Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States, or simply the Founding Fathers or Founders, were a group of American revolutionary leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies, led the war for independence from Great Britain, and built a frame of government for the new United States of America upon classical liberalism and republican principles during the latter decades of the 18th century.
The phrase Founding Fathers was coined by Senator Warren G. Harding in 1916. In 1973, historian Richard B. Morris identified seven figures as key Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington, based on the critical and substantive roles they played in the formation of the country's new government. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were members of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were authors of The Federalist Papers, advocating ratification of the Constitution. The constitutions drafted by Jay and Adams for their respective states of New York (1777) and Massachusetts (1780) were heavily relied upon when creating language for the U.S. Constitution. Jay, Adams, and Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris that brought an end to the American Revolutionary War. Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and later president of the Constitutional Convention. All held additional important roles in the early government of the United States, with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison serving as president, Adams and Jefferson as vice president, Jay as the nation's first chief justice, Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury, and Franklin was America's most senior diplomat and later the governmental leader of Pennsylvania.
The term Founding Fathers is sometimes more broadly used to refer to the signers of the embossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, although four of the key founders – Washington, Jay, Hamilton, and Madison – were not signers. Signers is not to be confused with the term Framers; the Framers are defined by the National Archives as those 55 individuals who were appointed to be delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and took part in drafting the proposed Constitution of the United States. Of the 55 Framers, only 39 were signers of the Constitution. Two further groupings of Founding Fathers include: 1) those who signed the Continental Association, a trade ban and one of the colonists' first collective volleys protesting British control and the Intolerable Acts in 1774, and 2) those who signed the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitutional document.
The First Continental Congress met briefly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1774, consisting of 56 delegates from twelve of the thirteen American colonies except Georgia. Among them was George Washington, who would soon be drawn out of military retirement to command the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Also in attendance were Patrick Henry and John Adams, who, like all delegates, were elected by their respective colonial assemblies. Other delegates included Samuel Adams from Massachusetts, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania, and New York's John Jay. This congress, in addition to formulating appeals to the British Crown, established the Continental Association to administer boycott actions against Britain.
When the Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, it essentially reconstituted the First Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting participated in the second. New arrivals included Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, John Hancock of Massachusetts, John Witherspoon of New Jersey, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton of Maryland. Hancock was elected Congress president two weeks into the session when Peyton Randolph was recalled to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses. Thomas Jefferson replaced Randolph in the Virginia congressional delegation. The second Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon was the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration. He also signed the Articles of Confederation and attended the New Jersey (1787) convention that ratified the Federal Constitution.
The newly founded country of the United States had to create a new government to replace their governance by the British Parliament. The U.S. adopted the Articles of Confederation, a declaration that established a national government with a one-house legislature. Its ratification by all thirteen colonies gave the second Congress a new name: the Congress of the Confederation, which met from 1781 to 1789. The Constitutional Convention took place during the summer of 1787, in Philadelphia. Although the convention was called to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset for some including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton was to create a new frame of government rather than amending the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention. The result of the convention was the United States Constitution and the replacement of the Continental Congress with the United States Congress.
List of Founding Fathers
Among the state documents promulgated between 1774 and 1789 by the Continental Congress, four are paramount: the Continental Association (CA) , the Declaration of Independence (DI) , the Articles of Confederation (AC), and the United States Constitution (USC). Altogether, 145 men signed at least one of the four documents. In each instance, roughly 50% of the names signed are unique to that document. Six men signed three of the four documents, and only Roger Sherman of Connecticut signed all of them. The following persons are considered Founding Fathers of the United States of America, including some who did not sign a formative document:
- Dickinson signed three of the documents, two as a delegate from Delaware and one as a delegate from Pennsylvania.
- Morris signed two of the documents, one as a delegate from New York, and one as a delegate from Pennsylvania.
Social background and commonalities
The Founding Fathers represented a cross-section of 18th-century U.S. leadership. According to a study of the biographies by Caroline Robbins:
The Signers came for the most part from an educated elite, were residents of older settlements, and belonged with a few exceptions to a moderately well-to-do class representing only a fraction of the population. Native or born overseas, they were of British stock and of the Protestant faith.
They were leaders in their communities; several were also prominent in national affairs. Virtually all participated in the American Revolution; at the Constitutional Convention at least 29 had served in the Continental Army, most of them in positions of command.
