The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, and establishing the United States Constitution. Within the large group known as the "Founding Fathers", there are two key subsets: the "Signers of the Declaration of Independence" (who signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776) and the Framers of the Constitution (who were delegates to the Constitutional Convention and took part in framing or drafting the proposed Constitution of the United States). A further subset is the group that signed the Articles of Confederation.
Some historians define the "Founding Fathers" to mean a larger group, including not only the Signers and the Framers but also all those who, whether as politicians, jurists, statesmen, soldiers, diplomats, or ordinary citizens, took part in winning American independence and creating the United States of America. Historian Richard B. Morris in 1973 identified the following seven figures as the key Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
Warren G. Harding, then a Republican Senator from Ohio, coined the phrase "Founding Fathers" in his keynote address to the 1916 Republican National Convention. He used it several times thereafter, most prominently in his 1921 inaugural address as President of the United States.
The First Continental Congress, met briefly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1774 and consisted of fifty-six delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies that would become the United States of America. The delegates, who included George Washington, soon to command the army; Patrick Henry, and John Adams, were elected by their respective colonial assemblies. Other notable 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 came together on May 10, 1775 it was, in effect, a reconvening of the First Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting participated in the second. Notable new arrivals included Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania and John Hancock of Massachusetts. Within two weeks, Peyton Randolph was summoned back to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses; he was replaced in the Virginia delegation by Thomas Jefferson. Hancock was elected president. The second Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.
The newly founded country of the United States had to create a new government to replace the British Parliament. The Americans adopted the Articles of Confederation, a declaration that established a national government which was made up of 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. Later, the Constitutional Convention took place in 1787, in Philadelphia. Although the Convention was called to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents -- chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton -- was to create a new government rather than try to fix the inadequate existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the Convention. The result of the Convention was the United States Constitution.
Collective biography of the Framers of the Constitution
In the winter and spring of 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states chose a total of 74 delegates to attend what is now known as the Federal 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 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.
These delegates represented a cross-section of 18th-century American leadership. Almost all of them were well-educated men of means who 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. Several of the latter were instrumental in establishing the Society of the Cincinnati in 1783. Scholars have examined the collective biography of them as well as the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution.
The framers of the Constitution had extensive political experience. By 1787, four-fifths (41 individuals), were or had been members of the Continental Congress. Nearly all of the 55 delegates had experience in colonial and state government, and the majority had held county and local offices.
- Thomas Mifflin and Nathaniel Gorham had served as President of the Continental Congress.
- The ones who lacked congressional experience were Bassett, Blair, Brearly, Broom, Davie, Dayton, Alexander Martin, Luther Martin, Mason, McClurg, Paterson, Charles Pinckney, Strong, Washington and Yates.
- Eight men (Clymer, Franklin, Gerry, Robert Morris, Read, Roger Sherman, Wilson, and Wythe) had signed the Declaration of Independence.
- Six (Carroll, Dickinson, Gerry, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, and Sherman) had signed the Articles of Confederation.
- Two, Sherman and Robert Morris, signed all three of the nation's basic documents.
- Dickinson, Franklin, Langdon, and Rutledge had been governors.
Occupations and finances
The 1787 delegates 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. Thirty-five had legal training, though not all of them practiced law. Some had also been local judges.
- 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.
- Seven were major land speculators: Blount, Dayton, Fitzsimons, 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.
- Fourteen owned or managed slave-operated plantations or large farms: Bassett, Blair, Blount, Butler, Carroll, Jenifer, Jefferson, Madison, Mason, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Rutledge, Spaight, and Washington.
- Many wealthy Northerners owned domestic slaves: Franklin later freed his slaves and was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. 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 signed into law a gradual abolition law; fully ending slavery as of 1827. He freed his own slaves in 1798.
- Broom and Few were small farmers.
- Eight of the men received a substantial part of their income from public office: Baldwin, Blair, Brearly, Gilman, Livingston, Madison, and Rutledge.
- Three had retired from active economic endeavors: Franklin, McHenry, and Mifflin.
- Franklin and Williamson were scientists, in addition to their other activities.
