Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States, or simply the Founding Fathers or Founders, were a group of American leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies, led the war for independence from Great Britain, and built a frame of government for the new United States of America upon liberal and republican principles during the latter decades of the 18th century.
Historian Richard B. Morris in 1973 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. 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. Jay, Adams, and Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1783) that would end the American Revolutionary War. Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and was president of the Constitutional Convention. All held additional important roles in the early government of the United States, with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison serving as president. Jay was the nation's first chief justice, Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, and Franklin was America's most senior diplomat, and later the governmental leader of Pennsylvania.
The term Founding Fathers is sometimes more broadly used to refer to the Signers of the embossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, although four significant founders – George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison – were not signers. 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. 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, and 2) those who signed the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitutional document.
The phrase Founding Fathers is a 20th-century appellation, coined by Warren G. Harding in 1916.
The First Continental Congress met briefly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1774, consisting of 56 delegates from all thirteen American colonies except Georgia. Among them was George Washington, who would soon be drawn out of military retirement to command the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Also in attendance were Patrick Henry and John Adams, who, like all delegates, were elected by their respective colonial assemblies. Other delegates included Samuel Adams from Massachusetts, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania and New York's John Jay. This congress, in addition to formulating appeals to the British crown, established the Continental Association to administer boycott actions against Britain.
When the Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, it essentially reconstituted the First Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting participated in the second. New arrivals included Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, John Hancock of Massachusetts, John Witherspoon of New Jersey, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton of Maryland, who was named as a late delegate due to his being Roman Catholic. Hancock was elected Congress president two weeks into the session when Peyton Randolph was recalled to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses. Thomas Jefferson replaced Randolph in the Virginia congressional delegation. 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. The Constitutional Convention took place during the summer of 1787, in Philadelphia. 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
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.
They were leaders in their communities; several were also prominent in national affairs. Virtually all participated in the American Revolution; at the Constitutional Convention at least 29 had served in the Continental Army, most of them in positions of command. Scholars have examined the collective biography of the Founders, including both the signers of the Declaration and of the Constitution.
Many of the Founding Fathers attended or graduated from the colonial colleges, most notably Columbia known at the time as "King's College", Princeton originally known as "The College of New Jersey", Harvard College, the College of William and Mary, Yale College and University of Pennsylvania. Some had previously been home schooled or obtained early instruction from private tutors or academies. Others had studied abroad. Ironically, Benjamin Franklin who had little formal education himself would ultimately establish the College of Philadelphia (1755); "Penn" would have the first medical school (1765) in the thirteen colonies where another Founder, Benjamin Rush would eventually teach.
With a limited number of professional schools established in the U.S., Founders also sought advanced degrees from traditional institutions in England and Scotland such as the University of Edinburgh, the University of St. Andrews, and the University of Glasgow.
- College of William and Mary: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison V
- Harvard College: John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and William Williams
- King's College (now Columbia): John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Robert R. Livingston and Egbert Benson.
- College of New Jersey (now Princeton): James Madison, Gunning Bedford Jr., Aaron Burr, Benjamin Rush and William 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
- Yale College: Oliver Wolcott, Andrew Adams
- Queen's College (now Rutgers): James Schureman
- James Wilson attended the University of St. Andrews, the University of Glasgow,
- University of Edinburgh: Witherspoon (attended, no degree)
- University of St. Andrews: Witherspoon (honorary doctorate)
Several like John Jay, James Wilson, John Williams and George Wythe were trained as lawyers through apprenticeships in the colonies while a few trained at the Inns of Court in London. Charles Carroll of Carrollton earned his law degree at Temple in London.
Self-taught or little formal education
Franklin, Washington, John Williams and Henry Wisner had little formal education and were largely self-taught or learned through apprenticeship.
- 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.
- As many as thirty-five including Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Jay were trained as lawyers though not all of them practiced law. Some had also been local judges.
- 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.
- Franklin, McHenry and Mifflin had retired from active economic endeavors.
- 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.
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.
- 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, 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. 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. 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 (i.e. Church of England; or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), 21 were other Protestant, and two were Roman Catholic (D. Carroll and Fitzsimons). 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.
