As part of the great gun debate madness going on, I thought it would be interesting to examine some facts about the Founding Fathers of the USA to shed light on the endless debate about the Constitution and Bill of rights, in order to better discern "what they REALLY must have meant when they wrote the consitutution and Bill of rights." The information is too much for one post so I am making multiple posts, each with a short description about the men who wrote or contributed to the Constitution and/or the Bill of rights.
please feel free to add your favorite quotes from the Founders in the comments.
John Adams (1735-1826)Highest Political Office: President (1797-1801)
Other Accomplishments: First vice-president. Helped draft the Declaration of Independence and negotiate the peace agreement with Great Britain to end the Revolutionary War. Served as Minister to Great Britain.
Nicknamed “Atlas of American Independence,” John Adams was a short (5'7"), plump man with an ego as big as his waistline. He felt it was beneath him to shake hands with anyone; he bowed instead. Adams was not alone in this practice, however. George Washington also preferred to bow rather than shake hands.
Born and raised in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams was a lawyer by trade. He was the longest living American president. He died at the age of 90, in Quincy. Adams was the first president to occupy the White House. The nation moved its capital from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., during his administration.
His Politics: Adams was a Federalist, and, as such, he held a more elitist view of government than his Republican rivals.
The first truly defense-minded president, Adams built the U.S. Navy to the point where it could compete with that of any nation.
Probably his most enduring political legacy was that he appointed John Marshall as Supreme Court Chief Justice. His most ignominious political legacy was his signing of the “Alien and Sedition Acts,” which made it a crime to criticize the government (violators could be imprisoned).
Adams was most proud of the fact that he avoided war with France at the turn of the century, in the face of strong public opinion in favor of war. This, along with his perceived overspending on defense, led to his defeat in his re-election campaign.
Closest Crony Among the Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson was, by turns, both his closest crony and most loathed political enemy. They ended their lives as friends, dying on the same day, 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence (see fascinating facts about Thomas Jefferson).
What He Said: “Let the human mind loose. It must be loosed. It will be loose. Superstition and despotism cannot confine it.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)Highest Political Office: Minister to France
Other Accomplishments: Franklin was one of the three Americans to sign the peace treaty with England that ended the Revolutionary War. He also helped write the Declaration of Independence, and was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention.
Of the Founding Fathers, Franklin was easily the most unusual character. He made enough money from his publishing business—primarily on receipts from Poor Richard’s Almanac—to retire at age 42. He then devoted his life to writing, science, and politics.
Among his many inventions, Franklin created bifocal glasses. He did so because he didn’t like to carry two pairs of glasses with him.
Franklin had one illegitimate son, William, who became the Governor of New Jersey. William supported the British in the Revolution. That move resulted in the permanent estrangement of father and son.
His Politics: Franklin’s political activism had peaked long before the American party system fully evolved, but he was philosophically closer to the tenets of the Democratic-Republican party.
He was suspicious of strong central governments and governors, be they kings or presidents. Indeed, Franklin advocated a three-person presidential committee rather than having a single president. Of the proposal to have a one-man president, he said, “The government is likely to be well-administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism.” Nonetheless, in Franklin’s will, he bequeathed his walking stick to president Washington.
Franklin had a restless and ravenous mind. He eschewed normal work patterns, preferring instead to set his own pace, and ignoring appointments if he was interested enough in a conversation. He also possessed the largest private library in America. Not all of his ideas won wide acceptance. A case in point: Franklin’s choice for the national bird was the turkey.
Closest Crony Among the Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson. When Franklin died, Jefferson implored President Washington to hold a day of mourning. Washington balked, not wishing to set a precedent.
What He Said: “Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last. But in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention Franklin observed the symbol of the sun at the top of George Washington’s chair and mused: “I have the happiness to know it is a rising sun and not a setting sun”
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)Highest Political Office: Treasury Secretary
Other Accomplishments: Along with Madison and John Jay, authored the Federalist Papers, rallying support for the new Constitution. Led the effort to convene the Constitutional Convention when the nation was verging on anarchy.
Hamilton called for a meeting of all 13 states at Annapolis, Maryland in September, 1786 to discuss the economic situation in the country at that time. However, only five states sent representatives. There were not enough states for a quorum and the conference had no real authority. Undaunted, Hamilton then requested permission from the Congress of the Confederation (under the Articles of Confederation) to invite representatives from the thirteen states to assemble in Philadelphia with the express purpose of “revising” the Articles of Confederation. Behind closed doors and with no real authority, the delegates decided to write an entirely new constitution.
Hamilton was consumed by his passion for a nation built around a strong and fiscally stable central government. He was born out of wedlock in the West Indies, and moved to the colonies at the age of 17. His father, a Scottish trader, went bankrupt when Hamilton was 15, and the boy went to work in a counting house to help support the family.
Fresh out of Columbia University, he organized artillery regiments in New York for the Revolutionary War, and from 1779 to 1781 he was Washington’s chief aide. When Washington assumed the presidency, he named Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury.
Ironically, before Washington was elected president, Hamilton was one of a group of politicians who felt that the U.S. needed a king. The group wrote to Prussia’s Prince Henry and asked if he wanted the job. Before he replied, the group changed its mind.
His Politics: Hamilton was the one who most advocated an elitist political vision. He believed that the intellectual aristocracy should rule the nation.
Hamilton’s political legacy is embodied in the Federal Bank. He led the effort to establish the first such bank, which he saw as critical for sustaining the government’s fragile finances. His opponents saw the bank as an evil tool for expanding the power of the federal government, at the expense of the states. Hamilton is regarded as the “Father of the National Debt” because he felt that a national debt was really a “blessing.” The more money the government owed to the people of the country, the more the people had a stake in the success of the country!
When Jefferson ran for president in 1800, he and Aaron Burr (both Republicans) tied. The election went to the Federalist-controlled House. Hamilton, founder of the Federalist party, convinced his colleagues to elect Jefferson over Burr. Burr then campaigned for governor of New York. Again, Hamilton swayed voters against Burr. Finally, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Fatally wounded by his rival, Hamilton died one day later.
Closest Crony Among the Founding Fathers: George Washington
What He Said: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
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