The Founding Fathers are usually discussed by current politicians as some sort of monolithic unified voice, deprived of humanity, contradictions, guilt and 18th centuryness. For the most part, they were enlightened people for their time; yet, they were of their time.
Most of the Founding Fathers, if they could scan our history into the 19th, 20th and 21st century, would have been surprised that we’ve had only one Constitutional Convention. Thomas Jefferson, arguably the most enlightened at times, would be among the flabbergasted founders.
Below, I give a David Markson-like list of anecdotes and facts about the Founding Fathers, which I is instructional and entertaining. I have gathered most of the information from two books by Denise Kiernan and Joseph d’Agnese: Signing Their Rights Away and Signing Their Lives Away. Additionally, much of this information is from my own memory.
Litany for the Founding Fathers
A portion of the slaves owned by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson escaped to fight for the British during the American Revolution.
Matthew Thornton was born in Ireland.
John Adams climbed to the top of the cupola of Christ Church, Philadelphia, to cool off.
John Adams had a dog named “Satan.”
John Adams was not at the Constitutional Convention.
Thomas Jefferson was not at the Constitutional Convention.
Samuel Adams was not at the Constitutional Convention.
Patrick Henry was not at the Constitutional Convention, and he did not debate or sign the Declaration of Independence.
George Washington did not debate or sign the Declaration of Independence.
Samuel Adams initially refused to help his state ratify the Constitution.
Elbridge Gerry initially refused to help his state ratify the Constitution.
John Hancock initially refused to help his state ratify the Constitution.
Patrick Henry became a Federalist late in life, opposing Jeffersonian Democracy.
Patrick Henry opposed the Constitution.
Samuel Adams was a failed brewer.
Elbridge Gerry was absent from the Continental Congress for three years, but was never removed or forced to resign.
Elbridge Gerry opposed democracy.
Elbridge Gerry gerrymandered Massachusetts.
John Hancock thought he should have been appointed commanding general of the Continental Army over George Washington.
John Hancock helped feed Samuel Adams’s family.
John Adams opposed John Hancock’s election as president of the Continental Congress.
Robert Treat Paine still liked to say he was British, nearing Independence Day.
Robert Treat Paine’s 37-year-old son died in his father’s attic.
William Ellery studied the faces of each signer as they put their quill to the Declaration on August 2, 1776.
William Ellery had 16 children.
Stephen Hopkins introduced an antislavery bill in 1774.
Stephen Hopkins was a slaveholder.
John Adams thought Stephen Hopkins was funny.
John Adams refused to replace his teeth that fell out.
George Washington insisted on proper dental care for his horses.
President Washington would have one tooth.
Samuel Huntington made barrels in his youth.
John Adams sent 14 year old John Quincy Adams to Russia to be the secretary of Francis Dana.
Roger Sherman was an advocate of both the gold standard and high taxes.
Oliver Wolcott made over 42,000 bullets from a melted down statue of King George III.
Philip Livingston considered the attempt for independence to be “vain, empty, shallow and ridiculous.”
Philip Livingston signed the Declaration of Independence.
Francis Lewis was born in Wales.
Francis Hopkinson wrote an American opera.
Francis Hopkinson built a keyboard for Benjamin Franklin.
Betsy Ross stitched the flag based on Francis Hopkinson’s design.
Francis Hopkinson composed music for George Washington.
George Washington’s hearing was so bad that he couldn’t hear normal conversation.
Richard Stockton despised the general public.
John Adams converted Richard Stockton to support independence in June 1776.
Richard Stockton recanted his support for independence to his British captors.
John Morton died less than a year after signing the Declaration.
Benjamin Franklin was an abolitionist, petitioning an end of slavery in 1790.
Benjamin Franklin once owned slaves.
Benjamin Franklin was 26 years older than George Washington.
Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son was the British Royal governor of New Jersey.
Benjamin’s Franklin’s illegitimate son’s illegitimate son was his secretary.
Benjamin Franklin could conduct electricity.
Benjamin Franklin invented a stove.
Benjamin Franklin wrote “tho,” “thru,” “nite,” instead of “though,” “through,” “night.”
Benjamin Franklin was bad at math.
Benjamin Franklin hoped improve the smell of human flatulence.
John Adams feared that the American people would forget him, but would remember Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
In France, John Adams was mistaken for Samuel Adams numerous times.
James Wilson was born in Scotland.
James Wilson supported laws that helped land speculators.
James Wilson lived for a time in debtors prisons in two separate states.
George Washington named James Wilson as the first Associate Judge of the Supreme Court.
James Madison and James Wilson are the two key figures in creating the Constitution of the United States.
James Wilson was the sole advocate for the popular vote in presidential elections.
Robert Morris was the primary financier for the American Revolution.
Robert Morris went to debtor’s prison for over three years.