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".
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.
Ownership of slaves and position on slavery
The founding fathers were not unified on the issue of slavery. Many of them were opposed to it and repeatedly attempted to end slavery in many of the colonies, but predicted that the issue would threaten to tear the country apart and had limited power to deal with it. In her study of Thomas Jefferson, historian Annette Gordon-Reed discusses this topic, "Others of the founders held slaves, but no other founder drafted the charter for freedom". In addition to Jefferson, George Washington, and many other of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners, but some were also conflicted by the institution, seeing it as immoral and politically divisive; Washington gradually became a cautious supporter of abolitionism and freed his slaves in his will. John Jay led the successful fight to outlaw the slave trade in New York. Conversely, many founders such as Samuel Adams and John Adams were against slavery their entire lives. Benjamin Rush wrote a pamphlet in 1773 which criticized the slave trade as well as the institution of slavery. In the pamphlet, Rush argued on a scientific basis that Africans were not by nature intellectually or morally inferior, and that any apparent evidence to the contrary was only the "perverted expression" of slavery, which "is so foreign to the human mind, that the moral faculties, as well as those of the understanding are debased, and rendered torpid by it." The Continental Association of 1774 contained a clause which banned any Patriot involvement in slave trading.
Franklin, though he was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, 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, in 1769, 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; Jefferson say’s “In 1769, I became a member of the legislature…. I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected”, but the representatives of the Crown sought “to direct our labors in subservience to [the mother country’s] interest…. and… the Royal negative closed the last door to every hope of amelioration.” and John Jay would try unsuccessfully to abolish slavery as early as 1777 in the State of New York. He nonetheless founded the New York Manumission Society in 1785, for which Hamilton became an officer. They and other members of the Society founded the African Free School in New York City, to educate the children of free blacks and slaves. When Jay was governor of New York in 1798, he helped secure and signed into law an abolition law; fully ending forced labor as of 1827. He freed his own slaves in 1798. Alexander Hamilton opposed slavery, as his experiences in life left him very familiar with slavery and its effect on slaves and on slaveholders, although he did negotiate slave transactions for his wife's family, the Schuylers. John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Paine never owned slaves.
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". 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. In 1782 Virginia passed a manumission law that allowed slave owners to free their slaves by will or deed. As a result, thousands of slaves were manumitted in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson, in 1784, proposed to ban slavery in all the Western Territories, which failed to pass Congress by one vote. Partially following Jefferson's plan, Congress did ban slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, for lands north of the Ohio River.
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. However, the domestic slave trade was allowed, for expansion, or for diffusion of slavery into the Louisiana Territory.
Attendance at conventions
In the winter and spring of 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states chose a total of 74 delegates to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Nineteen delegates chose not to accept election or attend the debates. Among them was Patrick Henry of Virginia, who in response to questions about his refusal to attend was quick to reply, "I smelled a rat." He believed that the frame of government the convention organizers were intent on building would trample upon the rights of citizens. Also, Rhode Island's lack of representation at the convention was due to leader's suspicions of the convention delegates' motivations. As the colony was founded by Roger Williams as a sanctuary for Baptists, Rhode Island's absence at the convention in part explains the absence of Baptist affiliation among those who did attend. Of the 55 who did attend at some point, no more than 38 delegates showed up at one time.
Spouses and children
Only four (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Alexander Martin) were lifelong bachelors. Many of the Founding Fathers' wives, like Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sarah Livingston Jay, Dolley Madison, Mary White Morris and Catherine Alexander Duer, were strong women who made significant contributions of their own to the fight for liberty.
Sherman fathered the largest family: 15 children by two wives. At least nine (Bassett, Brearly, Johnson, Mason, Paterson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Sherman, Wilson, and Wythe) married more than once. George Washington, who became known as "The Father of His Country", had no biological children, though he and his wife raised two children from her first marriage and two grandchildren.
