders and first settlers of the original royal colonies.[11][12]


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 fifty-six delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies (not including Georgia) that became the United States of America. 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 was 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.[13] New arrivals included Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, John Hancock of Massachusetts, and John Witherspoon of New Jersey. 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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16] The Constitutional Convention took place during the summer of 1787, in Philadelphia.[17] 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

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 U.S. ethos and exemplified the emerging nation's ideals.
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.
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.
Richard Henry Lee, who introduced the Lee Resolution in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain
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.
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.
Henry Laurens was President of the Continental Congress when the Articles were passed on November 15, 1777.
Roger Sherman, the only person who signed all four U.S. historical documents

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.[18][19]

Almost all of them were leaders in their communities. Many were also prominent in national affairs. Virtually every one had taken part in the American Revolution; at least 29 had served in the Continental Army, most of them in positions of command. Scholars have examined the collective biography of them as well as the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution.[20]


Many of the Founding Fathers attended or held degrees 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.[21] Others had studied abroad. Ironically, Benjamin Franklin who had little formal education himself would ultimately establish the College of Philadelphia based on European models (1740); "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.

Colonial colleges attended

Advanced degrees and apprenticeships

Doctors of Medicine
  • University of Edinburgh: Rush [25]
  • University of Utrecht, Netherlands: Williamson
  • University of Edinburgh: Witherspoon (attended, no degree)
  • University of St. Andrews: Witherspoon (honorary doctorate)
Legal apprenticeships

Several like John Jay, James Wilson, John Williams and George Wythe[26] were trained as lawyers through apprenticeships in the colonies while a few trained at the Inns of Court 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.


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

  • England: Robert Morris, Button Gwinnett
  • Ireland: Butler, Fitzsimons, McHenry and Paterson
  • West Indies: Hamilton
  • Scotland: Wilson and Witherspoon

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.


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.[27]

  • As many as thirty-five including Adams, Hamilton and Jay were trained as lawyers though not all of them practiced law. Some had also been local judges.[28]
  • Washington trained as a land surveyor before he became commander of a small militia.
  • At the time of the convention, 13 men were merchants: Blount, Broom, Clymer, Dayton, Fitzsimons, Shields, Gilman, Gorham, Langdon, Robert Morris, Pierce, Sherman and Wilson.
  • Broom and Few were small farmers.
  • Three had retired from active economic endeavors: Franklin, McHenry and Mifflin.
  • Franklin and Williamson were scientists, in addition to their other activities.
  • McClurg, McHenry, Rush and Williamson were physicians.
  • Johnson and Witherspoon were college presidents.


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.[29] 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.[30]
  • Seven were major land speculators: Blount, Dayton, Fitzsimmons, Gorham, Robert Morris, Washington, and Wilson.
  • Eleven speculated in securities on a large scale: Bedford, Blair, Clymer, Dayton, Fitzsimons, Franklin, King, Langdon, Robert Morris, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Sherman.
  • Many derived income from plantations or large farms which they owned or managed, which relied upon the labor of enslaved men and women particularly in the southern colonies: Bassett, Blair, Blount, Davie,[31] Johnson, Butler, Carroll, Jefferson, Jenifer, Madison, Mason, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Rutledge, Spaight, and Washington.
  • Eight of the men received a substantial part of their income from public office: Baldwin, Blair, Brearly, Gilman, Livingston, Madison, and Rutledge.

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.

  • Benjamin Franklin began his political career as a city councilman and then Justice of the Peace in Philadelphia. He was next elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly and was sent by them to London as a colonial agent which helped hone his diplomatic skills.
  • Jefferson, Adams, Jay and Franklin all acquired significant political experience as ministers to countries in Europe.
  • John Adams and John Jay drafted the Constitutions of their respective states, Massachusetts and New York, and successfully navigated them through to adoption.
  • Jay, Thomas Mifflin and Nathaniel Gorham had served as President of the Continental Congress.
  • Gouverneur Morris had been a member of the New York Provincial Congress.
  • John Dickinson, Franklin, Langdon, and Rutledge had been governors or presidents of their states.
  • Robert Morris had been a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly and President of Pennsylvania's Committee of Safety (American Revolution). He was also a member of the Committee of Secret Correspondence.
  • Roger Sherman had served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
  • Elbridge Gerry was a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
  • Carroll served in the Maryland Senate.
  • Wythe's first exposure to politics was as a member of Virginia's House of Burgesses.
  • Read's entry into the political arena was as a commissioner of the town of Charlestown, Maryland.
  • Clymer was a member of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety and the Continental Congress.
  • Wilson's time as a member of the Continental Congress in 1776 was his introduction to colonial politics.