- McClurg, McHenry, and Williamson were physicians, and Johnson was a college president.
Family and finances
A few of the 1787 delegates were wealthy, but many of the country's top wealth-holders were Loyalists who went to Britain. Most of the others 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.
Brown (1976) and Harris (1969) provide detailed demographic information on each man.
- Most of the 1787 delegates were natives of the Thirteen Colonies. Only 9 were born elsewhere: four (Butler, Fitzsimons, McHenry, and Paterson) in Ireland, two (Davie and Robert Morris) in England, two (Wilson and Witherspoon) in Scotland, and one (Hamilton) in the West Indies.
- Many of them had moved from one state to another. Seventeen individuals had already lived or worked in more than one state or colony: Baldwin, Bassett, Bedford, Dickinson, Few, Franklin, Ingersoll, Hamilton, Livingston, Alexander Martieno, Luther Martin, Mercer, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, Read, Sherman, and Williamson.
- Several others had studied or traveled abroad.
The Founding Fathers had strong educational backgrounds at some of the colonial colleges or abroad. Some, like Franklin and Washington, were largely self-taught or learned through apprenticeship. Others had obtained instruction from private tutors or at academies. About half of the men had attended or graduated from college. Some men held medical degrees or advanced training in theology. Most of the education was in the colonies, but several were lawyers who had been trained at the Inns of Court in London.
Longevity and family life
Death age of the Founding Fathers.
For their era, the 1787 delegates (like the 1776 signers) were average in terms of life spans. Their average age at death was about 67. The first to die was Houston in 1788; the last was Madison in 1836.
Secretary Charles Thomson lived to the age of 94. Johnson died at 92. John Adams lived to the age of 90. A few—Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Williamson, and Wythe—lived into their eighties. Either 15 or 16 (depending on Fitzsimons's exact age) died in their seventies, 20 or 21 in their sixties, eight in their fifties, and five only in their forties. Three (Alexander Hamilton, Richard Dobbs Spaight and Button Gwinnett) were killed in duels.
Most of the delegates married and raised children. 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. Four (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Alexander Martin) were lifelong bachelors. Many of the delegates also had children conceived illegitimately
Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of the Founders. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestants, and two were Roman Catholics (D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons). Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Church of England (or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists.
A few prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical Christians, such as Thomas Jefferson (who created the so-called "Jefferson Bible") and Benjamin Franklin. A few others (most notably Thomas Paine) were deists, or at least held beliefs very similar to those of deists.
Historian Gregg L. Frazier argues that the leading Founders (Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, Morris, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington) were neither Christians nor Deists, but rather supporters of a hybrid "theistic rationalism."
The 1787 delegates' subsequent careers reflected their abilities as well as the vagaries of fate. Most were successful, although seven (Fitzsimons, Gorham, Luther Martin, Mifflin, Robert Morris, Pierce, and Wilson) suffered serious financial reverses that left them in or near bankruptcy. 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.
According to the historian Joseph J. 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."
The last remaining founders, also called the "Last of the Romans", lived well into the nineteenth century; for example, Andrew Jackson served in the Revolutionary War, eventually became President, died in 1845, and is now sometimes considered a founding father.
List of the Founding Fathers
The following people are referred to in the cited reliable sources as having been fathers or founders of the United States.
- Ethan Allen, military and political leader in Vermont.
- Richard Allen, African-American bishop.
- Egbert Benson, politician from New York.
- Nicholas Biddle, banker.
- Richard Bland, VA delegate to Continental Congress.
- Elias Boudinot, NJ delegate to Continental Congress.
- Aaron Burr, VP under Jefferson.
- George Rogers Clark, army general.
- George Clinton, NY governor and VP of the U.S.
- Tench Coxe, economist in Continental Congress.
- Albert Gallatin, politician and Treasury Secretary.
- Horatio Gates, army general.
- Stephen Girard, banker and philanthropist.
- Nathanael Greene, army general.
- Nathan Hale, captured U.S. soldier executed in 1776.
- Patrick Henry, Virginia governor.
- James Iredell, advocate for Constitution, judge.