Signatories to founding documents
Among the state documents promulgated between 1774 and 1789 by the Continental Congress, four are paramount: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. Altogether, 145 men signed at least one of the four documents. In each instance, roughly 50% of the names signed are unique to that document. Only a few people (6) signed three of the four, and only Roger Sherman of Connecticut signed all of them. The following persons signed one or more of these United States formative documents:
|CA (1774)||DI (1776)||AC (1777)||USC (1787)|
|John Alsop||New York||1||Yes|
|Josiah Bartlett||New Hampshire||2||Yes||Yes|
|Gunning Bedford Jr.||Delaware||1||Yes|
|William Blount||North Carolina||1||Yes|
|Simon Boerum||New York||1||Yes|
|David Brearley||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|Pierce Butler||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Charles Carroll of Carrollton||Maryland||1||Yes|
|Richard Caswell||North Carolina||1||Yes|
|Abraham Clark||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|John Collins||Rhode Island||1||Yes|
|Stephen Crane||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|Jonathan Dayton||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|John De Hart||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|William Henry Drayton||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|James Duane||New York||2||Yes||Yes|
|William Duer||New York||1||Yes|
|William Ellery||Rhode Island||2||Yes||Yes|
|William Floyd||New York||2||Yes||Yes|
|Nathaniel Folsom||New Hampshire||1||Yes|
|Christopher Gadsden||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Nicholas Gilman||New Hampshire||1||Yes|
|Alexander Hamilton||New York||1||Yes|
|Cornelius Harnett||North Carolina||1||Yes|
|John Hart||New Jersey||2||Yes|
|Joseph Hewes||North Carolina||2||Yes||Yes|
|Thomas Heyward Jr.||South Carolina||2||Yes||Yes|
|William Hooper||North Carolina||2||Yes||Yes|
|Stephen Hopkins||Rhode Island||2||Yes||Yes|
|Francis Hopkinson||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|Richard Hutson||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|William Jackson||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|John Jay||New York||1||Yes|
|Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer||Maryland||1||Yes|
|William Samuel Johnson||Connecticut||1||Yes|
|James Kinsey||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|John Langdon||New Hampshire||1||Yes|
|Henry Laurens||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Francis Lightfoot Lee||Virginia||2||Yes||Yes|
|Richard Henry Lee||Virginia||3||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Francis Lewis||New York||2||Yes||Yes|
|Philip Livingston||New York||2||Yes||Yes|
|William Livingston||New Jersey||2||Yes||Yes|
|Isaac Low||New York||1||Yes|
|Thomas Lynch||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Thomas Lynch Jr.||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Henry Marchant||Rhode Island||1||Yes|
|John Mathews||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Arthur Middleton||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Henry Middleton||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Gouverneur Morris||New York||2||Yes|
|Lewis Morris||New York||1||Yes|
|Thomas Nelson Jr.||Virginia||1||Yes|
|Robert Treat Paine||Massachusetts||2||Yes||Yes|
|William Paterson||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|John Penn||North Carolina||2||Yes||Yes|
|Charles Pinckney||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Charles Cotesworth Pinckney||South Carolina||1||Yes|
|Edward Rutledge||South Carolina||2||Yes||Yes|
|John Rutledge||South Carolina||2||Yes||Yes|
|Nathaniel Scudder||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|Jonathan Bayard Smith||Pennsylvania||1||Yes|
|Richard Smith||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|Richard Dobbs Spaight||North Carolina||1||Yes|
|Richard Stockton||New Jersey||1||Yes|
|John Sullivan||New Hampshire||1||Yes|
|Matthew Thornton||New Hampshire||1||Yes|
|Nicholas Van Dyke||Delaware||1||Yes|
|Samuel Ward||Rhode Island||1||Yes|
|John Wentworth Jr.||New Hampshire||1||Yes|
|William Whipple||New Hampshire||1||Yes|
|John Williams||North Carolina||1||Yes|
|Hugh Williamson||North Carolina||1||Yes|
|Henry Wisner||New York||1||Yes|
|John Witherspoon||New Jersey||2||Yes||Yes|
- Dickinson signed three of the documents, two as a delegate from Delaware and one as a delegate from Pennsylvania.
- Morris signed two of the documents, one as a delegate from New York, and one as a delegate from Pennsylvania.