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.[32] 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.


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 (in the Church of England; or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), 21 were Protestants, and two were Roman Catholics (D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons).[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 Christians such as Thomas Jefferson,[34][35][36] who constructed the Jefferson Bible, and Benjamin Franklin.[37]

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".[38]

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.[39]

Ownership of slaves and position on slavery

Portrait of George Washington and his valet slave William Lee

The founding fathers were not unified on the issue of slavery. 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".[40] In addition to Jefferson, George Washington, John Jay and many other of the Founding Fathers practiced slavery but were also conflicted by the institution which many saw as immoral and politically divisive.[41] Conversely, many founders such as Samuel Adams and John Adams were against slavery their entire lives. Benjamin Rush wrote a pamphlet in 1773 which harshly condemned slavery and beseeched the colonists to petition the king and put an end to the British African Company of Merchants which kept slavery and the slave trade going.

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--an 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.[49] However, the domestic slave trade was allowed, for expansion, or for diffusion of slavery into the Louisiana Territory.[50]

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; for example, Patrick Henry of Virginia thought that state politics were far more interesting and important than national politics, though during the ratification controversy of 1787–1788 he claimed, "I smelled a rat." Rhode Island did not send delegates because of its politicians' 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.[51]

Spouses and children

Only four (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Alexander Martin) were lifelong bachelors. Many of their spouses, 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.[52]

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, "The Father of our Country,"[53] had no biological descendants.

Charters of freedom and historical documents of the United States

The National Archives and Records Administration also known as NARA, defines U.S. Founding Documents, or Charters of Freedom, as the Declaration of Independence (1776), The Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791). These original instruments which represent the philosophy of the United States are housed in Washington, D.C. in the NARA Rotunda.[54]The Library of Congress further identifies the Articles of Confederation, also preserved at NARA, as a primary U.S. document.[55] The Articles of Confederation served as the first constitution of the United States until its replacement by the present Constitution on March 4, 1789.

Signatories of the Continental Association (CA), Declaration of Independence (DI), Articles of Confederation (AC), and the United States Constitution (USC)):