Many of the Founding Fathers attended or graduated from the colonial colleges, most notably Columbia (known at the time as "King's College"), Princeton originally known as "The College of New Jersey", Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and the College of William and Mary. Some had previously been home schooled or obtained early instruction from private tutors or academies. Others had studied abroad. Ironically, Franklin who had little formal education, would ultimately establish the College of Philadelphia (1755); "Penn" would have the first medical school (1765) in the thirteen colonies where another Founder, Rush, would eventually teach.
With a limited number of professional schools established in the colonies, Founders also sought advanced degrees from traditional institutions in England and Scotland such as the University of Edinburgh, the University of St Andrews, and the University of Glasgow.
- College of William and Mary: Jefferson, Harrison
- Harvard College: John Adams, Samuel Adams, Hancock and William Williams
- King's College (now Columbia): Jay, Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Livingston and Egbert Benson.
- College of New Jersey (now Princeton): Madison, Bedford, Rush, and Paterson
- College of Philadelphia, later merged into the University of Pennsylvania: eight signers of the Declaration of Independence and twelve signers of the U.S. Constitution
- Yale College: Wolcott and Andrew Adams
- James Wilson attended the University of St Andrews and the University of Glasgow
Advanced degrees and apprenticeships
Doctors of Medicine
- University of Edinburgh: Rush 
- University of Utrecht, Netherlands: Hugh Williamson
- University of Edinburgh: Witherspoon (attended, no degree)
- University of St Andrews: Witherspoon (honorary doctorate)
Several like Jay, Wilson, John Williams and Wythe were trained as lawyers through apprenticeships in the colonies while a few trained at the Inns of Court in London. Charles Carroll earned his law degree at Temple in London.
Self-taught or little formal education
Franklin, Washington, John Williams and Wisner had little formal education and were largely self-taught or learned through apprenticeship.
The great majority were born in the Thirteen Colonies, but eighteen were born in other parts of the British Empire:
- England: Robert Morris, Banister, Duer, Jackson, and Gwinnett
- Ireland: James Smith, Butler, Fitzsimons, McHenry, Taylor, Thomson, Thornton, and Paterson
- West Indies: Hamilton and Roberdeau
- Scotland: Wilson, Telfair, and Witherspoon
Many of them had moved from one colony to another. Eighteen had lived, studied or worked in more than one colony: Baldwin, Bassett, Bedford, Dickinson, Few, Franklin, Ingersoll, Hamilton, Livingston, Martin, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, Read, Sherman, and Williamson. Several others had studied or traveled abroad.
The Founding Fathers practiced a wide range of high and middle-status occupations, and many pursued more than one career simultaneously. They did not differ dramatically from the Loyalists, except they were generally younger and less senior in their professions.
- As many as 35 including Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Jay were trained as lawyers though not all of them practiced law. Some had also been local judges.
- Washington trained as a land surveyor before he became commander of a small militia.
- At the time of the convention, 13 men were merchants: Blount, Broom, Clymer, Dayton, Fitzsimons, Gilman, Gorham, Langdon, Robert Morris, Pierce, Sherman, and Wilson.
- Broom and Few were small farmers.
- Franklin, McHenry and Mifflin had retired from active economic endeavors.
- Franklin and Williamson were scientists, in addition to their other activities.
- McHenry, Rush and Williamson were physicians.
- William Samuel Johnson and Witherspoon were college presidents.
In 1977, historian Caroline Robbins examined the status of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and concluded:
There were indeed disparities of wealth, earned or inherited: some Signers were rich, others had about enough to enable them to attend Congress. ... The majority of revolutionaries were from moderately well-to-do or average income brackets. Twice as many Loyalists belonged to the wealthiest echelon. But some Signers were rich; few, indigent. ... The Signers were elected not for wealth or rank so much as because of the evidence they had already evinced of willingness for public service.
A few of them were wealthy or had financial resources that ranged from good to excellent, but there are other founders who were less than wealthy. On the whole they were less wealthy than the Loyalists.
- Seven were major land speculators: Blount, Dayton, Fitzsimmons, Gorham, Robert Morris, Washington, and Wilson.
- Eleven speculated in securities on a large scale: Bedford, Blair, Clymer, Dayton, Fitzsimons, Franklin, King, Langdon, Robert Morris, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Sherman.