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. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe served in the highest U.S. office of President. Jay would be appointed as the first chief justice of the United States and later elected to two terms as Governor of New York. Alexander Hamilton would be appointed the first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789, and later Inspector General of the Army under President John Adams in 1798.
Seven (Fitzsimons, Gorham, Luther Martin, Mifflin, Robert Morris, Pierce, and Wilson) suffered serious financial reversals that left them in or near bankruptcy. Robert Morris spent three of the last years of his life imprisoned following bad land deals. 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
Many of the Founding Fathers were under 40 years old at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776: Aaron Burr was 20, Alexander Hamilton was 21, Gouverneur Morris was 24. The oldest were Benjamin Franklin, 70, and Samuel Whittemore, 81.
A few Founding Fathers lived into their nineties, including: Paine Wingate, who died at age 98; Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who died at age 95; Charles Thomson, who died at 94; William Samuel Johnson, who died at 92; and John Adams, who died at 90. Among those who lived into their eighties were Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Whittmore, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Armstrong Jr., Hugh Williamson, and George Wythe. Approximately 16 died while in their seventies, and 21 in their sixties. Three (Alexander Hamilton, Richard Dobbs Spaight, and Button Gwinnett) were killed in duels. Two, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died on the same day, July 4, 1826.
The last remaining founders, also poetically called the "Last of the Romans", lived well into the nineteenth century. The last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who died in 1832. The last surviving member of the Continental Congress was John Armstrong Jr., who died in 1843. He gained this distinction in 1838 upon the death of the only other surviving delegate, Paine Wingate.
Other notable patriots of the period
The following men and women also advanced the new nation through their actions.
- Abigail Adams, advisor, confidant, first lady, wife of John Adams and mother of president John Quincy Adams
- Ethan Allen, military and political leader in Vermont
- Richard Allen, African-American bishop, founder of the Free African Society and the A.M.E. Church
- John Bartram, botanist, horticulturist, and explorer
- Egbert Benson, politician from New York, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Annapolis Convention (1786)
- Elias Boudinot, New Jersey delegate to Continental Congress
- Aaron Burr, vice president under Jefferson
- George Rogers Clark, army general, nicknamed "Conqueror of the Old Northwest".
- George Clinton, New York governor and vice president of the U.S.
- Tench Coxe, economist in the Continental Congress
- William Richardson Davie, delegate to the Constitutional Convention (leaving before he could sign it), and governor of North Carolina
- Oliver Ellsworth, member of the Continental Congress, Founding Framer on the Committee of Detail and fashioned the Connecticut Compromise at the Constitutional Convention, chief author Judiciary Act of 1789, third chief justice of the United States
- Albert Gallatin, politician and treasury secretary
- Horatio Gates, army general
- Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War general; commanded the southern theater
- Nathan Hale, captured U.S. soldier executed in 1776
- Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton
- Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy
- James Iredell, essayist for independence and advocate for the constitution, one of the first Supreme Court justices
- John Paul Jones, navy captain
- Henry Knox, army general, Secretary of War, founder Society of the Cincinnati
- Tadeusz Kościuszko, American general, former Polish army general
- Bernardo de Galvez, Spanish military, governor of Spanish Louisiana.
- Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, French Marquis who became a Continental Army general
- John Laurance, New York politician and judge who served as judge advocate general during the Revolution.
- Henry Lee III, army officer and Virginia governor
- Robert R. Livingston, member of the Committee of Five, first United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs
- William Maclay, Pennsylvania politician and U.S. senator
- Dolley Madison, first lady (wife of James Madison)
- John Marshall, fourth U.S. chief justice
- George Mason, revolutionary writer, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Founding Framer and influential delegate to the Constitutional Convention, co-father of the United States Bill of Rights
- Philip Mazzei, Italian physician, merchant, and author
- James Monroe, fifth president of the United States
- Daniel Morgan, military leader and Virginia congressman
- Samuel Nicholas, commander-in-chief of the Continental Marines
- James Otis Jr., Massachusetts lawyer and politician
- Thomas Paine, author of the January 1776 pamphlet Common Sense which urged and inspired the colonists to declare their independence from Great Britain.
