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The Founding Fathers of the United States were those individuals of the Thirteen Colonies in North America who led the American Revolution against the authority of the British Crown in word and deed and contributed to the establishment of 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. 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. 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. Washington, Jay and Franklin are considered the Founding Fathers of U.S. Intelligence by the CIA. 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. Four of these seven - Washington, Jay, Hamilton and Madison - were not signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The term Founding Fathers is sometimes used to refer to the Signers of the embossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It 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  or 2) those who signed the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitutional document.
The phrase "Founding Fathers" is a twentieth-century appellation, coined by Warren G. Harding in 1916. In the 19th century, they were referred to as simply, the "Fathers". One historian eschews the narrow definition (or Great Man theory) associated with the term "Founding Fathers" and applies it to a broader group of people, that includes not only Morris' "Seven" or the Signers or the Framers but also all those, no matter their race or gender, who, whether as politicians, jurists, statesmen, soldiers, diplomats, or ordinary citizens, took part in winning U.S. independence and creating the United States of America.
The First Continental Congress met briefly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1774, consisting of fifty-six delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies (excluding Georgia) that became the United States of America. Among them was George Washington, who would soon be drawn out of military retirement to command the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Also in attendance was Patrick Henry, and John Adams, who like all delegates were elected by their respective colonial assemblies. Other delegates included Samuel Adams from Massachusetts, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania and New York's John Jay. This congress in addition to formulating appeals to the British crown, established the Continental Association to administer boycott actions against Britain.
When the Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, it essentially reconstituted the First Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting participated in the second. New arrivals included Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, John Hancock of Massachusetts, and John Witherspoon of New Jersey. Hancock was elected Congress President two weeks into the session when Peyton Randolph was recalled to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses. Thomas Jefferson replaced Randolph in the Virginia congressional delegation. 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 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. 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 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.
The Founding Fathers represented a cross-section of 18th-century U.S. 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. Scholars have examined the collective biography of them as well as the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution.
Many of the Founding Fathers attended or held degrees from the colonial colleges, most notably Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, the College of William and Mary, Yale 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 University of Pennsylvania based on European models (1740); "Penn" would have the first medical school (1765) in the thirteen colonies where another Founder, Benjamin Rush would eventually teach.
With a limited number of professional schools established in the U.S., Founders also sought advanced degrees from traditional institutions in England and Scotland such as the University of Edinburgh and University of St. Andrews.
The Founding Fathers had extensive political experience. Many had been members of the Continental Congress. Nearly all of the 55 Constitutional Convention delegates had experience in colonial and state government, and the majority had held county and local offices.
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. 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.
Franklin T. Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of the Founders. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 28 were Anglicans (in the Church of England; or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), 21 were Protestants, and two were Roman Catholics (D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons). 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 (Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, Morris, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington) were neither Christians nor Deists, but rather supporters of a hybrid "theistic rationalism".
One of the greatest contradictions of the Founding Fathers was their disunity with regard to slavery at a time that they were seeking liberty for themselves. In her study of Thomas Jefferson, historian Annette Gordon-Reed emphasizes this irony, "Others of the founders held slaves, but no other founder drafted the charter for freedom, " In addition to Jefferson, George Washington, John Jay and many other of the Founding Fathers practiced slavery but were also conflicted by the institution which many saw as immoral and politically divisive. Benjamin Franklin owned slaves (though Franklin later became an abolitionist). John Jay would try unsuccessfully to abolish slavery as early as 1777 in the State of New York but was overruled (though he would later sign the Gradual Emancipation Act into law while Governor). 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.
In the winter and spring of 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states chose a total of 74 delegates to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Nineteen delegates chose not to accept election or attend the debates; for example, Patrick Henry of Virginia thought that state politics were far more interesting and important than national politics, though during the ratification controversy of 1787–1788 he claimed, "I smelled a rat." Rhode Island did not send delegates because of its politicians' suspicions of the Convention delegates' motivations. As the colony was founded by Roger Williams as a sanctuary for Baptists, Rhode Island's absence at the Convention in part explains the absence of Baptist affiliation among those who did attend. Of the 55 who did attend at some point, no more than 38 delegates showed up at one time.
Most of the Founding Fathers married and had children. Many of their spouses, like Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sarah Livingston Jay, Dolley Madison, Mary White Morris and Catherine Alexander Duer were strong women and 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. Four (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Alexander Martin) were lifelong bachelors. Many of the delegates also had children conceived illegitimately. George Washington, "The Father of our Country," had no biological descendants.
The National Archives and Records Administration also known as NARA, defines U.S. Founding Documents, or Charters of Freedom, as the Declaration of Independence (1776), The Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791). These original instruments which represent the philosophy of the United States are housed in Washington, D.C. in the NARA Rotunda. The Library of Congress further identifies the Articles of Confederation, also preserved at NARA, as a primary U.S. document. The Articles of Confederation served as the first constitution of the United States until its replacement by the present Constitution on March 4, 1789.