- Andrew Jackson, Revolutionary War POW, POTUS.
- John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States.
- John Paul Jones, navy captain.
- Henry Knox, army general.
- Tadeusz Kościuszko, army general.
- Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette, army general.
- Henry Lee III, army officer and VA governor.
- Robert R. Livingston, diplomat and jurist.
- William Maclay, PA politician and U.S. Senator.
- Dolley Madison, spouse of President James Madison.
- John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the United States.
- Philip Mazzei, Italian physician, merchant and author.
- James Monroe, fifth President of the United States
- Daniel Morgan, military hero and VA Congressman.
- James Otis, Jr., MA lawyer and politician.
- Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense.
- Edmund Pendleton, VA politician, lawyer and judge.
- Andrew Pickens, army general and SC congressman.
- Timothy Pickering, U.S. Secretary of State from MA.
- Israel Putnam, army general.
- Peyton Randolph, VA politician, lawyer, president of first two Continental Congresses.
- Comte de Rochambeau, army general.
- Thomas Sumter, SC military hero and congressman.
- Haym Solomon, financier and spy for Continental Army.
- Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Prussian officer.
- Joseph Warren, doctor, revolutionary leader.
- Mercy Otis Warren, political writer.
- Anthony Wayne, army general and politician.
- Noah Webster, writer, lexicographer, educator.
- Thomas Willing, banker.
- Paine Wingate, last survivor, Continental Congress.
- ^ americanrevolution.org Key to Trumbull's picture
- ^ Stanfield, Jack. America's Founding Fathers: Who Are They? Thumbnail Sketches of 164 Patriots (Universal-Publishers, 2001).
- ^ a b c d e f R. B. Bernstein, The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
- ^ a b Richard B. Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
- ^ Bernstein, Founding Fathers Reconsidered, prologue (which collects all citations for Harding's uses of the phrase or variants thereof between 1912 and 1921).
- ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 64–67.
- ^ Fowler, Baron of Beacon Hill, 189.
- ^ "Confederation Congress". Ohio Historical Society. http://ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=2327. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
- ^ Calvin C. Jillson (2009). American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change (5th ed.). Taylor & Francis. pp. 31. ISBN 978-0-203-88702-8.
- ^ 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).
- ^ See Brown (19764); Martin (19739); "Data on the Framers of the Constitution," at 
- ^ Martin (1973); Greene (1973)
- ^ Greene (1973)
- ^ a b Brown (1976)
- ^ Greene (1973).
- ^ Brown (1976); Harris (1969)
- ^ Staar (January 2009). "Our Founding Fathers". Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/staar/our-founding-emfathersem_b_442571.html. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- ^ Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813 "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government,"
- ^ 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."
- ^ The Religion of Thomas Jefferson Retrieved July 9, 2011
- ^ 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."
- ^ See, e.g., Religioustolerance.org/Deism, Jim Peterson (2007) "The Revolution of Belief: Founding Fathers, Deists, Orthodox Christians, and the Spiritual Context of 18th Century America Robert L. Johnson, "The Deist Roots of the United States of America"
- ^ Gregg L. Frazier, The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution (University Press of Kansas; 2012)
- ^ Martin (1973)
- ^ Joseph J. Ellis; Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams. (2001) p. 214.
- ^ Côté, Richard. Strength and Honor: The Life of Dolley Madison, pp. 187 and 393 (Corinthian Books, 2005).
- ^ a b c d e Wright, Robert and Cowen, David. Financial Founding Fathers: the Men who Made America Rich (University of Chicago Press, 2006).
- ^ McWilliams, J. (1976). "The Faces of Ethan Allen: 1760-1860". The New England Quarterly 49 (2): 257–282. DOI:10.2307/364502.
- ^ Newman, Richard. Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (NYU Press, 2009).
- ^ Ballenas, Carl. Images of America: Jamaica (Arcadia Publishing, 2011).
- ^ a b Antieau, Chester James (1960). "Natural Rights and the Founding Fathers—The Virginians". Wash. & Lee L. Rev.: 43.
- ^ Holmes, David. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. (Oxford University Press US, 2006).
