by Gerald Boerner

  

JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 As we approach the celebration of the 4th of July American Independence Day festivities, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on how and why we became a new nation over two hundred years ago. To a great extent, it had to do with the abuses of the British colonial system AND the presence at that point in time of great men of vision — the Founding Fathers.

Last year we posted an extensive series on the American Revolution. We will draw upon some of those posts again this year, but with more emphasis on the specific roles selected Founding Fathers played in the quest for independence. Today we will wrap-up those men who have been identified by historians as Founding Fathers; in our previous postings, we have selected a few who filled important functions in the nation-building process, but others were also involved. Looking at these men as a group shows how broad a spectrum of the population was involved in the Revolution against the British.

We hope that you will follow us through this exploration and come out with a renewed respect for our great struggle in those years in the 18th century. GLB

[ This is Part 10 of 10. ]

[ 4121 Words ]

    

“Government is necessary for our survival. We need government in order to survive. The Founding Fathers created a special place for government. It is called the Constitution.”
— Michael Badnarik

“Maintaining checks and balances on the power of the Judiciary Branch and the other two branches is vital to keep the form of government set up by our Founding Fathers.”
— Todd Tiahrt

“Our Founding Fathers crafted a constitutional Republic for the first time in the history of the world because they were shaping a form of government that would not have the failures of a democracy in it, but had the representation of democracy in it.”
— Steve King

“If the Founding Fathers and other patriots who fought during the Revolutionary War could see the United States today, I believe they would be proud of the path that the thirteen colonies, now fifty strong states, have taken since then.”
— John Linder

“I rise in support of the separation of powers as established by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution. The Constitution clearly delegates the power to deal with criminal matters, like the use of drugs, to the States.”
— Dana Rohrabacher

       

America’s Founding Fathers: Wrap-Up

I want to wrap-up our investigation of some of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolutionary War with an overview of the group as a whole, not just those we have looked at in detail. These men came from all thirteen colonies and many different walks of life.. GLB

(The following Wrap-Up: Thinking About the American Revolution to this blog on Sunday, July 12, 2009)

George Washington:
Thinking About the American Revolution

Copyright©2009 Gerald L. Boerner
All Rights Reserved

“Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; and to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary. But no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people of this commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent.”
— John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776

Declaration_independence Today we are going to quickly review our recent meanderings through the philosophies, thoughts, and key players behind the American Revolution. As we have seen for the past weeks, our Founding Fathers took a common situation of that time (the last half of the eighteenth century) — colonies established in distant lands from a ruling European empire — trying to control those colonies. In our case, this empire was the British Empire.

Philosophical Foundations of the American Revolution

[We have omitted this section since it was included in Part 2 of the present series — America’s Founding Fathers… Part 2: A Perspective on the Revolution.]

The Declaration of Independence (1776)

“Resolved: That these colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved of all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective colonies for their consideration and approbation.”
— Richard Lee, Resolution in Congress, June 7, 1776

We have seen that the colonists became disenchanted with the British oversight in the latter half of the eighteenth century. England and France were embroiled in the ‘Seven Years War’ on the European continent; this was manifested in the ‘French and Indian War’ in the American colonies. This was costly for the British government and it went about taxing its citizens to replenish the British treasury; the British Parliament also attempted to impose these taxes on the American colonies. These latter taxes were considered illegal by the colonists due to their lack of representation in Parliament — ‘taxation without representation.’ Furthermore, the American colonies were chartered by the British crown, not be the Parliament. Therefore, these colonies were given certain self-government rights in these charters that the Parliament was now trying to appropriate to itself.

Further provocation was felt by the treatment of the colonies as a market for British manufactured goods and a source of inexpensive raw materials. This lead to the imposition of policies that lead to a positive balance of trade with England, giving the British more wealth and suppressing colonial industry. This monopoly held by the British and the imposition of taxes upon these commodities created an intolerable situation with colonial leaders. The Founding Fathers were forced into action.

“…In defence of the freedom that is our birthright… we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the agressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.”
— John Hancock, in his pamphlet, Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of taking up Arms, July 6, 1775

The taxes imposed by the British Parliament during the period of 1765 to 1776 were also an attempt by the Parliament to exert more explicit control over the activities and governance in the colonies. The Founding Fathers created two Continental Congresses to discuss these issues were convened — the first in 1774 and the second in 1776. The first congress declared its independence from the control of British Parliament while the second declared its independence from the British Monarchy. The net result of the second congress was the creation of a Declaration of Independence in 1776. This document was written by Thomas Jefferson and edited by John Adams. It was accepted on July 2, 1776 and signed on July 4, 1776, our Independence Day.

