My Founding Fathers are a group of individuals that shaped our country. Some are from the early days of our country and some came much later. Although men did the heavy lifting, not all of them are men. Women played a major part in the formation of the United States but they were usually relegated to a supporting role.
This category will expand in the future.
Some of these individuals are good. Some are bad. Some are great. And some of them are a combination of all three.
George Washington: The first President of the United States, the commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and one of the signers of the Constitution, Washington is the proverbial “father of his country”. Washington was a man of impeachable character, although he owned slaves on his plantation in Mount Vernon. In his will he freed them all.
Martha Washington: As George Washington’s wife she was the first “First Lady”. Washington was Martha’s second husband and she brought great wealth and many slaves( “dower slaves”) into their union. She was a woman of an assertive, independent nature; always fashionably dressed. Lafayette said that “she loved her husband madly”. Martha Washington was a skilled hostess and traveled with her husband during the Revolutionary War. She entertained the officers and their wives but never mixed with the common soldiers. Martha’s relationship with her slaves is puzzling. On one hand she treated them with relative kindness but on the other she was alarmed and personally wounded when one of her slaves escaped to freedom. She never freed her slaves and when she died they were inherited by her heirs.
Benjamin Franklin: One of the Founding Fathers, Franklin was a renowned polymath, he was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence and authored much of the Constitution. He was the first Postmaster and first Ambassador to France. He wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac and was the force behind the idea of a public library. He also invented the lightening rod.
Deborah Sampson was a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. She is part of a small number of women with a documented record of military combat experience in that war. She served 17 months in the army, as “Robert Shurtleff” of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, was wounded in 1782 and honorably discharged in 1783.
John Adams was an American lawyer, author, statesman, and diplomat. He served as the second President of the United States (1797–1801), the first Vice President (1789–1797), and as a Founding Father was a leader in the fight for independence from Great Britain. As a diplomat Adams was the first American ambassador to Britain and the Netherlands. As Ambassador to Britain Adams and his wife had to endure the bitter stares and nastiness of the court and public. Adams was a political theorist in the Age of Enlightenment who promoted republicanism and a strong central government. His innovative ideas were frequently published. He was also a dedicated diarist and correspondent, particularly with his wife and key advisor Abigail.
Abigail Adams: One of the most important women of the Revolutionary era and early years of the United States, she was the wife of President John Adams and the mother of President John Quincy Adams. Abigail’s life is one of the most documented of the first ladies. She is remembered for the many letters she wrote to her husband while he stayed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Continental Congresses. John frequently sought the advice of Abigail on many matters, and their letters are filled with exchanges on government and politics. The letters serve as eyewitness accounts of the American Revolutionary War home front. Abigail was a woman of the 18th century but had remarkable similarities with contemporary women. She campaigned for women’s rights and for the abolition of slavery. She was also a Unitarian. Abigail Adams was the first First Lady to inhabit the White House. Ever practical she would hang wet laundry in the East Room.
Thomas Jefferson: The third President and the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson is the quintessential Founding Father. He was also a naturalist, inventor, diplomat, political philosopher, horticulturalist, architect and gourmet. As President, Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon, doubling the size of the United States. A great believer in public education for the common man, Jefferson founded and designed the University of Virginia as a Palladian paradise of secular scholarship. He also designed his home, Monticello, which is a triumph of neo-classical design with innovations only Jefferson could invent. Most of the labor came from his slaves. One in particular, Sally Hemmings, was the mother of his illegitimate children whose descendents live today. Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826.
Alexander Hamilton was the chief staff aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War which put his ambition in a very opportune place. Hamilton was one of the signers of the Constitution and wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers defending its content. Hamilton was made the first Secretary of the Treasury by Washington. He was a fervent advocate for a strong central government, centralizing the country’s defense, diplomacy, currency and taxation. He founded the first National Bank and National Mint. Hamilton was killed in a duel with his political rival Aaron Burr( Jefferson’s Vice President). Alexander Hamilton is currently the subject of a smash Broadway hip-hop musical.
James Madison was the fourth President of the United States and a signer of the Constitution. Perhaps most important was his writing of the Bill of Rights which guaranteed everything from the right to bear arms to trial by jury to the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. He has been named the Father of the Constitution for his contributions. As President he was bullied by the British navy into the War of 1812. Although the British burned the new capital building and the White House( Dolley Madison evacuated the White House and saved the portrait of George Washington), there were decisive American victories at Fort Henry( the inspiration for the Star Spangled Banner) and the Battle of New Orleans. The American navy defeated the British on several occasions but the war ended on an inconclusive note. The years following the euphoria of England’s defeat was known at the “Era of Good Feelings”. Perhaps Madison’s greatest achievement was his defense of the minority against the tyranny of the majority. Madison wrote: In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.
Andrew Jackson was one of the most polarizing personalities of the 19th century. He was the seventh President of the United States and the founder of the present Democratic Party. At the tail end of the Revolutionary War at the age of 13 he joined the effort as a courier. He went from there to becoming a lawyer, a congressman and a U.S. senator from Tennessee. He became famous because of his victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson acquired Hickory Hill, a cotton plantation with many slaves. According to the standard of his times, he was a lenient slave owner. But his slaves were still slaves and he allowed lashing if the slave was not productive enough. Jackson lived in an era “Manifest Destiny” where white Americans began an aggressive expansion West. Many Native Americans were in the way of this expansion into their territory. During his presidency he was the architect of Native American tribe “relocations” that culminated in the notorious Trail of Tears where 4,000 Cherokees died of starvation, disease and frigid temperatures. He was a fierce enforcer of Federal laws being followed by the states. Jackson threatened military action against South Carolina if they didn’t cooperate. At the end of the day, Jackson was a huge personality who had many admirers and many enemies. But his policy of blood with regard to Native Americans has stained his legacy.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy. Lincoln is revered as one of the greatest presidents in American history. He was a man of extraordinary abilities, sensitivity and warm pragmatism.
Theodore Roosevelt was an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, conservationist and reformer who served as the 26th President of the United States, from 1901 to 1909. A leader of the Republican Party, he was a leading force of the Progressive Era. A vigorous, adventurous man, Roosevelt went from being a New York Police Commissioner to the New York Assembly to the Secretary of the Navy to Vice President to President( the youngest ever in office). During the Spanish-American Was he resigned his office as Secretary of the Navy and formed a volunteer cavalry regiment to fight the Spanish in Cuba. Victory at the Battle of San Juan Hill made Roosevelt a hero. As President Roosevelt accomplished a great deal. He was the bane of big corporations and used his authority to bust corporate monopolies such as Standard Oil. He instigated the Food and Drug Act which protected consumers from impure goods. He was a revolutionary in conservation, shielding 230,000,000 acres from exploitation. And he was the force behind the building of the Panama Canal making passage East/West quicker and safer. He also sent a Naval battle fleet, known as the Great White Fleet, around the world in a display of America’s might and good will.