- ^ Wood, Gordon S. Revolutionary Characters, What Made the Founding Fathers Different. (New York: Penguin Books, 2007) 225–242.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i Buchanan, John. "Founding Fighters: The Battlefield Leaders Who Made American Independence (review)". The Journal of Military History (Volume 71, Number 2, April 2007), pp. 522–524.
- ^ a b c d e Dungan, Nicholas. Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father (NYU Press 2010).
- ^ a b c d Encyclopaedia Britannica. Founding fathers: the essential guide to the men who made America (John Wiley and Sons, 2007).
- ^ LaGumina, Salvatore. The Italian American experience: an encyclopedia, page 361 (Taylor & Francis, 2000).
- ^ Unger, Harlow (2009). James Monroe: The Last Founding Father. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81808-6.
- ^ Kann, Mark E. (1999). The Gendering of American Politics: Founding Mothers, Founding Fathers, and Political Patriarchy. ABC-CLIO. p. xi. ISBN 978-0-275-96112-1.
- ^ "Founding Father Thomas Paine: He Genuinely Abhorred Slavery". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (48): 45. 2005. DOI:10.2307/25073236.
- ^ Hall, Max. Harvard University Press: a history, page 138 (Harvard University Press 1986).
- ^ Burstein, Andrew. "Politics and Personalities: Garry Wills takes a new look at a forgotten founder, slavery and the shaping of America", Chicago Tribune (November 09, 2003): "Forgotten founders such as Pickering and Morris made as many waves as those whose faces stare out from our currency."
- ^ a b Rafael, Ray. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Founding Fathers: And the Birth of Our Nation (Penguin, 2011).
- ^ Reardon, John J. (1982). Peyton Randolph, 1721–1775: One Who Presided. Durham, N.C: Carolina Academic Press. ISBN 0-89089-201-6.
- ^ Schwartz, Laurens R. Jews and the American Revolution: Haym Solomon and Others, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 1987.
- ^ Kendall, Joshua. The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture (Penguin 2011).
- ^ Wright, R. E. (1996). "Thomas Willing (1731-1821): Philadelphia Financier and Forgotten Founding Father". Pennsylvania History 63 (4): 525–560. DOI:10.2307/27773931.
- ^ "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.
- ^ 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."
- American National Biography Online, (2000).
- Richard B. Bernstein, Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).
- R. B. Bernstein, The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Richard D. Brown. "The Founding Fathers of 1776 and 1787: A Collective View," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 33, No. 3 (Jul. 1976), pp. 465–480 online at JSTOR.
- Henry Steele Commager, "Leadership in Eighteenth-Century America and Today," Daedalus 90 (Fall 1961): 650–673, reprinted in Henry Steele Commager, Freedom and Order (New York: George Braziller, 1966).
- Joseph J. Ellis. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History.
- Joanne B. Freeman, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).
- Jack P. Greene. "The Social Origins of the American Revolution: An Evaluation and an Interpretation," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 88, No. 1 (Mar. 1973), pp. 1–22 online in JSTOR.
- P.M.G. Harris, "The Social Origins of American Leaders: The Demographic Foundations, " Perspectives in American History 3 (1969): 159–364.
- Mark E. Kann; The Gendering of American Politics: Founding Mothers, Founding Fathers, and Political Patriarchy (New York: Frederick Praeger, 1999).
- Adrienne Koch; Power, Morals, and the Founding Fathers: Essays in the Interpretation of the American Enlightenment (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1961).
- Frank Lambert. The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. (Princeton, NJ> Princeton University Press, 2003).
- Martin, James Kirby. Men in Rebellion: Higher Governmental Leaders and the coming of the American Revolution, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1973; reprint, New York: Free Press, 1976).
- Morris, Richard B. Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
- Robert Previdi; "Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, 1999
- Rakove, Jack. Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2010) 487 pages; scholarly study focuses on how the Founders moved from private lives to public action, beginning in the 1770s
- Cokie Roberts. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (New York: William Morrow, 2005); popular
- Gordon S. Wood. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (New York: Penguin Press, 2006)