Who are the Founding Fathers of America? - History & Facts

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn who America's 'Founding Fathers' were. We will explore their contributions and discuss the term 'Founding Fathers' as it is commonly used.

Introduction: Who Were the Founding Fathers?

In its most basic sense, the term Founding Fathers describes the men who helped found, or establish the United States of America during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The term is most commonly applied to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the framers of the U.S. Constitution, and/or the first few American presidents. Occasionally, it can also be used to refer to key American figures in the Revolutionary War. Historians are not always in agreement over who was or was not a Founding Father, or even what criteria should be used to determine this. The Founding Fathers are sometimes just called 'Founders.' Most Founding Fathers were statesmen, politicians, or those who served in some other official governmental position. The 'Age of the Founders' was between 1763 and 1820. The term 'Founding Fathers' was coined by President Warren G. Harding in 1916, and has since been used as a popular reference for the first generation of American political leaders.

The Founders

Specific Founding Fathers

The most well-known Founding Fathers are George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. These men, and other Founding Fathers, played extremely important roles in securing American independence and nationhood. For example, George Washington served as commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and as the first President of the United States. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin, although never president, signed the Declaration of Independence, and served as an ambassador to France, in addition to serving in many other capacities. John Jay, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and many others are also considered Founding Fathers. John Jay, for example, was the President of the Continental Congress, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Other Founding Fathers are less known, such as Elbridge Gerry or Lyman Hall, who both signed the Declaration of Independence.

(Remember, not everyone agrees on what criteria is needed to qualify as a Founding Father!)

Similarities and Differences Between Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers were undoubtedly a remarkable group of men. Most were relatively well-educated and wealthy. Many came from aristocratic backgrounds. Some owned slaves. They differed considerably in their religious views: many were deists, while others were Episcopalian, Congregationalist, or other varieties of the Christian religion. While the Founding Fathers did not always agree on the specifics of the way in which the American government should operate, they were united by their common belief in American nationhood. Most of the Founding Fathers were also influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The Founding Fathers in American Memory

Many key Founding Fathers are highly revered and have memorials or monuments erected to celebrate their legacy. For example, the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., stand as architectural structures designed to honor these two important Founding Fathers. Many Founding Fathers also appear on U.S. currency or coins. The Founding Fathers have been the subject of numerous works of art; among the most well known is John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence. This 12 x 8 foot painting was done in 1817, and today hangs in the Capitol Rotund (see image below).

John Trumbull

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