10 Facts: The Founding Fathers

Reflections on the Men Who Forged Our Nation
Founding Fathers with the Declaration of Independence

"Declaration of Independence" painted by John Trumbull in 1819.

The Founding Fathers are the men who created our government and forged our new Nation. Here are 10 facts about these men who contributed to our identity as a country.

Fact #1: These seven men are the principle Founding Fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison.

While there were many others who contributed to the founding of the United States, these seven are considered by most as the Founding Fathers. They all played key roles in the securing of American independence from Great Britain and in the creation of the government of the United States of America.

Fact #2: There are many others who are considered founding fathers.

While the principle seven contributed immensely to the founding, there are dozens of others who played smaller but valuable roles. George Mason, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, John Marshall, and Samuel Adams are some of those, just to name a few. There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and 39 signers of the United States Constitution. In addition to men, women also played important roles, such as Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren.

Portrait of Abigail Adams
Despite her place among the greatest minds of her generation, Abagail Adams was denied a proper education partly because of her status as a woman.

Fact #3: Each Founding Father offered unique contributions to the creation of the republic.

While the contributions of men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are more well known, the writings, thoughts, and actions of numerous others influenced the ultimate shape of our nation.  Some thought, some wrote, some fought, and some served in public office, but all of them contributed in some way.

Fact #4: The Founding Fathers are the most important people to study to gain an understanding of the American ideals of freedom and liberty.

The lives of these men are essential to understanding the American form of government and our ideals of liberty. The Founding Fathers were able to do what had only been dreamed of in Europe.  How they accomplished what they did is essential in the study of American history and in understanding the global and timeless impacts of their work.

Fact #5: While they all played important roles, the Founding Fathers often disagreed with each other.

The Founding Fathers are often viewed as largely in agreement and are often referred to as a single entity that all worked together to create one American nation. In reality, they had extremely different views on all sorts of issues, including the role of the federal government, the issue of slavery, and how radical or moderate the American Revolution should be. At times, these differences of opinion destroyed friendships and threatened to pull the country apart.

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis
A portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis Public Domain

Fact #6: Most of the Founding Fathers were young men when they created the Nation.

Often viewed as old men with white wigs and false teeth, many of the Founding Fathers were quite young when they helped create the Country. George Washington was 43 years old when he accepted command of the American Army during the war. Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. John Adams was 40 years old when he argued for American independence. James Madison was 36 years old when he was at the Constitutional Convention. John Jay was 43 years old when he became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Alexander Hamilton was 33 years old when he was made Secretary of the Treasury. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin who was 70 years old at the Second Continental Congress.

Fact #7: The phrase "Founding Fathers" was popularized by Warren G. Harding.

Now a commonly used phrase, the term did not appear widely until after the 29th President of the United States, Warren G. Harding, began using it in many of his speeches in the late 1910s and early 1920s.

Fact #8: Many of the Founding Fathers feared following generations might not be capable of maintaining American liberty.

Like other generations, many of the founders were unsure if succeeding generations would be up to the task of protecting the liberty they had successfully secured. When Benjamin Franklin was asked after signing the Constitution if they had created a monarchy or a republic, Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Fact #9: The Founding Fathers were not perfect.

While the founders created a form of government unlike any other in the world of that time, they were far from perfect people. Nearly half of them were slaveholders and all of them profited from the system of slavery in the United States.  The nation they created ensured that the rights of white, property-owning men were protected, but it would take almost 200 years to ensure that all Americans were provided those same protections.

Fact #10: The Founding Fathers left an unparalleled legacy in world history.

Perhaps more than any other group of people in history, this small group of men distilled years of enlightenment thought into a form of government that sought to restrict central power, protect the rights of the citizens, and ensure the consent of the governed. To achieve this, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. These ideals they put into action we still believe to this day.