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Leading individuals in founding of the United States

The Founding Fathers of the United States were a group of philosophers, politicians and writers who led the American Revolution against the Kingdom of Great Britain. Most were descendants of colonists settled in the Thirteen Colonies in North America.

  • Adams, Samuel - American revolutionary leader, organizer of the Boston Tea Party
  • Franklin, Benjamin - 18th century American printer, inventor and statesman
  • Hancock, John - Signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, president of the Second Continental Congress
  • Henry, Patrick - American revolutionary figure, famous for "Give me liberty or give me death" speech
  • Jay, John - First Chief Justice of the United States, co-author of the Federalist Papers
  • Jefferson, Thomas - Author of the Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States
  • Madison, James - Author of Federalist essays, fourth President of the United States
  • Mason, George - Author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights
  • Paine, Thomas - American Revolutionary leader, author of the Common Sense pamphlet
  • Washington, George - First President of the United States

Reference

Founding Fathers
Definitions and history on the term "founding fathers"
Warren G. Harding, the newspaper publisher and Republican Senator from Ohio, was the first person to use the phrase 'Founding Fathers.' ... The phrase Founding Fathers applies to a large group that's divided into two subsets. The signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are considered Founding Fathers, and the Framers of the US Constitution are also called Founding Fathers. ... Some historians say there are seven key Founding Fathers. That group is: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

