Warren G. Harding, the newspaper publisher and Republican Senator from Ohio, was the first person to use the phrase 'Founding Fathers.' Harding used it in his keynote address to the 1916 Republican Convention and several times after that in speeches before his election. He used it once again in his 1921 inaugural address to the nation when he became President.
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. That group includes the delegates to the Federal Convention who took an active part in framing and then drafting the proposed Constitution of the United States.
But, most historians also include the statesmen, politicians, jurists, diplomats, soldiers, and the ordinary citizens that played a role in winning independence and forming the United States of America.
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.
Twelve of the thirteen states picked 74 delegates by the winter and spring of 1787. Those delegates attended the Federal Convention, which was held in Philadelphia. The Framers of the Constitution came from a cross-section of America in the 18th century. All of them were well educated and played an important leadership position in their local communities. Many had experience in national affairs and every one of them was involved in the American Revolution. At least 29 of them served as commanders in the Continental Army.
Most of the 1787 delegates were natives of the colonies; only nine were born elsewhere. Many of them moved from one state to another and half of them attended or graduated from a colonial college or a college abroad. Washington and Franklin were self-taught and also learned skills through apprenticeships. A few delegates had medical degrees and some had training in theology.
An interesting thing about these delegates is that a few of them were Deists. Deism teaches that there is a creator but this creator does not concern itself with the daily lives of humans and does not directly communicate with humans in any way, including through sacred books or revelation. Deism does not deny that Jesus was a person, and while his works are esteemed deists deny his divinity. Other delegates had no specific religious affiliation; most were Protestant and three were Catholic.
The Deistic delegates spoke of a god but not the same God as found in the Bible. Most of the deists thought the Bible was a work of fiction and that Christianity did not conform to their views of enlightenment. Nonetheless, the attitude of most of these men was tolerance, enlightened reason and free thought. Since there was so much religious diversity among the group, religion was not included specifically in the Constitution.
Most of the signers lived well into their sixties. A few of the Framers lived into their seventies, Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison lived into their eighties, John Adams was 90 when he died and Charles Thomson lived to the age of 94. Three delegates were killed in duels (Hamilton, Button Gwinnett and Richard Dobbs Spaight).
After the Constitutional Convention the delegates returned to their homes and careers and most continued to prosper and work to make a difference in the new country. However, seven of them suffered serious financial losses and faced bankruptcy and two were accused of treasonous behavior and activities.
Thirteen delegates left the Convention without having signed; three who refused to sign are nontheless associated with the Founding Fathers. In a sense, the Founding Fathers were the first constitutional protestors.
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