- Andrew Pickens, army general and South Carolina congressman
- Timothy Pickering, U.S. secretary of state, from Massachusetts
- Israel Putnam, army general
- Edmund Randolph, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he introduced the Virginia Plan and served on the drafting committee; first United States attorney general and second U.S. secretary of state
- Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, French army general
- Haym Solomon, financier and spy for the Continental Army
- Arthur St. Clair, major general, president of the Confederation Congress, and later first governor of the Northwest Territory
- Thomas Sumter, South Carolina military leader, and member of both houses of Congress
- Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress throughout its existence (1774–1789), and principal designer of the obverse and partly of the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States
- Richard Varick, private secretary to George Washington, mayor of New York City, second attorney general of New York state, and founder of the American Bible Society
- 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, delegate to the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania, the first president of the Bank of North America, and the first president of the First Bank of the United States
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.
- George Washington supported the founding of Washington College by consenting to have the "College at Chester" named in his honor, through generous financial support, and through service on the college's Board of Visitors and Governors.
- 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, The Bank of New York as well as what would become the United States Coast Guard.
- Knox 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.
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.
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. 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."
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."
David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book, John Adams., focuses on the Founding Father, and his 2005 book, 1776, details George Washington's military history in the American Revolution and other independence events carried out by America's founders.
Peter S. Onuf – Thomas Jefferson
Jack N. Rakove – Thomas Jefferson
Noted collections of the Founding Fathers
- 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 1969 musical 1776, which depicted the debates over, and eventual adoption of, the Declaration of Independence. The stage production was adapted into the 1972 film of the same name.
The 1989 film A More Perfect Union, which was filmed on location in Independence Hall, depicts the events of the Constitutional Convention. The writing and passing of the founding documents are depicted in the 1997 documentary miniseries Liberty!, and the passage of the Declaration of Independence is portrayed in the second episode of the 2008 miniseries John Adams and the third episode of the 2015 miniseries Sons of Liberty. The Founders also feature in the 1986 miniseries George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation, the 2002-03 animated television series Liberty's Kids, the 2020 miniseries Washington, and in many other films and television portrayals.
Several Founding Fathers—Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr—were reimagined in Hamilton, a 2015 musical inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical won eleven Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
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).
- Father of the Nation
- History of the United States Constitution
- History of the United States (1776–1789)
- List of national founders (worldwide)
- Military leadership in the American Revolutionary War
- Patriot (American Revolution)
- Rights of Englishmen
- Sons of Liberty
- 1776 Commission
- "American Revolution: Key to Declaration of Independence". Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- Richard B. Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
- Kettler, Sarah. "The Founding Fathers: Who Were They Really?". Biography. Retrieved April 5, 2017.
- "About America, The Constitution of the United States" (PDF). World Book. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
- PBS NewsHour (July 4, 2015). "Forgotten Founding Father".
- "Did any of our "Founding Fathers" NOT sign the Declaration of Independence?". Harvard University. Retrieved January 11, 2020.
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- US Constitution Online. "The Framers".
- 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.
- Stanfield, Jack. America's Founding Fathers: Who Are They? Thumbnail Sketches of 164 Patriots (Universal-Publishers, 2001).
- Bernstein, R. B. (2011). The Founding Fathers Reconsidered. Oxford University Press. pp. 3–5. doi:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199832576.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-983257-6.
- Burnett, Continental Congress, 64–67.
- Fowler, Baron of Beacon Hill, 189.
- "Confederation Congress". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
- Calvin C. Jillson (2009). American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change (5th ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-203-88702-8.
- 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
- Brown, Richard D. (July 1976). "The Founding Fathers of 1776 and 1787: A Collective View". The William and Mary Quarterly. 33 (3): 465–480. doi:10.2307/1921543. JSTOR 1921543.
- See Brown (19764); Martin (19739); "Data on the Framers of the Constitution", at
- Brown (1976); Harris (1969)
- "The Alma Maters of Our Founding Fathers". July 2, 2015. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
- Aibgail Forget. "Hamilton and Jay: Get the Low Down on Columbia's Founding Fathers". Columbia Alumni Association. Retrieved January 11, 2020.