Articles

Bruce Evoy is Dead, by Vince Miller, The Libertarian Enterprise, 14 Jul 1998
Memorial notice and brief biographical summary of Evoy
He is particularly well known for his electrifying performances in period costume of U.S. Revolutionary hero Patrick Henry and has performed the famous 'Give me liberty or give me death' speech for innumerable libertarian gatherings in the U.S. and abroad. At the USLP convention in Washington, DC in 1996, Bruce performed as George Washington, delivering his famous 'Farewell Address.' This was covered on C-SPAN TV and earned him a standing, cheering ovation. He also performed as Thomas Jefferson, reading the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial.
Bureaucracy and the Civil Service in the United States, by Murray Rothbard, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1995
Historical account of the evolution of the United States Civil Service and attempts to reform it, from its beginnings through the early 20th century
The Founding Fathers of the American republics ... were very much alive to the problem of bureaucracy and of government power. ... The first was to confine government, for the first time in history, by explicit written constitutions ... The second and equally essential part ... was to make sure that entrenched oligarchies and bureaucracies would not develop.
Claiming Paine, by Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason, Jul 2007
Review of the book Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye
He returned in the same sorry state as when he first arrived in 1774: ill, impoverished, and friendless, having been already written out of the pantheon of Founders for his association with more radical, less successful European revolutions and for his renunciation of religion in The Age of Reason. In Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, Kaye, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, tries to bring the revolutionary back to his rightful place as one of the Founding Fathers.
Classical Liberalism in Argentina: A Lesson for the World, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Jul 1994
Highlights Argentine history from the 1810 revolution to the late 20th century, arguing that the period from 1852 to 1930 demonstrated the validity of Adam Smith's writings, also discussing 1958 visits by Leonard Read and Ludwig von Mises
[Juan Bautista] Alberdi had been strongly influenced by the ideas of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Alberdi believed that individuals had inherent rights of life, liberty, and property with which no government could legitimately interfere. He believed that the primary purpose of government was to ensure the protection of these unalienable rights ... In the 1930s, a military coup ousted the popularly elected government. Unfortunately, the new Argentine rulers rejected the Smith-Jefferson-Madison-Alberdi philosophy of economic freedom ...
Empire on Their Minds, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 14 Mar 2014
First compares recent Russian and U.S. imperialistic behavior, then delves into the imperial tendencies of the Founding Fathers and early U.S. Presidents
Even the government's schools teach ... that America's Founders had — let us say — an expansive vision for the country they were establishing ... Clearly, these men had empire on their minds ... in the eyes of the Founders, the American Revolution was largely a war between a mature empire and a nascent one. (Many — but assuredly not all — Americans of the time would have cheerily agreed.) ... Some American figures glimpsed that empire and liberty might not easily so fit together ... The problem was that even many who opposed empire, sometimes quite eloquently, wanted ends that only an empire could procure.
The Federal War on Gold, Part 1, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Aug 2006
Discusses some of the clauses in the U.S. constitution regarding coinage and the issuance of paper money by the federal government
Such ignorance and such trust in government did not characterize our American forefathers. Having studied economics and monetary history and having experienced the ravages of inflation firsthand with the Continental currency, they decided to establish a monetary system based on gold and silver coin rather than paper money. They knew that while the government could still debase the currency by "clipping" a bit of each gold coin ... before putting the coins back into circulation ... that was a relatively small danger, especially compared with paper money, which could be expanded at will through the printing press.
The Federal War on Gold, Part 2, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Sep 2006
Continues with the brief monetary history of the United States, discussing Abraham Lincoln's war loans and legal tender law, and the Supreme Court cases of Hepburn v. Griswold (1870) and Knox v. Lee (1871)
[Our] ancestors attempted to protect their freedom and property ... through the establishment of a monetary system based on precious metals ... As students of history, they understood the inflationary horrors that governments all over the world had inflicted on their citizenry through the issuance of paper money. Moreover, they themselves had experienced the ravages of the Continental currency during the Revolutionary War ("It's not worth a Continental") and the inflationary damage during the period of the Articles of Confederation, when the states were free to issue paper money.
Foreword to A Foreign Policy of Freedom by Ron Paul, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 15 Mar 2007
Examines the historical precedents for the Paulian view that American foreign and domestic policy both be conducted in the same non-interventionist manner
Government should be restrained from intervening at home or abroad because its actions fail to achieve their stated aims ... If you recognize the line of thinking in this set of beliefs, it might be because you have read the Federalist Papers, the writings of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or James Madison, or examined the philosophical origins of the American Revolution. Or you might have followed the debates that took place in the presidential election of 1800, in which this view emerged triumphant.