Signatories of the Continental Association (CA), Declaration of Independence (DI), Articles of Confederation (AC), and the United States Constitution (USC)):
|Name||Province/State||CA (1774)||DI (1776)||AC (1777)||USC (1787)|
|John Alsop||New York||Yes|
|Josiah Bartlett||New Hampshire||Yes||Yes|
|Gunning Bedford, Jr.||Delaware||Yes|
|William Blount||North Carolina||Yes|
|Simon Boerum||New York||Yes|
|David Brearley||New Jersey||Yes|
|Pierce Butler||South Carolina||Yes|
|Charles Carroll of Carrollton||Maryland||Yes|
|Richard Caswell||North Carolina||Yes|
|Abraham Clark||New Jersey||Yes|
|John Collins||Rhode Island||Yes|
|Stephen Crane||New Jersey||Yes|
|Jonathan Dayton||New Jersey||Yes|
|John De Hart||New Jersey||Yes|
|William Henry Drayton||South Carolina||Yes|
|James Duane||New York||Yes||Yes|
|William Duer||New York||Yes|
|William Ellery||Rhode Island||Yes||Yes|
|William Floyd||New York||Yes||Yes|
|Nathaniel Folsom||New Hampshire||Yes|
|Christopher Gadsden||South Carolina||Yes|
|Nicholas Gilman||New Hampshire||Yes|
|Alexander Hamilton||New York||Yes|
|Cornelius Harnett||North Carolina||Yes|
|John Hart||New Jersey||Yes|
|Joseph Hewes||North Carolina||Yes||Yes|
|Thomas Heyward, Jr.||South Carolina||Yes||Yes|
|William Hooper||North Carolina||Yes||Yes|
|Stephen Hopkins||Rhode Island||Yes||Yes|
|Francis Hopkinson||New Jersey||Yes|
|Richard Hutson||South Carolina||Yes|
|William Jackson||South Carolina||Yes|
|John Jay||New York||Yes|
|Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer||Maryland||Yes|
|William Samuel Johnson||Connecticut||Yes|
|James Kinsey||New Jersey||Yes|
|John Langdon||New Hampshire||Yes|
|Henry Laurens||South Carolina||Yes|
|Francis Lightfoot Lee||Virginia||Yes||Yes|
|Richard Henry Lee||Virginia||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Francis Lewis||New York||Yes||Yes|
|Philip Livingston||New York||Yes||Yes|
|William Livingston||New Jersey||Yes||Yes|
|Isaac Low||New York||Yes|
|Thomas Lynch||South Carolina||Yes|
|Thomas Lynch, Jr.||South Carolina||Yes|
|Henry Marchant||Rhode Island||Yes|
|John Mathews||South Carolina||Yes|
|Arthur Middleton||South Carolina||Yes|
|Henry Middleton||South Carolina||Yes|
|Gouverneur Morris||New York||Yes|
|Lewis Morris||New York||Yes|
|Thomas Nelson, Jr.||Virginia||Yes|
|Robert Treat Paine||Massachusetts||Yes||Yes|
|William Paterson||New Jersey||Yes|
|John Penn||North Carolina||Yes||Yes|
|Charles Pinckney||South Carolina||Yes|
|Charles Cotesworth Pinckney||South Carolina||Yes|
|Edward Rutledge||South Carolina||Yes||Yes|
|John Rutledge||South Carolina||Yes||Yes|
|Nathaniel Scudder||New Jersey||Yes|
|Jonathan Bayard Smith||Pennsylvania||Yes|
|Richard Smith||New Jersey||Yes|
|Richard Dobbs Spaight||North Carolina||Yes|
|Richard Stockton||New Jersey||Yes|
|John Sullivan||New Hampshire||Yes|
|Matthew Thornton||New Hampshire||Yes|
|Nicholas Van Dyke||Delaware||Yes|
|Samuel Ward||Rhode Island||Yes|
|John Wentworth, Jr.||New Hampshire||Yes|
|William Whipple||New Hampshire||Yes|
|John Williams||North Carolina||Yes|
|Hugh Williamson||North Carolina||Yes|
|Henry Wisner||New York||Yes|
|John Witherspoon||New Jersey||Yes||Yes|
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 and Madison served in highest U.S. office of President. Jay would be elected to two terms as Governor of New York.
Seven (Fitzsimons, Gorham, Luther Martin, Mifflin, Robert Morris, Pierce, and Wilson) suffered serious financial reversals that left them in or near bankruptcy. Robert Morris spent three of the last years of his life imprisoned following bad land deals. 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.
Many of the Founding Fathers were under 40 years old at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776: James Armistead Lafayette was 15, Marquis de Lafayette was 18, Alexander Hamilton was 19, Aaron Burr was 20, Gouverneur Morris and Betsy Ross were 24. The oldest were Benjamin Franklin, 70 and Samuel Whittemore, 81.
Secretary Charles Thomson lived to the age of 94. Johnson died at 92. John Adams lived to the age of 90. A few — Franklin, Jay, Jefferson, Madison, Hugh Williamson, and George Wythe — lived into their eighties. Approximately 16 died in their seventies, 21 in their sixties, 8 in their fifties, and 5 in their forties. Three (Alexander Hamilton, Richard Dobbs Spaight and Button Gwinnett) were killed in duels.
Political adversaries John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same day - July 4, 1826 
The following men and women are also recognized by many as having been founders of the United States based upon their significant contributions to the formation of American nation and democracy.
Several Founding Fathers were instrumental in establishing schools and societal institutions that still exist today:
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.
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." 
Jack N. Rakove - Thomas Jefferson
Peter S. Onuf - Thomas Jefferson
Founders Online is a searchable database of over 178,000 documents authored by or addressed to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
The Founding Fathers were portrayed in the Tony Award winning musical 1776, a stage production about the debates over, and eventual adoption of, the Declaration of Independence; the popular performance was later turned into the 1972 film
More recently, several of the Founding Fathers - Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Laurens and Burr - were reimagined in Hamilton an acclaimed production about the life of Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda.The show was inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow. The groundbreaking rap musical won 11 Tony Awards.
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).
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