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Founding Fathers of the United States facts for kids

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Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington
George Washington served as President of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

The Founding Fathers refers to certain men who lived during the American Revolutionary War era. These men signed the Declaration of Independence, helped write the Constitution of the United States, or helped win the American Revolutionary War. Many of these men were members of the Continental Congress at some point. The term was first applied to these people in 1916.

There were many people who were Founding Fathers. Some scholars like to limit them to a small number, such as seven: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.

Most of the Founding Fathers were large landowners or rich merchants. The majority owned slaves. After the Constitution, many of the Founding Fathers became leaders in the federal government.

Background

Albany Congress
The Albany Congress of 1754 was the precursor 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, John Hancock of Massachusetts, and John Witherspoon of New Jersey. Hancock was elected Congress President two weeks into the session when Peyton Randolph was summoned back 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 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 during the summer of 1787, in Philadelphia. Although the Convention was called to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many–chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton–was to create a new frame of government rather than to fix the 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

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy

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.

Political experience

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.

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, 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.
  • Fourteen owned or managed slave-operated plantations or large farms: Bassett, Blair, Blount, Johnson, 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 Abolition 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, Rush, 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.

Demographics

Brown (1976) and Harris (1969) provide detailed demographic information on each man.

  • Most of the 1787 delegates were natives of the Thirteen Colonies. Only nine 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, studied or worked in more than one state or colony: Baldwin, Bassett, Bedford, 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 had strong educational backgrounds at 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.

Framers and signers of founding documents

Portraits and autograph signatures of the framers and signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 4th, 1776 (NYPL Hades-292367-466033)
Portraits and autograph signatures of the framers and signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The National Archives has identified three founding documents as the "Charters of Freedom": Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights. According to the Archives, these documents "have secured the rights of the American people for more than two and a quarter centuries and are considered instrumental to the founding and philosophy of the United States." In addition, the Articles of Confederation has also gained general acceptance as a founding document.

As a result, signers of the following documents are widely considered Founding Fathers of the United States: Declaration of Independence (DI), Articles of Confederation (AC), and U.S. Constitution (USC). The following table provides a list of these founders, some of whom signed more than one document.

