To answer this often-asked question, it helps to first understand what the term “Founding Fathers” means. Basically, it is the group of men who worked to create the United States of America. The historical events they influenced took place from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, and include:
- The drafting and signing of the U.S. Constitution
- The drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence
- Winning independence from Britain
- Establishing the first 13 colonies of the United States.
There is no definitive list of Founding Fathers, but most historians agree that the events took place from 1763 to 1820, and list of political leaders consists of politicians, statemen, other governmental officials.
12. George Washington
As the nation’s first president and “Father of the Country,” George Washington is always at the top of Founding Fathers lists. Washington was also the Continental Army’s commander throughout the Revolutionary War. He led the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which established the federal government.
11. Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is also up there. He helped draft the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and was an ambassador to France. He has also received accolades for his work as a political philosopher, inventor, scientist, writer, and statesman.
10. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson is another important figure here. He penned the Declaration of Independence and is credited with the statements “all men are created equal” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He also served as vice president, and then president in 1801.
9. Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams helped drum up resistance to the British, and probably organized the Boston Tea Party of 1773. He also signed the Declaration of Independence, and later served as governor for Massachusetts.
8. John Adams
Second cousin to Samuel Adams, John Adams worked with Ben Franklin to write the Declaration of Independence and traveled with him to France to settle the Treaty of Paris. In 1788, he served as George Washington’s vice president. Adams was also the President of United States from 1797 to 1801.
7. Alexander Hamilton
Hamilton was a key contributor to the Constitution, and also helped establish the United State’s financial system. He fought alongside Washington in the Revolutionary War, and was involved with Continental Congress and New York legislature, forming the bulk of the country’s commercial laws.
6. James Madison
James Madison first served in Virginia’s state legislature. At 1787’s Constitutional Convention, he was the one who designed the means to split the federal government into its legislative, executive, and judicial branches and the system of checks and balances. This is why he is called the “Father of the Constitution.” He also helped write the Federalist Papers and advocated for the Bill or Rights. He later served as secretary of state for Jefferson and became president in 1808.
5. John Jay
Though his name may be less familiar, John Jay is worth mentioning. He was a diplomat to Spain, and also helped John Adams and Ben Franklin with the Treaty of Paris. He wrote part of the Federalist Papers and was secretary of foreign affairs. He was also the very first chief justice for the U.S. Supreme Court, before he became governor of New York.
4. Paul Revere
Known for his famous “The British are Coming!” ride, Paul Revere made this famous journey on April 18, 1775 from Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts. His mission was to let John Hancock and Samuel Adams know that British troops were on their way to arrest them. Revere also played important roles in the Boston Massacre and Tea Party.
3. Thomas Paine
A renown author, Thomas Paine wrote Age of Reason, Common Sense, and Rights of Man. He was one of the first people to use the term “United States of America,” and tried to eliminate slavery in the Declaration of Independence and during the Louisiana Purchase.
2. Abigail Adams
Many scholars feel that certain “Founding Mothers” should make the list, starting with Abigail Adams, who was married to John Adams. She advocated for women’s rights and women’s education, and opposed slavery. She also was her husband’s advisor and confidant. The couple was the First Family to live in the White House. Abigail supported her son John Quincy Adams too, and he was elected president in 1824.
1. Dolly Madison
As the fourth first lady of the U.S., Dolly Madison was wed to James Madison. She is best known for her participation in the activities surrounding the War of 1812. Washington, DC was invaded by British troops, and even though James fled the city with his cabinet members, Dolly remained in the White House. Her efforts to ensure the safety of important artwork and documents were widely recognized. She stayed on there, providing an example of the country’s ongoing strength even though much of DC was burned.
In the 21st century, some consider the very label “Founding Fathers” to be controversial: In addition to not usually seeing females recognized for their contributions, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known slave-owners. It is clear that both issues were representative of that time period, but it was not until hundreds of years later that people pointed it out.
Political institutions are continually in flux, as is public opinion. There is no question that the Founding Fathers’ efforts united the 13 colonies and won independence from Britain. They also created the governing documents that established the nation’s core values and still guide decisions today. Looking back on this centuries later, it is interesting to see it all from today’s perspective.