Not far from his unfinished mansion.
Robert Morris gave his mansion to George Washington to serve as the executive mansion during the first presidency.
Robert Morris died in poverty.
Robert Morris had asthma.
The Continental Congress had worse credit than Robert Morris.
Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, only after Robert Morris declined the job.
Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State, only after John Jay declined.
Would Jeffersonian Republicans and Hamiltonian Federalists have become factions within the government had Morris and Jay had accepted?
John Jay became the first Chief Justice.
John Jay, who had resigned from the court to become Governor of New York, refused a later nomination to become Chief Justice again.
George Ross was uncle to the husband of Betsy Ross.
Benjamin Rush thought George Ross was funny.
Benjamin Franklin wrote a story about conversation with his own gout.
Benjamin Rush was a famous doctor.
Benjamin Rush repaired the friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Benjamin Rush gave Thomas Paine the title for his famous pamphlet.
Benjamin Rush favored mercury to treat illnesses.
Benjamin Rush found Benedict Arnold to be incoherent when speaking.
Benjamin Rush wanted George Washington replaced as commanding general.
George Washington had been friends with Benedict Arnold.
Aaron Burr served under Benedict Arnold.
Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr tried to take Canada from the British.
Aaron Burr helped save Alexander Hamilton and his men during a battle.
George Taylor was born in Ireland.
George Taylor had been an indentured servant.
Very little more is known about him.
James Smith was born in Ireland.
The Continental Congress thought James Smith’s accent was funny.
James Smith refused to give people his age.
Caesar Rodney wore a green silk veil on his face.
John Adams thought Caesar Rodney’s face was the size of an apple.
Caesar Rodney swung Delaware in support for Independence.
John Dickinson was a Quaker; therefore, a pacifist.
John Adams used Dickinson’s religion against him.
John Dickinson joined the Continental Army, but refused to sign the Declaration.
Thomas McKean might not have signed the Declaration until 1781.
Thomas McKean did not know how old he was.
Thomas McKean defies time.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton was born in Carroll Mansion and was Catholic.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a slaveholder.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton introduced a bill for the gradual abolition of slavery in Maryland.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton died in 1832.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.
George Washington was not permitted to witness the 19th century.
Samuel Chase feared Jeffersonian Democracy would lead to mob rule.
Thomas Stone died unexpectedly at age 44, four months after his wife died.
Carter Braxton opposed independence on July 1, 1776.
Carter Braxton voted for independence on July 2, 1776.
Carter Braxton was a slaveholder.
Benjamin Harrison V was bigger than George Washington.
Benjamin Harrison V and George Washington were flat mates in 1774 in Philadelphia.
Benjamin Harrison V’s father and two of his siblings had been killed by lightning.
Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment should have sent a fatal current of electricity to his heart.
John Adams considered Benjamin Harrison V to be useless and fat.
Benjamin Harrison V will become the father of President William Henry Harrison and the great-grandfather of President Benjamin Harrison.
Benjamin Harrison V picked up John Hancock and planted him in the president’s chair when he feigned modesty, pretending to lack interest in the position.
Thomas Jefferson invented a swivel chair.
Thomas Jefferson blamed slavery on King George III.
Thomas Jefferson would later ban the slave trade.
Thomas Jefferson never freed all of his slaves, even in the instances that he fathered them.
Thomas Jefferson opposed banks and most financial institutions.
Thomas Jefferson died in debt.
Thomas Jefferson blamed slavery on King George III in the original draft of the Declaration. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and others on the Committee of Style removed this language and much of Jefferson’s language from the final document.
Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.
Benjamin Franklin was not selected to write the Declaration for fear he’d throw in a few jokes into the document.
Benjamin Franklin thought the bald eagle was of bad moral character.
When John Adams was inaugurate president, he shared the same platform with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams opposed slavery.
Abigail Adams opposed slavery and wanted rights for women.
George Washington brought his slaves up North when he became president.
Richard Henry Lee opposed the slave trade.
Richard Henry Lee wanted the import duty to be raised so high to make the slave trade impractical.
Richard Henry Lee was a slaveholder.
Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee and Arthur Lee were brothers. Light Horse Harry Lee and Charles Lee were their cousins.
Light Horse Harry Lee will become the father of Robert E. Lee.
Richard Henry Lee announced the resolution for Independence from Great Britain.
Richard Henry Lee shot his own fingers off with a gun.
Richard Henry Lee opposed the Constitution.
Francis Lightfood Lee supported the Constitution.
John Adams wrote that Thomas Nelson, Jr. was fat, but “alert and lively for his weight.”
John Adams was rotund.
Thomas Nelson, Jr. ordered his soldiers to fire on his own house.
Thomas Nelson, Jr. died of asthma.
George Wythe offered free classes that he taught himself.