Name Province/state Number
signed
DI (1776) AC (1777) USC (1787)
Adams, JohnJohn Adams Massachusetts 1 Yes zed zed
Adams, SamuelSamuel Adams Massachusetts 2 Yes Yes zed
Adams, ThomasThomas Adams Virginia 1 zed Yes zed
Baldwin, AbrahamAbraham Baldwin Georgia 1 zed zed Yes
Banister, JohnJohn Banister Virginia 1 zed Yes zed
Bartlett, JosiahJosiah Bartlett New Hampshire 2 Yes Yes zed
Bassett, RichardRichard Bassett Delaware 1 zed zed Yes
Bedford Jr., GunningGunning Bedford Jr. Delaware 1 zed zed Yes
Blair, JohnJohn Blair Virginia 1 zed zed Yes
Blount, WilliamWilliam Blount North Carolina 1 zed zed Yes
Braxton, CarterCarter Braxton Virginia 1 Yes zed zed
Brearley, DavidDavid Brearley New Jersey 1 zed zed Yes
Broom, JacobJacob Broom Delaware 1 zed zed Yes
Butler, PiercePierce Butler South Carolina 1 zed zed Yes
Carroll, CharlesCharles Carroll Maryland 1 Yes zed zed
Carroll, DanielDaniel Carroll Maryland 2 zed Yes Yes
Chase, SamuelSamuel Chase Maryland 1 Yes zed zed
Clark, AbrahamAbraham Clark New Jersey 1 Yes zed zed
Clingan, WilliamWilliam Clingan Pennsylvania 1 zed Yes zed
Clymer, GeorgeGeorge Clymer Pennsylvania 2 Yes zed Yes
Collins, JohnJohn Collins Rhode Island 1 zed Yes zed
Dana, FrancisFrancis Dana Massachusetts 1 zed Yes zed
Dayton, JonathanJonathan Dayton New Jersey 1 zed zed Yes
Dickinson, JohnJohn Dickinson Delaware 2 zed Yes Yes
Drayton, William HenryWilliam Henry Drayton South Carolina 1 zed Yes zed
Duane, JamesJames Duane New York 1 zed Yes zed
Duer, WilliamWilliam Duer New York 1 zed Yes zed
Ellery, WilliamWilliam Ellery Rhode Island 2 Yes Yes zed
Few, WilliamWilliam Few Georgia 1 zed zed Yes
Fitzsimons, ThomasThomas Fitzsimons Pennsylvania 1 zed zed Yes
Floyd, WilliamWilliam Floyd New York 1 Yes zed zed
Franklin, BenjaminBenjamin Franklin Pennsylvania 2 Yes zed Yes
Gerry, ElbridgeElbridge Gerry Massachusetts 2 Yes Yes zed
Gilman, NicholasNicholas Gilman New Hampshire 1 zed zed Yes
Gorham, NathanielNathaniel Gorham Massachusetts 1 zed zed Yes
Gwinnett, ButtonButton Gwinnett Georgia 1 Yes zed zed
Hall, LymanLyman Hall Georgia 1 Yes zed zed
Hamilton, AlexanderAlexander Hamilton New York 1 zed zed Yes
Hancock, JohnJohn Hancock Massachusetts 2 Yes Yes zed
Hanson, JohnJohn Hanson Maryland 1 zed Yes zed
Harnett, CorneliusCornelius Harnett North Carolina 1 zed Yes zed
Harrison, BenjaminBenjamin Harrison Virginia 1 Yes zed zed
Hart, JohnJohn Hart New Jersey 1 Yes zed zed
Harvie, JohnJohn Harvie Virginia 1 zed Yes zed
Hewes, JosephJoseph Hewes North Carolina 1 Yes zed zed
Heyward Jr., ThomasThomas Heyward Jr. South Carolina 2 Yes Yes zed
Holten, SamuelSamuel Holten Massachusetts 1 zed Yes zed
Hooper, WilliamWilliam Hooper North Carolina 1 Yes zed zed
Hopkins, StephenStephen Hopkins Rhode Island 1 Yes zed zed
Hopkinson, FrancisFrancis Hopkinson New Jersey 1 Yes zed zed
Hosmer, TitusTitus Hosmer Connecticut 1 zed Yes zed
Huntington, SamuelSamuel Huntington Connecticut 2 Yes Yes zed
Hutson, RichardRichard Hutson South Carolina 1 zed Yes zed
Ingersoll, JaredJared Ingersoll Pennsylvania 1 zed zed Yes
Jackson, WilliamWilliam Jackson South Carolina 1 zed zed Yes
Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson Virginia 1 Yes zed zed
Jenifer, Daniel of St. ThomasDaniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Maryland 1 zed zed Yes
Johnson, William SamuelWilliam Samuel Johnson Connecticut 1 zed zed Yes
King, RufusRufus King Massachusetts 1 zed zed Yes
Langdon, JohnJohn Langdon New Hampshire 1 zed zed Yes
Langworthy, EdwardEdward Langworthy Georgia 1 zed Yes zed
Laurens, HenryHenry Laurens South Carolina 1 zed Yes zed
Lee, Francis LightfootFrancis Lightfoot Lee Virginia 2 Yes Yes zed
Lee, Richard HenryRichard Henry Lee Virginia 2 Yes Yes zed
Lewis, FrancisFrancis Lewis New York 2 Yes Yes zed
Livingston, WilliamWilliam Livingston New Jersey 1 zed zed Yes
Lovell, JamesJames Lovell Massachusetts 1 zed Yes zed
Lynch Jr., ThomasThomas Lynch Jr. South Carolina 1 Yes zed zed
Madison, JamesJames Madison Virginia 1 zed zed Yes
Marchant, HenryHenry Marchant Rhode Island 1 zed Yes zed
Mathews, JohnJohn Mathews South Carolina 1 zed Yes zed
McHenry, JamesJames McHenry Maryland 1 zed zed Yes
McKean, ThomasThomas McKean Delaware 2 Yes Yes zed
Morris, GouverneurGouverneur Morris New York 2 zed Yes zed
Pennsylvania zed zed Yes
Morris, LewisLewis Morris New York 1 Yes zed zed
Morris, RobertRobert Morris Pennsylvania 3 Yes Yes Yes
Morton, JohnJohn Morton Pennsylvania 1 Yes zed zed
Nelson Jr., ThomasThomas Nelson Jr. Virginia 1 Yes zed zed
Paca, WilliamWilliam Paca Maryland 1 Yes zed zed
Paine, Robert TreatRobert Treat Paine Massachusetts 1 Yes zed zed
Paterson, WilliamWilliam Paterson New Jersey 1 zed zed Yes
Penn, JohnJohn Penn North Carolina 2 Yes Yes zed
Pinckney, Charles CotesworthCharles Cotesworth Pinckney South Carolina 1 zed zed Yes
Read, GeorgeGeorge Read Delaware 2 Yes zed Yes
Reed, JosephJoseph Reed Pennsylvania 1 zed Yes zed
Roberdeau, DanielDaniel Roberdeau Pennsylvania 1 zed Yes zed
Rodney, CaesarCaesar Rodney Delaware 1 Yes zed zed
Ross, GeorgeGeorge Ross Pennsylvania 1 Yes zed zed
Rush, BenjaminBenjamin Rush Pennsylvania 1 Yes zed zed
Rutledge, EdwardEdward Rutledge South Carolina 1 Yes zed zed
Rutledge, JohnJohn Rutledge South Carolina 1 zed zed Yes
Scudder, NathanielNathaniel Scudder New Jersey 1 zed Yes zed
Sherman, RogerRoger Sherman Connecticut 3 Yes Yes Yes
Smith, JamesJames Smith Pennsylvania 1 Yes zed zed
Smith, Jonathan BayardJonathan Bayard Smith Pennsylvania 1 zed Yes zed
Spaight, Richard DobbsRichard Dobbs Spaight North Carolina 1 zed zed Yes
Stockton, RichardRichard Stockton New Jersey 1 Yes zed zed
Stone, ThomasThomas Stone Maryland 1 Yes zed zed
Taylor, GeorgeGeorge Taylor Pennsylvania 1 Yes zed zed
Telfair, EdwardEdward Telfair Georgia 1 zed Yes zed
Thornton, MatthewMatthew Thornton New Hampshire 1 Yes zed zed
Van Dyke, NicholasNicholas Van Dyke Delaware 1 zed Yes zed
Walton, GeorgeGeorge Walton Georgia 1 Yes zed zed
Walton, JohnJohn Walton Georgia 1 zed Yes zed
Washington, GeorgeGeorge Washington Virginia 1 zed zed Yes
Wentworth Jr., JohnJohn Wentworth Jr. New Hampshire 1 zed Yes zed
Whipple, WilliamWilliam Whipple New Hampshire 1 Yes zed zed
Williams, JohnJohn Williams North Carolina 1 zed Yes zed
Williams, WilliamWilliam Williams Connecticut 1 Yes zed zed
Williamson, HughHugh Williamson North Carolina 1 zed zed Yes
Wilson, JamesJames Wilson Pennsylvania 2 Yes zed Yes
Witherspoon, JohnJohn Witherspoon New Jersey 2 Yes Yes zed
Wolcott, OliverOliver Wolcott Connecticut 2 Yes Yes zed
Wythe, GeorgeGeorge Wythe Virginia 1 Yes zed zed

