Government and Politics
Declaration of Independence
Who are considered the Founding Fathers of the United States?
The term is used to refer to a number of American statesmen who were influential during the revolutionary period of the late 1700s. Though definitions vary, most include the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the signers of the U.S. Constitution among the nation’s Founding Fathers.
Of the 56 members of the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776), the most well-known are John Adams (1735–1826) and Samuel Adams (1722–1803) of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) of Pennsylvania, John Hancock (1737–1793) of Massachusetts, and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) of Virginia.
The 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, include notable figures such as George Washington (1732–1799), who would go on, of course, to become the first president of the United States; Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), who, as a former military aid to George Washington, went on to become the first U.S. secretary of the treasury; and James Madison (1751–1836), who is called the “father of the constitution” for his role as negotiator and recorder of debates between the delegates. At 81 years of age, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer of the Constitution and was among the six statesmen who could claim the distinction of signing both it and the Declaration of Independence; the others were George Clymer (1739–1813), Robert Morris (1734–1806), George Read (1733–1798), Roger Sherman (1721–1793), and James Wilson (1742–1798).
Patriots and politicians conspicuous by their absence from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were performing other government duties at the time and would each go on to become U.S. president; Samuel Adams and John Jay (1745–1829), who were not appointed as state delegates but who continued in public life, holding various federal and state government offices (including governor of their states); and Patrick Henry (1736–1799) of Virginia, who saw no need to go beyond the Articles of Confederation (1777) to grant more power to the central government. Henry’s view on this issue foreshadows the discontent that crested nearly 100 years later when 12 southern states (including Virginia) seceded from the Union, causing the Civil War (1861–65) to break out.
Adams, Franklin, Hancock, Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and Henry: These are the names that come to mind when the words “Founding Fathers” are uttered. Each of them had a profound impact in the political life of the United States—even beyond their starring roles as patriots and leaders during the American revolutionary era. However, it’s important to note that in many texts and to many Americans, the term Founding Fathers refers only to the men who drafted the U.S. Constitution since it is that document that continues—more than 200 years after its signing—to provide the solid foundation for American democratic government.