- "A Brief History of Columbia". Columbia University. 2011. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- "Penn Signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence". Archives.upenn.edu. Archived from the original on March 7, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
- "The University of Glasgow Story James Wilson". Retrieved March 26, 2018.
- "Benjamin Rush (1746–1813)". Penn University Archives and Records Center. Archived from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
- "George Wythe". Colonial Williamsburg. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
- Greene (1973).
- Brown (1976).
- Caroline Robbins. "Decision in '76: Reflections on the 56 Signers". Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society Vol. 89 (1977), pp. 72–87 quoting page 83.
- William R. Davie, Blackwell P. Robinson. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1957.
- Martin (1973); Greene (1973)
- Lambert, Franklin T. (2003). The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (published 2006). ISBN 978-0691126029.
- Peter S. Onuf, "Jefferson's Religion: Priestcraft, Enlightenment and the Republican Revolution," in Onuf, The Mind of Thomas Jefferson (2007) pp 139-168
- 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."
- Frazer, Gregg L. (2012). The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700620210.
- David L. Holmes in The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford University Press, 2006)
- Annette Gordon-Reed, Engaging Jefferson: Blacks and the Founding Father, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Jan. 2000), pp. 171–182
- "The Founders and Slavery: John Jay Saves the Day". The Economist. July 2011. Retrieved April 5, 2017.
- Notes on the history of slavery in Massachusetts, by George Henry Moore (author)
- James A. Rawley and Stephen D. Behrendt, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (2008)
- Thomas N. Ingersoll, The Loyalist Problem in Revolutionary New England (2016)
- Dolbeare, Kenneth M.; Cummings, Michael S. (2010). American political thought (6 ed.). p. 44.
- Wright, William D. (2002). Critical Reflections on Black History. West Port, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. p. 125.
- The Selected Papers of John Jay. Columbia University.
- Horton, James O. (2004). "Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation". New York Journal of American History. 91 (3): 1151–1152. doi:10.2307/3663046. JSTOR 3663046. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
- Magness, Phillip. "Alexander Hamilton's Exaggerated Abolitionism". Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- "The Founding Fathers and Slavery". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
- Freehling, William W. (February 1972). "The Founding Fathers and Slavery". The American Historical Review. 77 (1): 81–93. doi:10.2307/1856595. JSTOR 1856595.
- The Cambridge History of Law in America. 2008. p. 278.
- Williams, J. D. (Summer 1987). "The Summer of 1787: Getting a Constitution". Brigham Young University Studies. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University. 27 (3): 67–89. JSTOR 43041299.
- 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).
- Griswold, Rufus (1855), The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington, D. Appleton & Co.
- George Washington's Mount Vernon. "Father of His Country". Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- Werther, Richard J. (October 24, 2017). "Analyzing the Founders: A Closer Look at the Signers of Four Founding Documents". Journal of the American Revolution. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- Martin (1973)
- Andrlik, Todd. "How Old Were the Leaders of the American Revolution on July 4, 1776?".
- History. "Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Die".
- Elizabeth Fox-Genovese; Eugene D. Genovese (2005). The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview. Cambridge University Press. p. 278. ISBN 978-0521850650.
- Hallac, Joanna (March 16, 2012). "Irish Americans in the U.S. Congress". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Capitol Historical Society. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
- "John Armstrong, Jr. Passes Away". Today in Masonic History, masonrytoday.com. April 1, 2018. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
- Encyclopædia Britannica; Ellis, Joseph J., eds. (2007). Founding Fathers: The Essential Guide to the Men Who Made America. John Wiley and Sons.
- McWilliams, J. (1976). "The Faces of Ethan Allen: 1760–1860". The New England Quarterly. 49 (2): 257–282. doi:10.2307/364502. JSTOR 364502.
- Newman, Richard. Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (NYU Press, 2009).
- Goodall, Jane (2013). Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants. Grand Central Publishing. pp. 60–61. ISBN 978-1-4555-1321-5.
- Ballenas, Carl. Images of America: Jamaica (Arcadia Publishing, 2011).