Notes:

Delegates who did not sign the U.S. Constitution

In addition to recognizing 39 signers of the U.S. Constitution, some sources also consider those who helped write the document but did not sign it to be founders. The following list includes the 16 framers who participated in the Constitutional Convention but for one reason or another did not sign the document presented to the Confederation Congress for adoption by the states:

  • William Richardson Davie, North Carolina
  • Oliver Ellsworth, Connecticut
  • Elbridge Gerry, Massachusetts
  • William Houston, New Jersey
  • William Houstoun, Georgia
  • John Lansing, Jr., New York
  • Alexander Martin, North Carolina
  • Luther Martin, Maryland
  • George Mason, Virginia
  • James McClurg, Virginia
  • John Francis Mercer, Maryland
  • William Pierce, Georgia
  • Edmund Randolph, Virginia
  • Caleb Strong, Massachusetts
  • George Wythe, Virginia
  • Robert Yates, New York

Additional founders

In addition to the signers of the founding documents and the seven "greats" previously mentioned - Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, John Jay, Jefferson, Madison and Washington - the following are regarded as founders based on their contributions to the birth and early development of the new nation:

  • George Clinton, first governor of New York, 1777—1795, and fourth vice president of the U.S., 1805—1812.
  • Patrick Henry, gifted orator; first and sixth governor of Virginia, 1776—1779 and 1784—1786.
  • Robert R. Livingston, member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, 1776; first U.S. Secretary of Foreign Affairs, 1781—1783, and first Chancellor of New York, 1777—1801.
  • John Marshall, fourth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1801—1835.
  • James Monroe, fifth president of the United States, 1817—1825.
  • Peyton Randolph, Virginia delegate to the First Continental Congress, where he served as the Congress's first president.
  • Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, 1774—1789.
  • Thomas Paine, author of influential pamphlets in the 1770s; sometimes referred to as "Father of the American Revolution".

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