Our Founding Fathers
George Washington (1732-1799)
First President of the United States (1789-1797)
- Led the colonial forces in the Revolutionary War
- Washington was a man of few words, whose political rise was attributable to his strength of character, rather than his intellect.
- He was very imposing for his day as he stood 6′ 3 1/2″ tall with large hands. Washington had pockmarked skin as a result of a teenage case of smallpox and he also had a shy disposition.
- He had lost almost all his teeth by the time he was President, leaving him with badly sunken cheeks that were stuffed with cotton for portraits.
- Contrary to popular belief, George Washington never had wooden teeth! His teeth were made mostly of lead fitted with human, cattle, and hippopotamus teeth.
- In his will, he freed all 300 of his slaves permanently.
- Washington was a Federalist, so he favored a strong central government. He also had a strong affinity for aristocrats. His closest political ally was Alexander Hamilton
- Washington was the only president to win unanimous approval by the electoral college. He did it twice.
- In office, Washington served the nation best by keeping the government stable. He advocated a strong national defense
- He didn’t want to continue on to a second term as President, but he was talked into doing it. His second inaugural address may reveal his enthusiasm for the second term. At 135 words, it is the shortest inaugural address in history.
James Madison (1751-1836)
- President of the United States (1809-1817)
- Helped draft Virginia’s state constitution when he was 25. That document later became the model for the U.S. Constitution.
- Madison was a soft-spoken and tiny man about 5’4″ and less than 100 pounds.
- He was too small to serve in the Revolutionary War, and turned to politics instead.
- Madison, the Father of the Constitution the most important legal document in modern history never received a law degree.
- Madison was a lonely and single man. That changed when he met Dolley Todd. The couple married when Madison was 43.
- Dolley Madison earned a place in history when she fled the White House with a portrait of George Washington as the British stormed the capital during the War of 1812. That picture hangs in the White House today.
- Madison’s Presidency was marred by the War of 1812 the only war in which U.S. soil was overrun by enemy forces.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
- President of the United States (1801-1809)
- Wrote the Declaration of Independence and served as Minister to France as the Constitution was being drafted.
- Jefferson was nicknamed Long Tom because he stood 6′ 2 1/2″ tall. He had carrot-red hair.
- Although his wife died at the age of 33, Jefferson never remarried. He did, however, allegedly father five children by Sally Hemings, one of his slaves.
- Jefferson was the ultimate Renaissance man and has been described as a lawyer, linguist, diplomat, astronomer, political philosopher, educator, statesman, president, farmer, musician, scientist, inventor, horseman and geographer.
- Jefferson was fluent in Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and was a supporter of equal rights and education for women, the right of all to have a free public education and a free library system.
- Jefferson was a Republican, which at that time was the party of the common man.
- Jefferson was renowned for being a terrible public speaker due to a speech impediment, although he is certainly regarded as one of the best writers ever to hold the office of the presidency. He alone wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.
- He doubled the land size of the United States when he made the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon. Napoleon needed cash to conquer Europe. The selling price: $15 million.
- After his two terms as President he spent much of his time pursuing his dream of establishing a university. That dream was realized when he founded the University of Virginia.
John Adams (1735-1826)
- President of the United States (1797-1801)
- Helped draft the Declaration of Independence and negotiate the peace agreement with Great Britain to end the Revolutionary War.
- John Adams was a short (5’7″), chunky man. He felt it was beneath him to shake hands with anyone; he bowed instead.
- Born and raised in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams was a lawyer by trade.
- He was the longest living American president. He died at the age of 90, in Quincy, MA.
- Adams was the first president to occupy the White House. The nation moved its capital from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., during his administration.
- Adams was a Federalist and he held a more elitist view of government than his Republican rivals.
- Adams built the U.S. Navy to the point where it could compete worldwide.
- He signed the Alien and Sedition Acts which made it a crime to criticize the government.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
- Minister to France
- Franklin was one of the three Americans to sign the peace treaty with England that ended the Revolutionary War.
- He also helped write the Declaration of Independence, and was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention.
- He made enough money from his publishing business (Richards Almanac) to retire in his early 40s. He then devoted his life to writing, science, and politics.
- Franklin created bifocal glasses because he didn’t like to carry two pairs of glasses with him.
- He was suspicious of strong central governments and governors. Franklin wanted a three-person presidential committee rather than having a single president. Of the proposal to have a one-man president, he said, The government is likely to be well-administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism.