- Many derived income from plantations or large farms which they owned or managed, which relied upon the labor of enslaved men and women particularly in the Southern colonies: Bassett, Blair, Blount, Butler, Charles Carroll, Davie, Jefferson, Jenifer, Johnson, Madison, Mason, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Rutledge, Spaight, and Washington.
- Eight of the men received a substantial part of their income from public office: Baldwin, Blair, Brearly, Gilman, Livingston, Madison, and Rutledge.
Prior political experience
Several of the Founding Fathers had extensive national, state, local and foreign political experience prior to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787. Some had been diplomats. Several had been members of the Continental Congress.
- Franklin began his political career as a city councilman and then Justice of the Peace in Philadelphia. He was then elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly and was sent to London as a colonial agent which helped hone his diplomatic skills.
- Jefferson, Adams, Jay and Franklin all acquired significant political experience as ministers to countries in Europe.
- Adams and Jay drafted the constitutions of their respective states, Massachusetts and New York, and successfully navigated them through to adoption.
- Jay, Mifflin and Gorham had served as president of the Continental Congress.
- Gouverneur Morris had been a member of the New York Provincial Congress.
- Dickinson, Franklin, Langdon, and Rutledge had been governors or presidents of their states.
- Robert Morris had been a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly and president of Pennsylvania's Committee of Safety. He was also a member of the Committee of Secret Correspondence.
- Sherman had served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
- Gerry was a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
- Daniel Carroll served in the Maryland Senate.
- Wythe had served as a member of Virginia's House of Burgesses.
- Read was a commissioner of Charlestown, Maryland.
- Clymer was a member of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety and the Continental Congress.
Nearly all of the Founding Fathers had some experience in colonial and state government, and the majority had held county and local offices. Those who lacked national congressional experience were Bassett, Blair, Brearly, Broom, Davie, Dayton, Martin, Mason, McClurg, Paterson, Charles Pinckney, and Strong.
Franklin T. Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of some of the Founders. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 28 were Anglicans (i.e. Church of England; or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), 21 were other Protestant, and two were Roman Catholic (Daniel Carroll and Fitzsimons; Charles Carroll was Roman Catholic but was not a Constitution signatory). Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists.
A few prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical, notably Jefferson. Historian Gregg L. Frazer argues that the leading Founders (John Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, Morris, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington) were neither Christians nor Deists, but rather supporters of a hybrid "theistic rationalism". Many Founders deliberately avoided public discussion of their faith. Historian David L. Holmes uses evidence gleaned from letters, government documents, and second-hand accounts to identify their religious beliefs.
Ownership of slaves and position on slavery
The Founding Fathers were not unified on the issue of slavery. Many of them were opposed to it and repeatedly attempted to end slavery in many of the colonies, but predicted that the issue would threaten to tear the country apart and had limited power to deal with it. In her study of Jefferson, historian Annette Gordon-Reed discusses this topic, "Others of the founders held slaves, but no other founder drafted the charter for freedom". In addition to Jefferson, Washington and many other of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners, but some were also conflicted by the institution, seeing it as immoral and politically divisive; Washington gradually became a cautious supporter of abolitionism and freed his slaves in his will. Jay and Hamilton led the successful fight to outlaw the slave trade in New York, with the efforts beginning as early as 1777. Conversely, many Founders such as Samuel Adams and John Adams were against slavery their entire lives. Rush wrote a pamphlet in 1773 which criticizes the slave trade as well as the institution of slavery. In the pamphlet, Rush argues on a scientific basis that Africans are not by nature intellectually or morally inferior, and that any apparent evidence to the contrary is only the "perverted expression" of slavery, which "is so foreign to the human mind, that the moral faculties, as well as those of the understanding are debased, and rendered torpid by it." The Continental Association contained a clause which banned any Patriot involvement in slave trading.
Franklin, though he was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, originally owned slaves whom he later manumitted. While serving in the Rhode Island Assembly, in 1769 Hopkins introduced one of the earliest anti-slavery laws in the colonies. When Jefferson entered public life as a young member of the House of Burgesses, he began his career as a social reformer by an effort to secure legislation permitting the emancipation of slaves. Jay founded the New York Manumission Society in 1785, for which Hamilton became an officer. They and other members of the Society founded the African Free School in New York City, to educate the children of free blacks and slaves. When Jay was governor of New York in 1798, he helped secure and signed into law an abolition law; fully ending forced labor as of 1827. He freed his own slaves in 1798. Hamilton opposed slavery, as his experiences in life left him very familiar with slavery and its effect on slaves and on slaveholders, although he did negotiate slave transactions for his wife's family, the Schuylers. Many of the Founding Fathers never owned slaves, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Paine.