We have examined individually four of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence. They include:

  1. John Adams
  2. Samuel Adams
  3. Benjamin Franklin
  4. Thomas Jefferson
The American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783)

“They tell us Sir, that we are weak — unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature has placed in our power.”
— Patrick Henry

While the first battle between the colonists and the British occurred on the plains of Lexington and Concord (Massachusetts) in 1775. However, after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the American colonies formed a confederation of states independent of the British Empire. This relationship was formalized with the Articles of Confederation and the Revolutionary War was fought under this new government. This war ran from 1775 to 1781 with the ‘Treaty of Paris’ in 1783 formally ending the conflict.

During the war, the superior training, discipline and supplies saw the British winning more battles than the colonists under the Commander-in-Chief General George Washington. However, two key battles changed the course of this war. The first of these, the Battle of Sarasota (1777), saw the colonist defeating the British army. The significance of this battle was found more in the diplomatic consequences than in the military consequences. This victory enabled Benjamin Franklin to negotiate a support treaty with the French crown that resulted in financial backing as well as military and naval forces. This treaty was completed in 1778. The second victory, the Battle of Yorktown (1781), defeated the British forces through the combination of the French naval victory over the British navy and the colonial forces, with the French officer, the Marquis de Lafayette, forcing the British army to surrender to colonial forces.

The ‘Treaty of Paris’ (1783) provided the American colonies with two hard-earned consequences: political independence and undisputed territory. The British agreed to recognize the independence of the former American colonies from British rule. It also ceded to the Americans all colonial territories east of the Mississippi River, south of the Great Lakes (Canada), and north of the Spanish claims in Florida. This treaty established our independence which was finalized by our victory in the ‘War of 1812.’

Constitution of the United States

“The American war is over; but this far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government, and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens for these forms of government after they are established and brought to perfection.”
— Benjamin Rush, May 25, 1786

Following the ‘Treaty of Paris,’ the new America was governed as specified by the Articles of Confederation. This provided for a relatively weak central government that was dependent upon the individual states for tax funds and military forces. This arrangement gave each state essentially the freedom to govern themselves in their own affairs, but was not robust enough to stand among the nations of Europe on an independent footing. International debts had not been repaid and there was no standing army or navy to protect our new nation.

Our nations created a situation that lead to a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 to create a more stable government. Much debate between competing factions and required many compromises. These included, in part, between the industrial northern states vs. the agricultural southern states. It also involved attempts to balance states’ rights vs. a strong central government. In its final form, it resolved these many conflicts to create a new type of democratic republic designed upon the philosophical ideas delineated above. This model would have three subdivisions, each with equal weight; these included a bicameral legislature elected directly by the people, an executive branch (President and Vice President) elected by an Electoral College, and a judicial branch appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. These elements attempted to create a system of checks and balances among the branches and a government ‘…of the People, by the People, and for the People’ as stated in the preamble to the Constitution.

In support of this new Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published a series of eighty-five essays in support of the Constitution. These became known as the Federalist Papers. These essays presented the case for the ratification of the new Constitution which was ratified by the thirteenth state in 1789. The first President, George Washington, was unanimously by the first Electoral College. He served two terms in that office and is the only President ever elected by a unanimous vote. Washington set the tone for the office and we will be forever grateful to him for that accomplishment.

Among the Founding Fathers that we have examined in more detail in this series included three signers of the Constitution of the United States. These include:

  1. Benjamin Franklin
  2. Alexander Hamilton
  3. George Washington
Other Founding Fathers

“Our own Country’s Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions — The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny mediated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world, that a free man contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”
— George Washington, 1776

Many more men attended and signed the documents referred to above. Likewise, many others helped spark the revolution, mobilize the colonists, and provide military and diplomatic service to this emerging nation. The Founding Fathers that were not signatories to either the Declaration of Independence or Constitution of the United States deserved the more in-depth examination covered in this series. These include:

  1. Aaron Burr
  2. Patrick Henry
  3. John Jay
  4. John Marshall
  5. Thomas Paine
  6. Marquis de Lafayette (French)
  7. Baron von Steuben (Prussian)
Conclusions

During our exploration of the roots and development of ideas (and ideals) in the formation of this new nation, one formed a nation ‘…of the People, for the People, and by the People’ distinctive from any other in the then-known civilized world. We have attempted to focus on the Founding Fathers who made significant contributions during the period of the Revolutionary War through the War of 1812. The omission of other Founding Fathers does not mean that they were unimportant or did not contribute to the founding of this country, but it means that they were representatives of the people during very important deliberations. They did not make the ‘A List,’ so to speak, but they should not be forgotten.