Forrest McDonald, "The Founding Fathers and the Economic Order", by Forrest McDonald, 19 Apr 2006
Speech given at the Economic Club of Indianapolis; contrasts the economic system the founding fathers intended to create with the one that was actually created
[John] Adams denounced credit as responsible for 'most of the Luxury & Folly which has yet infected our People,' and declared that anyone who could devise a way to abolish credit forever 'would deserve a Statue to his Memory.' [Benjamin] Franklin characterized commerce as 'generally cheating' and wrote bitterly of its corrupting and debilitating effects. ... You have heard Jefferson's quotation ... 'those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God if ever He had a chosen people.' That attitude was widely shared in l8th century America ...
Related Topics: Free Market, Money
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman, Sep 1996
Review of the 1996 book by Richard Brookhiser, concluding that it is "a worthy testament to the greatness of Washington"
The weakest section of the book is the one dealing with 'The Founding Father.' That Washington was father of his country is a metaphor which captures some of the truth and much of my feelings about the matter. He did indeed tenaciously lead the country through the war which effected our separation from Britain and independence of her. He chaired the Constitutional Convention that produced the document on which our union stands. And he piloted us safely through the perilous and tenuous early years of the Republic. But the metaphor will not bear close and extensive analysis; it falls from so much weight.
Related Topic: George Washington
Historian Paul Johnson on American Liberty, by Paul Johnson, The Freeman, Jun 1996
Topics discussed include religious freedom, abolishing slavery, the impact of immigration, the Founding Fathers, the U.S. Constitution, individualism, reining in government and the prospects for liberty in America
During the 1770s and 1780s, America wasn't yet a democracy. Male suffrage was limited. Still, a lot of males could vote. Equally important, the Founding Fathers were imbued with the democratic spirit. They believed every man had a right to voice his views. Debate took place in public meetings, legislatures and in the growing media. ... America was fortunate that there was an outstanding group of people who shaped the debate and the Constitution itself. One would have to go a long way in history to find a group as competent, cosmopolitan, and skillful with the language.
Impeach the American People!, by Butler Shaffer, 17 Nov 2006
Comments on proposals to impeach (or otherwise bring to justice) George W. Bush and others in his administration, countering that most Americans didn't do their part under the alleged "social contract"
'Founding Fathers' such as Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, and James Madison, were well aware of the danger of ordinary people coming to trust power. The likes of Alexander Hamilton, however, counted on such weakness... Those who drafted the Declaration of Independence had an inherent distrust of power. Rather than see this as a reason to not create state systems, they believed that members of an enlightened, skeptical, and constantly observant public could and would insist upon state authorities restraining their appetites, lest they be driven from office.
Imperium in Imperio, by Frank Chodorov, analysis, Jun 1950
Examines the theory of government espoused by James Madison in The Federalist number 10, and how property rights have regressed since then
... the Founding Fathers made concessions to the slave trade, the landed gentry, the money speculators and the protection-seeking industrialists. In so doing they simply accepted what the mores sanctioned. ... The Founding Fathers made concessions to pressure-groups, to be sure; but when did politicians do otherwise?
An Independent Judiciary: Edward Coke, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
'The men of the American Revolution were nurtured upon Coke's writings,' observed constitutional historian Bernard Schwartz. ... Thomas Jefferson remarked that 'Coke Lyttleton was the universal elementary book of law students and a sounder Whig never wrote nor of profounder learning in the orthodox doctrines of British liberties.' Patrick Henry, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Jay, Daniel Webster and many other influential Americans read Coke. ... Schwartz observed that 'The influence of Coke may be seen at all of the key stages in the development of the conflict between the Colonies and the mother country.'
The Lawless State, by Joseph Sobran, The Reactionary Utopian, 11 Jul 2006
Explains how the United States changed from being a decentralized republic to a centralized democracy and how most of the power has moved from the legislative branch to the "imperial presidency"
... the United States ... has quietly shifted from being a decentralized federal republic to being a centralized democracy. Moreover, the actual power has shifted from the legislative branch to the executive. This would have startled the men who created that republic in reaction against the British monarchy, which they regarded as tyrannical because it concentrated so much power in one man's hands. ... If the Founding Fathers could see us now, they'd surely ask, 'How on earth did you get yourselves into this mess?' We've managed to do nearly everything the Constitution was designed to prevent us from doing.
Ludwig von Mises and the Justification of the Liberal Order, by William Baumgarth, The Economics of Ludwig von Mises, Nov 1974
Critically examines various Mises' writings on liberalism, democracy, the wisdom of the masses, special-interest politics, equal treatment under the law, anarchism, self-determination and of course economics
Modern-day liberalism is the political embodiment of the Enlightenment; for example, the liberalism of the Founding Fathers explicitly incorporates its philosophical attitudes. Early American political philosophy, as developed in the Federalist Papers, consists of a blend of various Enlightenment themes, clarified and reordered by the practical experiences of American political life. The primary motivations of the passions and of self-interest in social life gave rise to a new science of politics, which concluded that the regime best suited for human progress, material and spiritual, is the commercial democratic republic.
