The term "Founding Fathers" is used to refer to a number of American statesmen who were influential during the revolutionary period of the late 1700s. They are usually considered to be the men who drafted the U.S. Constitution, since it is the document that provides the basis of American democratic government. Though definitions vary, the authors of the Declaration of Independence are also considered Founding Fathers along with the signers of the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers are listed below.
Of the fifty-six members of the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on 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 thirty-nine men who signed the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, include notable figures such as George Washington (1732–1799), who became the first president of the United States; Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), who became 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 among the delegates (representatives of the states). At eighty-one 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 that document 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).
Many of the Founding Fathers did not attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were performing other government duties at the time; both would became U.S. presidents. Samuel Adams was not appointed as a state delegate but continued in public service, holding various federal and state government offices. Patrick Henry (1736–1799) of Virginia saw no need to replace the Articles of Confederation (1777), the original agreement made among the thirteen colonies the Constitution, which granted more power to the central government. Henry's view on this issue foreshadows the discontent that crested nearly one hundred years later when eleven southern states seceded (withdrew) from the Union, causing the Civil War (1861–65).
Further Information: Biographies of the Founding Fathers. [Online] Available http://colonialhall.com/biography.asp, October 26, 2000; Stiles, T. J., ed. In Their Own Words: Founding Fathers. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1999; Zall, Paul M., ed. The Wit and Wisdom of the Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.