Slaves and slavery are mentioned only indirectly in the 1787 Constitution. For example, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 prescribes that "three-fifths of all other Persons" are to be counted for the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives and direct taxes. Additionally, in Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3, slaves are referred to as "persons held in service or labor". The Founding Fathers, however, did make important efforts to contain slavery. Many Northern states had adopted legislation to end or significantly reduce slavery during and after the American Revolution. In 1782, Virginia passed a manumission law that allowed slave owners to free their slaves by will or deed. As a result, thousands of slaves were manumitted in Virginia. In 1784, Jefferson proposed to ban slavery in all the western territories, which failed to pass Congress by one vote. Partially following Jefferson's plan, Congress did ban slavery in the Northwest Ordinance, for lands north of the Ohio River.
The international slave trade was banned in all states except South Carolina by 1800. Finally in 1807, President Jefferson called for and signed into law a federally-enforced ban on the international slave trade throughout the U.S. and its territories. It became a federal crime to import or export a slave. However, the domestic slave trade was allowed for expansion or for diffusion of slavery into the Louisiana Territory.
Attendance at conventions
In the winter and spring of 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states chose a total of 74 delegates to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Nineteen delegates chose not to accept election or attend the debates. Among them was Henry, who in response to questions about his refusal to attend was quick to reply, "I smelled a rat." He believed that the frame of government the convention organizers were intent on building would trample upon the rights of citizens. Also, Rhode Island's lack of representation at the convention was the result of suspicions of the convention delegates' motivations. As the colony was founded by Roger Williams as a sanctuary for Baptists, Rhode Island's absence at the convention in part explains the absence of Baptist affiliation among those who did attend. Of the 55 who did attend at some point, no more than 38 delegates showed up at one time.
Spouses and children
Only four (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Martin) were lifelong bachelors. Many of the Founding Fathers' wives—such as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sarah Livingston Jay, Dolley Madison, Mary White Morris and Catherine Alexander Duer—were strong women who made significant contributions of their own to the fight for liberty.
Sherman fathered the largest family: 15 children by two wives. At least nine (Bassett, Brearly, Johnson, Mason, Paterson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Sherman, Wilson, and Wythe) married more than once. Washington, who became known as "The Father of His Country", had no biological children, though he and his wife raised two children from her first marriage and two grandchildren.
Subsequent events in the lives of the Founding Fathers after the adoption of the Constitution were characterized by success or failure, reflecting the abilities of these men as well as the vagaries of fate. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe served in the highest U.S. office of President. Jay was appointed as the first Chief Justice of the United States and later was elected to two terms as governor of New York. Hamilton was appointed the first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789, and later Inspector General of the Army under President John Adams in 1798.
Seven (Fitzsimons, Gorham, Luther Martin, Mifflin, Robert Morris, Pierce, and Wilson) suffered serious financial reversals that left them in or near bankruptcy. Robert Morris spent three of the last years of his life imprisoned following bad land deals. Two, Blount and Dayton, were involved in possibly treasonous activities. Yet, as they had done before the convention, most of the group continued to render public service, particularly to the new government they had helped to create.
Many of the Founding Fathers were under 40 years old at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776: Hamilton was 21 and Gouverneur Morris was 24. The oldest was Franklin at 70. A few Founding Fathers lived into their nineties, including: Charles Carroll, who died at age 95; Thomson, who died at 94; William Samuel Johnson, who died at 92; and John Adams, who died at 90. The last remaining Founders, also poetically called the "Last of the Romans", lived well into the 19th century. The last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll, who died in 1832. The last surviving member of the Continental Congress was John Armstrong Jr., who died in 1843. Three (Hamilton, Spaight, and Gwinnett) were killed in duels. Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4, 1826.
Institutions formed by Founders
Several Founding Fathers were instrumental in establishing schools and societal institutions that still exist today:
- Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania, while Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.
- Washington supported the founding of Washington College by consenting to have the "College at Chester" named in his honor, through generous financial support, and through service on the college's Board of Visitors and Governors.
- Rush founded Dickinson College and Franklin College, (today Franklin & Marshall College) as well as the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the oldest medical society in America.