Marry and Let Marry, by Sheldon Richman, 3 Mar 2004
Comments on George W. Bush's proposed constitutional amendment to forbid same-sex marriage licenses
Although the Constitution set up the machinery of the federal government and established various procedures, the document's core purpose was to limit power in order to protect life, liberty, and property ... The Founders did not want an autocratic executive such as King George III. Nor did they want a "democratic despotism," which Thomas Jefferson warned against. Government was to be limited, its powers, in James Madison's words, "few and defined." The doctrine of enumerated powers, along with the Tenth Amendment (reserving all other powers to the states and the people), makes the Framers' objective abundantly clear.
Misguided Democracy, by George Leef, Future of Freedom, Mar 2006
Review of Attention Deficit Democracy (2006) by James Bovard
Bovard draws a sharp contrast between the government envisioned by the nation's Founders and the government we have today. At the time of the founding, government was to have minimal power, and it was expected that the vigilant, well-read electorate consisting of property owners would ensure that governmental power was kept strictly confined ... Only a great philosophical change can repair the tremendous damage ... it is hard to see how that can happen in a country where most of the people resemble the inhabitants of Orwell's 1984 more than they do the resolute individuals who fought for liberty 230 years ago.
My Time in the Tower of London, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, Dec 2006
Relates a visit to the Tower of London and then compares the torture of centuries past in the Tower, as described in particular in Shakespeare's Richard III, with the 2006 legalization of similar practices in the United States
Can anyone imagine how the discussion would have gone if someone had proposed erecting an "American Tower of London" when the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia in the dog days of 1787? ... There was [none] in part because America was born a nation under the rule of law. There was [none] because the Founders made sure that the crime of treason was very narrowly defined. They had seen how the crime of "treason" had mushroomed time and again in English history, creating the pretext to slaughter those who protested oppression. There was no Tower of London in this nation because torture was not part of the American canons.
Nonsense on the Inevitability of Democracy, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, May 2006
Examines Francis Fukuyama's assertion about the "universalization of Western liberal democracy" and related pronouncements by George W. Bush
Encouraging people to view democracy as inevitable lulls them to dangers posed by their rulers and other ambitious politicians. If democracy is inevitable, then political progress is on automatic pilot. The Founding Fathers believed that freedom would always be in danger from power — that there would always be politicians and tyrants and tyrant assistants conspiring against freedom. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" was a common American saying in the 19th century. The contemporary version of that slogan appears to be "Eternal sloth is the luxury of democracy."
Original Intent, by Charley Reese, 3 Jun 2006
If the Founding Fathers were to come back, I doubt if they would recognize the United States today. ... The Founding Fathers were suspicious of government and wary of it. They recognized that government is always the greatest threat to liberty. ... Clearly, the Founding Fathers did not approve of the modern concept, imposed by federal courts, of one man, one vote.
The Progressive Era, Part 1: The Myth and the Reality, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Feb 2006
Examines various aspects of Progressivism's "much darker tale", tracing its roots to 19th century Unitarians and pointing out Progressive support of prohibition and segregation
... the mentality of the intellectuals of the mid and late 19th century differed substantially from that of the group of intellectuals who fashioned the early documents of the United States. Unlike the early American intellectuals who saw liberty as a polestar and tried to limit the growth and power of the state, the later intellectuals saw the state as a vehicle for their own political and social agendas. While the original American intellectuals championed the federal system with its balance of powers between the states and central government, the later intellectuals placed their faith squarely in the power of the centralized state.
Sic Semper Tyrannis, by Lew Rockwell, The American Conservative, 23 Apr 2007
Analyzes how the U.S. Presidency has been transmogrified from the role proposed by the Federalists
Recall that the founders had long tangled with the king in England. The entire Declaration of Independence was a personal attack on him and his policies. ... As an alternative ... the founders (perhaps naively) believed that they could create a Roman-style republic with a twist. There would be a head of state, but he would be controlled by a legislature. In fact, controlling the president would be the main job of the legislature. The founders went this one better by refusing to invest much power in the central government. Instead, the powers were decentralized and belonged to the member states.
States, United States: America's James Bond Complex, by Sheldon Richman, 4 Feb 2015
Argues that the doctrine of American "exceptionalism" means U.S. officials appear to have a de facto licence to kill and wonders why officials are treated so deferentially instead of being brought to judgment for their aggressive actions
"American exceptionalism" goes back to the founding. When American politicians set their sights on Spain's North American possessions, they were driven by the same attitude. In their view the new "Empire of Liberty," as Jefferson called it, was destined to replace the old, worn-out empires of Europe in its hemisphere ... Acquisition through negotiation was preferred ... but if war was necessary, they intended to be prepared and to let Spain and her fellow colonial powers know it. Thus the push for a global navy under James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams before 1820. Manifest destiny!