We are not alone in being selected in our examination of the Founding Fathers. In recent years (1973), Richard B. Morris, a noted Revolutionary War historian, studied seven of the Founding Fathers in his book: Seven who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries. He included:

  1. Benjamin Franklin
  2. George Washington
  3. John Adams
  4. Thomas Jefferson
  5. John Jay
  6. James Madison
  7. Alexander Hamilton

We agree with his selection. We extended our investigation of some of the ‘B List’ players that made contributions to specific aspects of our quest for freedom.

“It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, ‘We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.’ This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
— Ronald Reagan, October 27, 1964

     

Adding Perspective on the Founding Fathers

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States The Founding Fathers of the United States were the political leaders who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or otherwise took part in the American Revolution in winning American independence from Great Britain, or who participated in framing and adopting the United States Constitution in 1787-1788, or in putting the new government under the Constitution into effect. Within the large group known as "the founding fathers," there are two key subsets, the Signers (who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776) and the Framers (who were delegates to the Federal Convention and took part in framing or drafting the proposed Constitution of the United States).

Most historians define the "founding fathers" to mean a larger group, including not only the Signers and the Framers but also all those who, whether as politicians or jurists or statesmen or soldiers or diplomats or ordinary citizens, took part in winning American independence and creating the United States of America. American historian Richard B. Morris, in his 1973 book Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries, identified the following seven figures as the key founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.

Warren G. Harding, then a Republican Senator from Ohio, coined the phrase "Founding Fathers" in his keynote address to the 1916 Republican National Convention. He used it several times thereafter, most prominently in his 1921 inaugural address as President of the United States.

Collective Bios of the Framers of the Constitution

In the winter and spring of 1786-1787, twelve of the thirteen states chose a total of 74 delegates to attend what we now know 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 was 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. 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. 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.

They include:

  • Thomas Mifflin and Nathaniel Gorham had served as President of the Continental Congress.
  • The ones who lacked congressional experience were Bassett, Blair, Brearly, Broom, Davie, Dayton, Alexander Martin, Luther Martin, Mason, McClurg, Paterson, Charles Pinckney, Strong, Washington and Yates.
  • Eight men (Clymer, Franklin, Gerry, Robert Morris, Read, Sherman, Wilson, and Wythe) had signed the Declaration of Independence.
  • Six (Carroll, Dickinson, Gerry, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, and Sherman) had affixed their signatures to the Articles of Confederation.
  • Two, Sherman and Robert Morris, underwrote all three of the nation’s basic documents.
  • Dickinson, Franklin, Langdon, and Rutledge had been governors.

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 were lawyers or had benefited from legal education, though not all of them relied on the profession for a livelihood. Some had also become judges.

They include:

  • 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.
  • Six were major land speculators: Blount, Dayton, Fitzsimons, Gorham, Robert Morris, 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.
  • Twelve owned or managed slave-operated plantations or large farms: Bassett, Blair, Blount, Butler, Carroll, Jenifer, Jefferson, Mason, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Rutledge, Spaight, and Washington. Madison also owned slaves, as did Franklin, who later freed his slaves and was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Alexander Hamilton was opposed to slavery and, with John Jay and other anti-slavery advocates, helped to found the first African free school in New York City. Jay helped to found the New York Manumission Society and, when he was governor of New York in 1798, signed into law the state statute ending slavery as of 1821.
  • 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, 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 9 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 or worked in more than one state or colony: Baldwin, Bassett, Bedford, Dickinson, Few, Franklin, Ingersoll, Hamilton, Livingston, Alexander Martieno, 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. Some, like Franklin, 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 in the colonies or Britain. Some men held medical degrees or advanced training in theology. For the most part, the delegates were a well-educated group. A few lawyers had been trained at the Inns of Court in London, but most had apprenticed to an American lawyer.

Religion

Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of the Founders. Some of the 1787 delegates had no affiliation. The others were Protestants except for three Roman Catholics: C. Carroll, D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons. Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Church of England (Episcopalian, after the Revolutionary War was won), eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists, the total number being 49. Some of the more prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical or vocal about their opposition to organized religion, such as Thomas Jefferson (who created the "Jefferson Bible"), and Benjamin Franklin. However, other notable founders, such as Patrick Henry, were strong proponents of traditional religion. Several of the Founding Fathers considered themselves to be deists or held beliefs very similar to those of deists.

Legacy

Declaration_independence According to Joseph J. Ellis, the concept of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. emerged in the 1820s as the last survivors died out. Ellis says the "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."

 

Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: American Revolution…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution

Wikipedia: Founding Fathers of the United States…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founding_Fathers_of_the_United_States

Brainy Quote: Founding Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/founding.html