- Hamilton founded the New York Post, The Bank of New York as well as what would become the United States Coast Guard.
Noted collections of the Founding Fathers
- Adams Papers Editorial Project
- Founders Online – a searchable database of over 178,000 documents authored by or addressed to George Washington, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
- The Papers of Alexander Hamilton
- The Selected Papers of John Jay at Columbia University
- The Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University
- The Papers of James Madison at University of Virginia
- The Washington Papers at University of Virginia
- The Franklin Papers at Yale University
Scholarship on the Founders
Articles and books by 21st-century historians combined with the digitization of primary sources like handwritten letters continue to contribute to an encyclopedic body of knowledge about the Founding Fathers.
Historians who focus on the Founding Fathers
Ron Chernow won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Washington. His bestselling book about Hamilton inspired the blockbuster musical of the same name. Both Peter S. Onuf and Jack N. Rakove researched Jefferson extensively.
According to Joseph Ellis, the concept of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. emerged in the 1820s as the last survivors died out. Ellis says "the founders", or "the fathers", comprised an aggregate of semi-sacred figures whose particular accomplishments and singular achievements were decidedly less important than their sheer presence as a powerful but faceless symbol of past greatness. For the generation of national leaders coming of age in the 1820s and 1830s – men like Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun – "the founders" represented a heroic but anonymous abstraction whose long shadow fell across all followers and whose legendary accomplishments defied comparison.
We can win no laurels in a war for independence. Earlier and worthier hands have gathered them all. Nor are there places for us ... [as] the founders of states. Our fathers have filled them. But there remains to us a great duty of defence and preservation.
Joanne B. Freeman's area of expertise is the life and legacy of Hamilton as well as political culture of the revolutionary and early national eras. Freeman has documented the often opposing visions of the Founding Fathers as they tried to build a new framework for governance, "Regional distrust, personal animosity, accusation, suspicion, implication, and denouncement—this was the tenor of national politics from the outset."
Annette Gordon-Reed is an American historian and Harvard Law School professor. She is noted for changing scholarship on Jefferson regarding his relationship with Sally Hemings and her children. She has studied the challenges faced by the Founding Fathers particularly as it relates to their position and actions on slavery. She points out "the central dilemma at the heart of American democracy: the desire to create a society based on liberty and equality" that yet does not extend those privileges to all."
David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book, John Adams, focuses on the Founding Father, and his 2005 book, 1776, details Washington's military history in the American Revolution and other independence events carried out by America's founders.
In stage and film
The Founding Fathers were portrayed in the Tony Award–winning 1969 musical 1776, which depicted the debates over, and eventual adoption of, the Declaration of Independence. The stage production was adapted into the 1972 film of the same name. The 1989 film A More Perfect Union, which was filmed on location in Independence Hall, depicts the events of the Constitutional Convention. The writing and passing of the founding documents are depicted in the 1997 documentary miniseries Liberty!, and the passage of the Declaration of Independence is portrayed in the second episode of the 2008 miniseries John Adams and the third episode of the 2015 miniseries Sons of Liberty. The Founders also feature in the 1986 miniseries George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation, the 2002-03 animated television series Liberty's Kids, the 2020 miniseries Washington, and in many other films and television portrayals.
Several Founding Fathers—Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison—were reimagined in Hamilton, a 2015 musical inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical won eleven Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In their 2015 children's book, The Founding Fathers author Jonah Winter and illustrator Barry Blitt categorized 14 leading patriots into two teams based on their contributions to the formation of America – the Varsity Squad (Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, John Adams, Madison, Jay, and Hamilton) and the Junior Varsity Squad (Sam Adams, Hancock, Henry, Morris, Marshall, Rush, and Paine).
Other notable patriots of the period
The following men and women also advanced the new nation through their actions.
- Abigail Adams, advisor, confidant, first lady, wife of John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams
- Ethan Allen, military and political leader in Vermont
- Richard Allen, African-American bishop, founder of the Free African Society and the A.M.E. Church
- John Bartram, botanist, horticulturist, and explorer
- Egbert Benson, politician from New York, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Annapolis Convention (1786)
- Elias Boudinot, New Jersey delegate to Continental Congress
- Aaron Burr, vice president under Jefferson
- George Rogers Clark, army general, nicknamed "Conqueror of the Old Northwest".
- George Clinton, New York governor and vice president of the U.S.