Thomas Jefferson's Sophisticated, Radical Vision of Liberty, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Jul 1995
Biographical essay, highlighting Jefferson's "felicity of expression" that led him to write the famous words in the Declaration of Independence
With his gifted pen and meticulous script, Jefferson drafted more reports, resolutions, legislation, and related official documents than any other Founding Father. ... Jefferson was an instantly recognizable Founding Father. He stood about six feet two inches tall, was thin, had reddish hair, hazel eyes, and a freckled complexion. ... He fell even further out of favor during the 'Progressive Era' when reformers imagined that every problem could be fixed by giving the federal government more power. ... Hamilton, apostle of government power, became the most revered Founder.
Thomas Paine-Passionate Pamphleteer for Liberty, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Jan 1996
Biographical essay, highlighting Paine's writings in Common Sense, American Crisis, Rights of Man and Age of Reason
Paine remained a forgotten Founder for decades. Theodore Roosevelt summed up the prevailing view when he referred to Paine as a 'filthy little atheist.' ... But fellow Founders recognized Paine's rare talent. Benjamin Franklin helped him get started in Philadelphia and considered him an 'adopted political son.' Paine served as an aide to George Washington. He was a compatriot of Samuel Adams. James Madison was a booster. James Monroe helped spring him from prison in France. His most steadfast friend was Thomas Jefferson.
The Threat of Militarism, by Karen Kwiatkowski, 9 Jul 2006
Presentation to Global Scholar seminar, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va.
... we must limit our military forces to defensive purposes only. ... is an idea that guys like George Washington ,,, embraced, along with about every one of the founders. ... if a founding father believed that we should have profit in war, force people to fight those for-profit wars, and expand our military capabilities to offensive and imperialistic, he would have kept those thoughts to himself.
The War of 1812 Was the Health of the State, Part 1, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 27 Feb 2015
Examines the sentiments of the founding fathers and other leading figures and some of the events that led to the War of 1812, and argues that "dangerous precedents were set" that led to imperialism and further wars
[Historian] Gordon S. Wood notes that as the 19th century unfolded, the survivors of the founding generation were unhappy with what they saw in America ...
... a pervasive pessimism, a fear that their revolutionary experiment in republicanism was not working out as they had expected, runs through the later writings of the founding fathers. All the major revolutionary leaders died less than happy with the results of the Revolution ...
... As a result, "the founding fathers were unsettled and fearful not because the American Revolution had failed but because it had succeeded, and succeeded only too well."
What Is the Constitution?, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Jun 2002
Discusses constitutional interpretation of allowed governmental powers and restrictions on such powers, in particular the ninth and tenth amendments, in light of comments from Antonin Scalia about a national ID card
The Founding Fathers (some of them, at least) wanted to safeguard individual freedom. So they made the task of amending the Constitution — that is, of augmenting the power of government — difficult. But Scalia's way of thinking, which first seized politicians and judges long ago, reverses the Founders' basic intention. If government can do anything except that which is expressly prohibited by the Constitution, then the burden of amending the Constitution falls on those who favor preserving freedom instead of those who favor expanding power.
What the Martha Stewart Case Means to You, by Harry Browne, 5 Mar 2004
Examines the Martha Stewart insider trading case, including juror and prosecutor comments after the guilty verdict
This is why the Founding Fathers were determined that the federal government would have nothing to do with such matters as business dealings. They knew that government officials — armed with threats of fines and imprisonment — would inevitably abuse such powers. Thomas Jefferson wanted America to be an agrarian society, but he didn't use the power of his office to aid farmers at the expense of commercial interests. He knew that politicians must be bound down by 'the chains of the Constitution,' as he put it.
Related Topics: War on Drugs, Rule of Law
Where Is the Constitution?, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 28 Jul 2006
Discusses the varying legal interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, what is meant by "obeying rules" and suggests that to effect change in a pro-liberty direction, the "hearts and minds" of people must change
As the historian Merrill Jensen wrote in The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781-1787,
Since the founding fathers themselves disagreed as to the nature of the history of the period and as to the best kind of government for a new nation, it is possible to find arguments to support almost any interpretation one chooses ... When the Constitution was submitted to the public in October 1787 the controversy rose to new heights ... Some said there would be chaos without the new Constitution; others said that there would be chaos if it were adopted.
And the framers were alive during this debate!

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Founding Fathers at 1787 Constitutional Convention, by Chip Bok, 8 Aug 2004

Books

Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, by Charles A. Goodrich, 1829
Digitized copy available at Google Books

Videos

Raps!: Founding Fathers, 15 Dec 2000
Macromedia Flash animation starring George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, with rap-like lyrics

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Founding Fathers of the United States" as of 5 Dec 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.