George Wythe freed his slaves and let two of them live with him like family members.
George Wythe’s will stipulated that his two former slaves would inherit a portion of his estate.
George Wythe’s and his two former slaves were poisoned by the primary heir.
The murderer was acquitted by a Virginia court.
North Carolina delegate Joseph Hewes was born in New Jersey.
North Carolina delegate John Penn was born in Virginia.
North Carolina delegate William Hooper was born in Massachusetts.
William Hooper feared democracy.
John Penn and Henry Laurens sought to kill each other in a duel in Philadelphia, but proved to be so helpful to one another during the process of getting to their dueling location that they refrained from following through with it.
Thomas Lynch, Sr. and Thomas Lynch, Jr. were father and son. Both were dead by 1779.
Edward Rutledge signed the Declaration at age 26.
John Adams said Edward Rutledge was “excessively vain, excessively weak.”
Edward Rutledge was a slaveholder.
Georgia delegate Lyman Hall was born in Connecticut.
Georgia delegate George Walton was born in Virginia.
George Walton was either 23 or 35 when he signed the Declaration.
Button Gwinnett wasn’t sure when he was born.
Button Gwinnett was born in England.
Button Gwinnett was mortally wounded in duel in 1777.
Robert Morris was born in England.
John Witherspoon was born in Scotland.
John Langdon had to use his own money to get to the Constitutional Convention.
John Langdon had to pay for Nicholas Gilman, too.
John Langdon believed state governments were no better than a strong central government, and supported the Constitution.
Nathaniel Gorman wanted term limits for senators.
Nathaniel Gorman wanted to expand voting rights to nearly all white males.
Gouverneur Morris wanted only property owners to vote.
Nathaniel Gorman wanted to recreate the states into districts of equal population.
Rufus King was an abolitionist.
William Samuel Johnson encouraged his sons to marry wealthy women.
George Washington couldn’t father children.
George Washington had married the richest widow in Virginia
Many delegates at the Constitutional Convention couldn’t understand Roger Sherman’s New England accent.
Roger Sherman introduced the Great Compromise, creating allocation for the US Senate and the House of Representatives.
Roger Sherman did not trust the common person to vote properly on issues or in elections, finding them gullible and ill informed.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indies as the illegitimate son of a Scotsman and a French mother.
Alexander Hamilton gave a five hour speech endorsing life terms for the president and the senate, favoring a monarchical style government with few voting rights.
Alexander Hamilton is on the $10 bill.
Alexander Hamilton opposed slavery.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were lawyers working close to one another in offices on Wall Street, often supporting opposing clients in the same case.
William Livingston was a member of the Anti-Slavery Society.
While owning two slaves.
David Brearley wanted to recreated the states into districts of equal population.
David Brearley wanted a 65-member limit in US House of Representatives.
It was William Patterson who led the fight for the rights of small states.
No one understood why Jonathan Dayton was a delegate to the convention.
Thomas Jefferson would later try Aaron Burr and Jonathan Dayton for treason.
Benjamin Franklin would often fall asleep at the Constitutional Convention.
Benjamin Franklin was so bad at keeping secrets that George Washington agreed to have two spies follow him around Philadelphia, while the convention was in process.
Benjamin Franklin supported an executive branch with multiple chief executives, and a single legislative branch.
Benjamin Franklin thought politicians should work for free.
Benjamin Franklin thought the Constitution was acceptable, but imperfect.
Thomas Jefferson thought the Constitution should be totally remade every generation.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams first saw the Constitution while they were in Europe.
Thomas Jefferson spoke Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish and English fluently, and had some knowledge of Arabic, Gaelic and Welsh.
John Adams couldn’t speak French when he arrived in Paris as an American diplomat.
George Washington couldn’t speak French, the international language of diplomacy.
Luther Martin was wasted while giving an impassioned speech to the convention.
Luther Martin did not sign the Constitution.
George Clymer thought it was the duty of a politician to think for their constituents and not necessarily vote according to their will.
Thomas FitzSimons wanted only property holders to vote.
Thomas FitzSimons wanted the federal government to take charge of trade and commerce.
James Wilson generally read Benjamin Franklin’s speeches for him to the convention.
James Wilson came up with the concept of checks and balances for the Constitution.
James Wilson wanted 9-year terms for senators, and for the people to choose the president rather than the legislature, as many other delegates suggested.
Gouverneur Morris lost his leg in Philadelphia as a result of a carriage accident. His injured leg was promptly amputated by a nearby doctor. His usual physician, who had been away, later told him that amputation was unnecessary.
Gouverneur Morris opposed slavery.
Gouverneur Morris came up with the idea of the cabinet, and supported the people voting for the president, rather than the Congress, despite his generally elitist views.