- He set his own pace, ignoring appointments if he wasn’t interested enough in the conversation. He also owned the largest private library in America.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
- Treasury Secretary
- Along with Madison and John Jay, Hamilton authored the Federalist Papers, rallying support for the new Constitution
- Hamilton called for a meeting of all 13 states at Annapolis, Maryland in September, 1786 to discuss the economic situation in the country at that time.
- Hamilton then requested permission from the Congress of the Confederation to invite representatives from the thirteen states to assemble in Philadelphia with the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.
- Behind closed doors and with no real authority, the delegates decided to write an entirely new constitution.
- Hamilton wanted a nation built around a strong and fiscally stable central government. When Washington assumed the presidency, he named Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury.
- He believed that the intellectual aristocracy should rule the nation.
- Hamilton’s legacy is in the Federal Bank. He led the effort to establish the first such bank, which he saw as critical for sustaining the government’s finances.
- His opponents saw the bank as an evil tool for expanding the power of the federal government, at the expense of the states.
- Hamilton is regarded as the Father of the National Debt because he felt that a national debt was really a blessing.
- When Jefferson ran for president in 1800, he and Aaron Burr tied. The election went to the Federalist-controlled House. Hamilton, founder of the Federalist party, convinced his colleagues to elect Jefferson over Burr.
- Burr campaigned for governor of New York. And again Hamilton convinced voters to vote against Burr. Finally, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.Hamilton died one day later.
George Mason (1725-1792)
- Member, Virginia Constitutional Convention (1776) Delegate, Constitutional Convention (1787)
- Mason helped create the Virginia Bill of Rights and Virginia Constitution.
- Although George Mason refused to sign the Constitution, his ideas still had a major effect on the fabric of American political thought.
- Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was influenced greatly by Mason’s work on the Virginia bill of rights
- Mason’s ideas also had an impact on the development of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.
- He eventually opposed the Constitution because of the compromise concerning slavery and the failure of the delegates to include a Bill of Rights.
- These objections to the Constitution became the focal point for the anti-federalists during the ratification process.
- Signer of the Articles of Confederation; Member, Continental Congress (1777-1778); Assistant Minister of Finance (1781-1785); Member of the Constitutional Convention (1787)
- Gouverneur Morris was a successful politician, diplomat and writer. He was a strong supporter of the federal constitution although he was not a strong supporter of the power of the people.
- He was in favor of senators being chosen for life, significant property qualifications to vote, direct election of the president by the elite qualified voters, and representation in Congress based on taxation.
- It has been recorded that Gouverneur Morris spoke more than anyone at the Constitutional Convention (173 times).
- He was made the chairman of the Committee of Style and was responsible for the wording of the Constitution.
- He took twenty-three proposed resolutions and condensed them into the seven major articles contained in the Constitution.
- Morris declined Alexander Hamilton’s request to help write the Federalist Papers, and during the fight for ratification he played no significant part.
- After Alexander Hamilton was killed by Aaron Burr in 1804, Morris prepared the eulogy.
Roger Sherman (1721-1793)
- United States House of Representatives (1788-1791); United States Senator (1791-1793); Member, Continental Congress (1774-1781, 1783 and 1784).
- He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation
- Responsible for the Great Compromise (Connecticut Compromise) at the Constitutional Convention.
- Held positions in the Connecticut government in all three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial).
- He strongly favored the American Revolution once it began.
- Sherman was in support of the colonial boycotts of the 1760′s and was in charge of the New Haven committees of correspondence (organizations that promoted inter-colonial communication).
- He was in favor of the President being appointed by the Legislature for a three year term of office.
- His most important accomplishment was the compromise on representation in Congress he suggested, that broke the deadlock between large and small states.
- This compromise was called the Great Compromise, and it showed the delegates that they could and should compromise in order to accomplish the writing of a new constitution.
- He was opposed to a separate bill of rights to be added to the Constitution.
James Wilson (1742-1798)
- Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court
- Member, Continental Congress (1775-1777; 1782; 1783; 1785-1787); Signer of the Declaration of Independence and First Professor of Law at Philadelphia College (1790).
- It was said of James Wilson that when Wilson speaks, he wastes no time and considers no man’s feelings.
- He was strongly in favor of an amendment to permit the government the power to tax.
- He was a strong supporter of a republican form of government in which the people choose the representatives in government
- He was in favor of the power of the people during a time period when many of the political visionaries did not believe in democracy.
- Wilson felt that people and their individual rights took priority over those of property rights, and was opposed to slavery.
- He believed in the concept of federalism in which there was a division of power between the states and national government.