NameProvince/stateCA (1774)DI (1776)AC (1777)USC (1787)
Andrew AdamsConnecticutYes
John AdamsMassachusettsYesYes
Samuel AdamsMassachusettsYesYesYes
Thomas AdamsVirginiaYes
John AlsopNew YorkYes
Abraham BaldwinGeorgiaYes
John BanisterVirginiaYes
Josiah BartlettNew HampshireYesYes
Richard BassettDelawareYes
Gunning Bedford Jr.DelawareYes
Edward BiddlePennsylvaniaYes
John BlairVirginiaYes
Richard BlandVirginiaYes
William BlountNorth CarolinaYes
Simon BoerumNew YorkYes
Carter BraxtonVirginiaYes
David BrearleyNew JerseyYes
Jacob BroomDelawareYes
Pierce ButlerSouth CarolinaYes
Charles Carroll of CarrolltonMarylandYes
Daniel CarrollMarylandYesYes
Richard CaswellNorth CarolinaYes
Samuel ChaseMarylandYesYes
Abraham ClarkNew JerseyYes
William ClinganPennsylvaniaYes
George ClymerPennsylvaniaYesYes
John CollinsRhode IslandYes
Stephen CraneNew JerseyYes
Thomas CushingMassachusettsYes
Francis DanaMassachusettsYes
Jonathan DaytonNew JerseyYes
Silas DeaneConnecticutYes
John De HartNew JerseyYes
John DickinsonDelawareYesYes
William Henry DraytonSouth CarolinaYes
James DuaneNew YorkYesYes
William DuerNew YorkYes
Eliphalet DyerConnecticutYes
William ElleryRhode IslandYesYes
William FewGeorgiaYes
Thomas FitzsimonsPennsylvaniaYes
William FloydNew YorkYesYes
Nathaniel FolsomNew HampshireYes
Benjamin FranklinPennsylvaniaYesYes
Christopher GadsdenSouth CarolinaYes
Joseph GallowayPennsylvaniaYes
Elbridge GerryMassachusettsYesYes
Nicholas GilmanNew HampshireYes
Nathaniel GorhamMassachusettsYes
Button GwinnettGeorgiaYes
Lyman HallGeorgiaYes
Alexander HamiltonNew YorkYes
John HancockMassachusettsYesYes
John HansonMarylandYes
Cornelius HarnettNorth CarolinaYes
Benjamin HarrisonVirginiaYesYes
John HartNew JerseyYes
John HarvieVirginiaYes
Patrick HenryVirginiaYes
Joseph HewesNorth CarolinaYesYes
Thomas Heyward Jr.South CarolinaYesYes
Samuel HoltenMassachusettsYes
William HooperNorth CarolinaYesYes
Stephen HopkinsRhode IslandYesYes
Francis HopkinsonNew JerseyYes
Titus HosmerConnecticutYes
Charles HumphreysPennsylvaniaYes
Samuel HuntingtonConnecticutYesYes
Richard HutsonSouth CarolinaYes
Jared IngersollPennsylvaniaYes
William JacksonSouth CarolinaYes
John JayNew YorkYes
Thomas JeffersonVirginiaYes
Daniel of St. Thomas JeniferMarylandYes
Thomas JohnsonMarylandYes
William Samuel JohnsonConnecticutYes
Rufus KingMassachusettsYes
James KinseyNew JerseyYes
John LangdonNew HampshireYes
Edward LangworthyGeorgiaYes
Henry LaurensSouth CarolinaYes
Francis Lightfoot LeeVirginiaYesYes
Richard Henry LeeVirginiaYesYesYes
Francis LewisNew YorkYesYes
Philip LivingstonNew YorkYesYes
William LivingstonNew JerseyYesYes
James LovellMassachusettsYes
Isaac LowNew YorkYes
Thomas LynchSouth CarolinaYes
Thomas Lynch Jr.South CarolinaYes
James MadisonVirginiaYes
Henry MarchantRhode IslandYes
John MathewsSouth CarolinaYes
James McHenryMarylandYes
Thomas McKeanDelawareYesYesYes
Arthur MiddletonSouth CarolinaYes
Henry MiddletonSouth CarolinaYes
Thomas MifflinPennsylvaniaYesYes
Gouverneur MorrisNew YorkYes
Lewis MorrisNew YorkYes
Robert MorrisPennsylvaniaYesYesYes
John MortonPennsylvaniaYesYes
Thomas Nelson Jr.VirginiaYes
William PacaMarylandYesYes
Robert Treat PaineMassachusettsYesYes
William PatersonNew JerseyYes
Edmund PendletonVirginiaYes
John PennNorth CarolinaYesYes
Charles PinckneySouth CarolinaYes
Charles Cotesworth PinckneySouth CarolinaYes
Peyton RandolphVirginiaYes
George ReadDelawareYesYesYes
Joseph ReedPennsylvaniaYes
Daniel RoberdeauPennsylvaniaYes
Caesar RodneyDelawareYesYes
George RossPennsylvaniaYesYes
Benjamin RushPennsylvaniaYes
Edward RutledgeSouth CarolinaYesYes
John RutledgeSouth CarolinaYesYes
Nathaniel ScudderNew JerseyYes
Roger ShermanConnecticutYesYesYesYes
James SmithPennsylvaniaYes
Jonathan Bayard SmithPennsylvaniaYes
Richard SmithNew JerseyYes
Richard Dobbs SpaightNorth CarolinaYes
Richard StocktonNew JerseyYes
Thomas StoneMarylandYes
John SullivanNew HampshireYes
George TaylorPennsylvaniaYes
Edward TelfairGeorgiaYes
Matthew ThorntonNew HampshireYes
Matthew TilghmanMarylandYes
Nicholas Van DykeDelawareYes
George WaltonGeorgiaYes
John WaltonGeorgiaYes
Samuel WardRhode IslandYes
George WashingtonVirginiaYesYes
John Wentworth Jr.New HampshireYes
William WhippleNew HampshireYes
John WilliamsNorth CarolinaYes
William WilliamsConnecticutYes
Hugh WilliamsonNorth CarolinaYes
James WilsonPennsylvaniaYesYes
Henry WisnerNew YorkYes
John WitherspoonNew JerseyYesYes
Oliver WolcottConnecticutYesYes
George WytheVirginiaYes