- Tench Coxe, economist in the Continental Congress
- William Richardson Davie, delegate to the Constitutional Convention (leaving before he could sign it), and governor of North Carolina
- Oliver Ellsworth, member of the Continental Congress, Founding Framer on the Committee of Detail and fashioned the Connecticut Compromise at the Constitutional Convention, chief author Judiciary Act of 1789, third chief justice of the United States
- Albert Gallatin, politician and treasury secretary
- Horatio Gates, army general
- Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War general; commanded the southern theater
- Nathan Hale, captured U.S. soldier executed in 1776
- Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton
- Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy
- James Iredell, essayist for independence and advocate for the constitution, one of the first Supreme Court justices
- John Paul Jones, navy captain
- Henry Knox, army general, Secretary of War, founder Society of the Cincinnati
- Tadeusz Kościuszko, American general, former Polish army general
- Bernardo de Galvez, Spanish military, governor of Spanish Louisiana.
- Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, French Marquis who became a Continental Army general
- John Laurance, New York politician and judge who served as judge advocate general during the Revolution.
- Henry Lee III, army officer and Virginia governor
- Robert R. Livingston, member of the Committee of Five, first United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs
- William Maclay, Pennsylvania politician and U.S. senator
- Dolley Madison, first lady (wife of James Madison)
- John Marshall, fourth U.S. chief justice
- George Mason, revolutionary writer, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Founding Framer and influential delegate to the Constitutional Convention, co-father of the United States Bill of Rights
- Philip Mazzei, Italian physician, merchant, and author
- James Monroe, fifth president of the United States
- Daniel Morgan, military leader and Virginia congressman
- Samuel Nicholas, commander-in-chief of the Continental Marines
- James Otis Jr., Massachusetts lawyer and politician
- Thomas Paine, author of the January 1776 pamphlet Common Sense which urged and inspired the colonists to declare their independence from Great Britain.
- Andrew Pickens, army general and South Carolina congressman
- Timothy Pickering, U.S. secretary of state, from Massachusetts
- Israel Putnam, army general
- Edmund Randolph, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he introduced the Virginia Plan and served on the drafting committee; first United States attorney general and second U.S. secretary of state
- Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, French army general
- Haym Solomon, financier and spy for the Continental Army
- Arthur St. Clair, major general, president of the Confederation Congress, and later first governor of the Northwest Territory
- Thomas Sumter, South Carolina military leader, and member of both houses of Congress
- Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress throughout its existence (1774–1789), and principal designer of the obverse and partly of the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States
- Richard Varick, private secretary to George Washington, mayor of New York City, second attorney general of New York state, and founder of the American Bible Society
- Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Prussian officer
- Joseph Warren, doctor, revolutionary leader
- Mercy Otis Warren, political writer
- Anthony Wayne, army general and politician
- Noah Webster, writer, lexicographer, educator
- Thomas Willing, delegate to the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania, the first president of the Bank of North America, and the first president of the First Bank of the United States
- Father of the Nation
- History of the United States Constitution
- History of the United States (1776–1789)
- List of national founders (worldwide)
- Military leadership in the American Revolutionary War
- Rights of Englishmen
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- "American Revolution: Key to Declaration of Independence". Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- Bernstein, R. B. (2011). The Founding Fathers Reconsidered. Oxford University Press. pp. 3–5. doi:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199832576.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-983257-6.
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- Calvin C. Jillson (2009). American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change (5th ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-203-88702-8.
- Werther, Richard J. (October 24, 2017). "Analyzing the Founders: A Closer Look at the Signers of Four Founding Documents". Journal of the American Revolution. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- Caroline Robbins. "Decision in '76: Reflections on the 56 Signers". Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Vol. 89 pp 72–87, quote at p. 86
- Brown, Richard D. (July 1976). "The Founding Fathers of 1776 and 1787: A Collective View". The William and Mary Quarterly. 33 (3): 465–480. doi:10.2307/1921543. JSTOR 1921543.
- See Brown (19764); Martin (19739); "Data on the Framers of the Constitution", at 
- Brown (1976); Harris (1969)
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- Greene (1973).
- Brown (1976).
- Caroline Robbins. "Decision in '76: Reflections on the 56 Signers". Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society Vol. 89 (1977), pp. 72–87 quoting page 83.
- William R. Davie, Blackwell P. Robinson. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1957.
- Martin (1973); Greene (1973)
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