- Holmes, David (2006). The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Wood, Gordon S. (2007). Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founding Fathers Different. New York: Penguin Books, pp. 225–242.
- Buchanan, John. "Founding Fighters: The Battlefield Leaders Who Made American Independence (review)". The Journal of Military History (Vol. 71, No. 2, April 2007), pp. 522–524.
- Bernstein, R. B. (2009). The Founding Fathers Reconsidered, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Yafa, Stephen (2006). Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber. Penguin. p. 75. ISBN 978-0143037224.
- Dungan, Nicholas (2010). Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father. New York University Press.
- Roberts, Cokie (2005). Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. Harper Perennial.
- Roberts, Cokie (2008). Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation. Harper.
- Jones, Keith Marshall, III. John Laurance: The Immigrant Founding Father America Never Knew. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2019.
- Broadwater, Jeff (2006). George Mason, Forgotten Founder. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-3053-6. OCLC 67239589.
- LaGumina, Salvatore (2000). The Italian American experience: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis, p. 361.
- Unger, Harlow (2009). James Monroe: The Last Founding Father. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81808-0.
- 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. JSTOR 25073236.
- David Braff (2009). "Forgotten Founding Father: The Impact of Thomas Paine". In Joyce Chumbley (ed.), Thomas Paine: In Search of the Common Good (2009) pp. 39–43
- Burstein, Andrew. "Politics and Personalities: Garry Wills takes a new look at a forgotten founder, slavery and the shaping of America", Chicago Tribune (November 9, 2003). "Forgotten founders such as Pickering and Morris made as many waves as those whose faces stare out from our currency."
- Rafael, Ray. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Founding Fathers And the Birth of Our Nation (Penguin, 2011).
- "Founding Fathers: Virginia". U.S. Supreme Court Center. FindLaw. 2008. Retrieved November 14, 2008.
- 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. JSTOR 27773931.
- "The Founding of the Society, 1783–1784". Society of the Cincinnati. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
- "The Society Of the Cincinnati in The State of Connecticut | History".
- Joseph J. Ellis; Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams. (2001) p. 214.
- Jennifer Schuessler (January 9, 2017). "Up From the Family Basement, a Little-Seen Hamilton Trove". The New York Times.
- Joanne B. Freeman. "The Long History of Political Idiocy". The New York Times.
- Joanne B. Freeman. "How Hamilton Uses History: What Lin-Manuel Miranda Included in His Portrait of a Heroic, Complicated Founding Father—and What He Left Out". Slate. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
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- Winter, Jonah and Blitt, Barry, The Founding Fathers!Those Horse-Ridin', Fiddle-Playin', Book-Readin', Gun-Totin' Gentlemen Who Started America Simon and Schuster, New York (2015)
- American National Biography Online, (2000).
- Bailyn, Bernard. To Begin the World Anew Knopf, 2003.
- Bernstein, Richard B. Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.
- Bernstein, R.B. The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Brown, Richard D. "The Founding Fathers of 1776 and 1787: A Collective View," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 33, No. 3 (July 1976), pp. 465–480 JSTOR 1921543.
- Commager, Henry Steele. "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).
- Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000).
- Ellis, Joseph J. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789 (New York: First Vintage Books Edition, May 2016).
- Freeman, Joanne B. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.
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- Greene, Jack P. "The Social Origins of the American Revolution: An Evaluation and an Interpretation," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 88, No. 1 (Mar. 1973), pp. 1–22 JSTOR 2148646.
- Harris, P.M.G., "The Social Origins of American Leaders: The Demographic Foundations, " Perspectives in American History 3 (1969): 159–364.
- Lefer, David. The Founding Conservatives: How a Group of Unsung Heroes Saved the American Revolution (2013)
- Kann, Mark E. 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).
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- Franklin T. Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. (Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press, 2003).
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- Richard B. Morris, 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.
- Gordon S. Wood. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (New York: Penguin Press, 2006)
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- Debunks – along with other fact finding sites – the Internet Myth of "What Happened to The Signers of the Declaration of Independence" (Published June 28, 2005) (Retrieved January 30, 2015)
- What Would the Founding Fathers Do Today? at the Wayback Machine (archived January 14, 2007)
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