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.[56] Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison served in highest U.S. office of President. Jay would be appointed as Chief Justice of the United States and later elected to two terms as Governor of New York.

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.[52]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

Many of the Founding Fathers were under 40 years old at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776: Alexander Hamilton was 21, Aaron Burr was 20, Gouverneur Morris was 24. The oldest were Benjamin Franklin, 70, and Samuel Whittemore, 81.[57]

Secretary Charles Thomson lived to the age of 94. Johnson died at 92. John Adams lived to the age of 90. A few – Franklin, Jay, Jefferson, Madison, Hugh Williamson, and George Wythe – lived into their eighties. Approximately 16 died in their seventies, 21 in their sixties, 8 in their fifties, and 5 in their forties. Three (Alexander Hamilton, Richard Dobbs Spaight and Button Gwinnett) were killed in duels.

Friends and political adversaries John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same day – July 4, 1826.[58]

The last remaining founders, also called the "Last of the Romans", lived well into the nineteenth century.[59]

Other notable people of the period

The following men and women who had little or nothing to do with actually setting up the American federal government are occasionally called "founders" of the United States by some 21st-century writers:


Institutions formed by Founders

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

  • Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania, while Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.
  • Rush founded Dickinson College and Franklin College, (today Franklin and Marshall) as well as the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the oldest medical society in America.
  • Hamilton founded the New York Post, as well as the United States Coast Guard.
  • Knox[87] helped found the Society of the Cincinnati in 1783; the society was predicated on service as an officer in the Revolutionary War and heredity. Members included Washington, Hamilton and Burr. Other Founders like Sam Adams, John Adams, Franklin and Jay criticized the formation of what they considered to be an elitist body and threat to the Constitution. Franklin would later accept an honorary membership though Jay declined.[88]

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.[89]

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.[90][91][92] 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." [93]

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."[40]

Jack N. Rakove – Thomas Jefferson

Peter S. Onuf – Thomas Jefferson

Noted collections of the Founding Fathers

  • Adams Papers Editorial Project
  • Founders Online – a searchable database of over 178,000 documents authored by or addressed to George Washington, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
  • The Papers of Alexander Hamilton
  • The Selected Papers of John Jay at Columbia University
  • The Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University
  • The Papers of James Madison at University of Virginia
  • The Washington Papers at University of Virginia
  • The Franklin Papers at Yale University

In stage and film

The Founding Fathers were portrayed in the Tony Award winning musical 1776, a stage production about the debates over, and eventual adoption of, the Declaration of Independence; the popular performance was later turned into the 1972 film

More recently, several of the Founding Fathers – Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Laurens and Burr – were reimagined in Hamilton, an acclaimed production about the life of Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda.The show was inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow. The rap musical won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[94]

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).[95]

