Founding Fathers United States


Michael Benton, Contributor

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founding fathers united statesThe Founding Fathers of the United States are generally thought of to be the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and led the effort to break away from Great Britain and establish a nation based on democratic principles. Also included are the politicians who cemented the structure of the federal government with the U.S. Constitution of 1789. John Adams, Founding Father and second President of the United States, was prominent among this group. He had been an early proponent of permanent separation and full sovereignty during the Continental Congress, making a successful speech in support of Richard Henry Lee's motion to secede from the British Empire in 1776. Along with Benjamin Franklin, Adams played an advisory role while Thomas Jefferson wrote the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence. During the subsequent Revolutionary War, Adams played the role of diplomat, traveling to Europe in search of support for the American cause. Eventually, he was a leading member of the diplomatic team that secured terms of peace with Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the war in America's favor.

Political parties did not exist during the deliberation on the structure of government, but there were certainly factions. Some members of the Continental Congress, including Thomas Jefferson, believed that the federal government should be limited in most aspects, leaving room for state governments greater control of their locale. The opposite group, led philosophically by John Adams, believed in a strong, centralized government with many enumerated powers that would bind the states together and ensure their united strength. For the Founding Fathers, United States government structure was the highest debate of all time. Not since the Greeks had common men freely chosen the shape and duty of government, and so the Founding Fathers had little precedent and much philosophy to wax over. In the end, the Constitution of 1789 leaned more towards the Federalist perspective of John Adams, but it also left many serious decisions up to the states. One of the great failures of the Founding Fathers was to leave the question of slavery unanswered for future generations. Surely, raising the idea of equality for African Americans would have made unification much more difficult, but the next century would be spent answering that question and much blood would be spilled before it could be answered.

In the United States Founding Fathers have been remembered as heroes to be emulated and political philosophers to be studied for interpretation of the law. The sacrifices they made and the idealism with which they endeavored to live has elevated them into a pantheon of secular worship in America. While many of them disagreed on the ideal structure of the government and the obligations or limits to its power, they did successfully bind together 13 colonies into a new, powerful nation. Because their writing of the Constitution allows room for interpretation, cases at every level up to the Supreme Court have been tasked with deciding the intention of the Founding Fathers or whether modern circumstances can even be judged under their 18th century perspective. As in the case of slavery, the Founding Fathers did not answer all questions and so it is up to each generation of Americans to find what "unalienable rights" really means to them.