George Read voted against Independence, but signed the Declaration and the Constitution.
George Read wanted to remove all state boundaries.
George Read opposed Congress having the ability to create bills or print money.
Gunning Bedford, Jr. did not want any checks on the legislative branch, fighting for its unlimited power.
Gunning Bedford, Jr. was an abolitionist from a slave state.
Jacob Broom thought the legislative branch should be able to veto legislature passed by the states.
Jacob Broom supported a life-term for the president, and that he should be elected by the legislature-appointed electors and not by the people.
Jacob Broom promoted the education of African-American children.
No one knows what Jacob Broom looks like.
James McHenry felt overwhelmed in the convention.
John Adams later fired James McHenry from his cabinet.
Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer thought that two-year appointments to the US House would drive voters and office holders crazy.
Like Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Carroll favored a strong national bank; unlike Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Carroll believed in a strong democracy.
Daniel Carroll fought for religious freedom in the Constitution.
Daniel Carroll was a Catholic.
Some of George Washington’s false teeth came from his own living slaves.
George Washington presided over the convention every day, but rarely spoke, except when he was angry about protocol.
George Washington favored a strong federal government.
George Washington would later refuse to take sides between Jeffersonian Republicans and Hamiltonian Federalists, but nearly all of his political appointments, including all ten Supreme Court justices that he would nominate, were Federalists.
George Washington thought that Chinese people were white and was caught off guard when he finally saw someone from China.
George Washington was said to have revived one of his slaves that appeared dead.
John Blair never spoke at the Convention.
James Madison originally believed that the larger states should have the most power over the entire legislature.
James Madison favored a strong legislature that could even veto state legislature, but he supported a weak presidency.
James Madison was a firm believer in taxation.
James Madison weighed 100 lbs and was an entire foot shorter than Benjamin Harrison V of Virginia.
James Madison didn’t want to sit with his fellow Virginian delegates.
James Madison was the major force in getting the convention together, and later the largest force in getting the Bill of Rights passed through Congress.
James Madison was 36 when he signed the Constitution.
Nearly fifty years later, doctors told James Madison that they thought they could extend his life until July 4th, so that he could die patriotically as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe had before him. He declined and died on June 28.
William Blount defied George Washington’s requirement of secrecy and sent notes from the convention back home to North Carolina.
Richard Dobbs Spaight wanted seven year terms for the presidency.
Richard Dobbs Spaight came up with the idea of the election of senators by state legislatures, which became law until 1913.
Hugh Williamson thought only the US Senate should deal with the budget and taxation, since he thought the “lower” house wouldn’t know how to handle money.
George Mason believed the “lower” branch should be in control of the country’s money since they represented the people who were being taxed.
George Mason had never left Virginia before arriving Philadelphia.
George Mason did not sign the Constitution.
Hugh Williamson came up with 6-year terms for senators.
John Rutledge fought against any prohibition to slavery in the Constitution.
Charles Pinckney thought only people that made $100,000 a year (about $2.5 million in today’s money) should be allowed to hold any office in the government.
Charles Coatesworth Pinckney more or less agreed.
Charles Pinckney and Charles Coatesworth Pinckney were cousins.
Charles Pinckney was 29 when he signed the Constitution.
Charles Pinckney created the lost Pinckney Plan, which tried to solve the problem regarding representation form small and large states.
Charles Pinckney came up with the terms president for the executive.
Charles Coatesworth Pinckney wanted slaves to count 100% towards the population of the slave states for the purpose of representation in Congress. Naturally, Northern state opposed this and the 3/5 Compromise was found. Even with the compromise, the South’s over-representation in Congress would lead to many of the unfortunate events and policies leading up to the Civil War.
Pierce Butler opposed voting for the common man.
Pierce Butler fought for the rights of slaveholders, especially regarding federal action against escaped slaves.
Pierce Butler opposed immigrants as congressmen.
Pierce Butler would later serve three terms in the US Senate.
Pierce Butler was born in Ireland.
Edmund Randolph thought the Constitution would lead to chaos, and didn’t sign it.
James Monroe would fight against the ratification of the Constitution, while swearing to protect it as president.
John Lansing, Jr was sent to the convention only to prevent Alexander Hamilton’s influence, but left early out of annoyance.
John Lansing, Jr was later murdered.
James McClurg left early because he was overwhelmed by the debate.
Most of those who did not sign, or opposed ratification, did so because it lacked a Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton opposed a Bill of Rights, because he felt that there were too many rights to list, and that by naming them, it would deprive people of the rights not listed.
Thomas Jefferson was insistent that Lewis & Clark look out for Giant Sloths.
On July 4, 1776, John Hancock and Charles Thomson signed the Declaration of Independence, with the rest of the Founders not yet signing.
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Tony Delk signed the door of Constitution Hall 🙂 –Paul