See also


  1. ^ "American Revolution: Key to Declaration of Independence". Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  2. ^ Richard B. Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
  3. ^ Kettler, Sarah. "The Founding Fathers: Who Were They Really?". Biography. Retrieved April 5, 2017.
  4. ^ "About America, The Constitution of the United States" (PDF). World Book. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  5. ^ PBS NewsHour. "Forgotten Founding Father".
  6. ^ "Signers of the Declaration". National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
  7. ^ National Archives. "Meet the Framers of the Constitution".
  8. ^ US Constitution Online. "The Framers".
  9. ^ Carl G. Karsch. "The First Continental Congress: A Dangerous Journey Begins". Carpenter's Hall. Archived from the original on January 18, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  10. ^ Stanfield, Jack. America's Founding Fathers: Who Are They? Thumbnail Sketches of 164 Patriots (Universal-Publishers, 2001).
  11. ^ Parham, C. P. (February 2012). From Great Wilderness to Seaway Towns: A Comparative History of Cornwall, Ontario, and Massena, New York, 1784-2001. SUNY Press, 2012 (chapter 1, page 7). ISBN 9780791485675. Retrieved 20 November 2017. The founding fathers of Cornwall and ....
  12. ^ Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle American History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 16.
  13. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 64–67.
  14. ^ Fowler, Baron of Beacon Hill, 189.
  15. ^ "Signers of the Declaration". National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. p. Biography #54. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  16. ^ "Confederation Congress". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  17. ^ Calvin C. Jillson (2009). American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change (5th ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-203-88702-8.
  18. ^ >Caroline Robbins, "Decision in '76: Reflections on the 56 Signers." Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Vol. 89 pp 72-87, quote at p 86
  19. ^ Brown, Richard D. (July 1976). "The Founding Fathers of 1776 and 1787: A Collective View". The William and Mary Quarterly. 33 (3): 465. doi:10.2307/1921543.
  20. ^ See Brown (19764); Martin (19739); "Data on the Framers of the Constitution," at [1]
  21. ^ Brown (1976); Harris (1969)
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  24. ^ "The University of Glasgow Story James Wilson". Retrieved March 26, 2018.
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  26. ^ "George Wythe". Colonial Williamsburg. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
  27. ^ Greene (1973).
  28. ^ Brown (1976).
  29. ^ Caroline Robbins, "Decision in '76: Reflections on the 56 Signers" Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society Vol. 89 (1977), pp. 72-87 online quoting page 83.
  30. ^ Greene (1973).
  31. ^ William R. Davie, Blackwell P. Robinson. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1957.
  32. ^ Martin (1973); Greene (1973)
  33. ^ a b Lambert, Franklin T. (2003). The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (published 2006). ISBN 978-0691126029.
  34. ^ Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813 "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government,"
  35. ^ Letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814 "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."
  36. ^ The Religion of Thomas Jefferson Archived November 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved July 9, 2011
  37. ^ Quoted in The New England Currant (July 23, 1722), "Silence Dogood, No. 9; Corruptio optimi est pessima." "And it is a sad Observation, that when the People too late see their Error, yet the Clergy still persist in their Encomiums on the Hypocrite; and when he happens to die for the Good of his Country, without leaving behind him the Memory of one good Action, he shall be sure to have his Funeral Sermon stuff'd with Pious Expressions which he dropt at such a Time, and at such a Place, and on such an Occasion; than which nothing can be more prejudicial to the Interest of Religion, nor indeed to the Memory of the Person deceas'd. The Reason of this Blindness in the Clergy is, because they are honourably supported (as they ought to be) by their People, and see nor feel nothing of the Oppression which is obvious and burdensome to every one else."
  38. ^ Frazer, Gregg L. (2012). The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700620210.
  39. ^ David L. Holmes in The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford University Press, 2006)
  40. ^ a b Annette Gordon-Reed, Engaging Jefferson: Blacks and the Founding Father, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 171-182
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  42. ^ a b Wright, William D. (2002). Critical Reflections on Black History. West Port, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. p. 125.
  43. ^ The Selected Papers of John Jay, Columbia University,
  44. ^ Horton, James O. (2004). "Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation". New York Journal of American History (3). Retrieved October 29, 2016.
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  48. ^ a b The Cambridge History of Law in America. 2008. p. 278.
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  51. ^ See the discussion of the Convention in Clinton L. Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention (New York: Macmillan, 1966; reprint ed., with new foreword by Richard B. Morris, New York: W. W. Norton, 1987).
  52. ^ a b Griswold, Rufus (1855), The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington, D. Appleton & Co.
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  55. ^ "Articles of Confederation". Library of Congress. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
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  58. ^ History. "Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Die".
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  85. ^ "A Patriot of Early New England", New York Times (December 20, 1931). This book review referred to Wingate as one of the "Fathers" of the United States, per the book title.
  86. ^ The New Yorker, Volume I, page 398 (September 10, 1836): "'The Last of the Romans' — This was said of Madison at the time of his decease, but there is one other person who seems to have some claims to this honorable distinction. Paine Wingate of Stratham, N.H. still survives."
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