In contemporary America, the Founding Fathers are often thrust into the news cycle due to their participation in the cultural sins of their era. From George Mason to George Washington, the men who sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the American experiment are unilaterally smeared by leftist politicians and professors over the darkest aspects of their legacies.
Despite the admonitions of leftists, it is more important than ever for Americans to engage with the founding of the most benevolent global superpower in world history.
Of the lawyers, philosophers, generals, economists, theologians, and physicians who enabled the American Revolution, several — such as Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin — reside in the public consciousness. However, the Founders whose names are no more than vague familiarities to the modern American ear often boast rich histories that may inform twenty-first-century American citizenship.
Here are five underrated Founding Fathers who every American should know.
John Jay (1745-1829) was the first Chief Justice of the United States, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, and the Governor of New York.
Using his training as a lawyer, Jay was an influential force in campaigning against the Intolerable Acts. He is also the author of the “Address to the People of Great Britain,” which explained the motives for the American Revolution to other English citizens.
“In almost every age… have the inhabitants of your Island, your great and glorious ancestors, maintained their independence, and transmitted the rights of Men, and the blessings of Liberty, to you, their posterity,” the document reads. “Be not surprised therefore, that we, who are descended from the same common ancestors; that we, whose forefathers participated in all the rights, the liberties, and the Constitution you so justly boast of… should refuse to surrender them to men who found their claims on no principles of reason, and who prosecute them with a design, that by having our lives and property in their power, they may with the greater facility enslave you.”
Beyond his statesmanship, Jay — who affirmed that “no human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty apart from the moral precepts of the Christian religion” — was deeply devoted to the cause of the gospel. From 1816 to 1827, Jay served in top leadership positions within the American Bible Society.
Accordingly, Jay — who was a slaveowner — passed “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery” while serving as Governor of New York. The legislation mandated that all children born to slaves in New York beginning on July 4 of that year would be born as free people.
Roger Sherman (1721-1793) represented Rhode Island in the House of Representatives and the Senate. He was also the only Founding Father to sign all four revolutionary documents: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
Alongside John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson, Sherman served as one of the five drafters of the Declaration of Independence. Sherman likewise attended nearly every session of the Constitutional Convention and favored a federal government with a strong legislature. He aided in the Connecticut Compromise, which led to the Great Compromise that created a bicameral federal legislature representing both the states and the people.
As the Madison Papers describe, Sherman disapproved of the slave trade. However, he believed that “the abolition of slavery seemed to be going on in the United States, and that the good sense of the several states would probably by degrees complete it.”
John Witherspoon (1723-1794) — the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence — served as the President of what is today Princeton University.
A descendant of Scottish reformer John Knox — who is also remembered for his writings on civil government, such as his “Appellation” to the Scottish nobility — Witherspoon led the Presbyterian College of New Jersey. He embarked upon a campaign to improve the school’s finances, purchased scientific equipment, and donated hundreds of his own books to the library.
As the archives of Witherspoon’s hometown in Scotland describe, the minister “transformed a college designed predominantly to train clergymen into a school that would equip the leaders of a new Protestant national generation.”
Witherspoon believed that a state devoted to securing the rights of its people was necessary to the preservation of religious liberty. In a sermon entitled “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men,” Witherspoon declared that “the knowledge of God and his truths have from the beginning of the world been chiefly, if not entirely confined to these parts of the earth, where some degree of liberty and political justice were to be seen, and great were the difficulties with which they had to struggle from the imperfection of human society, and the unjust decisions of usurped authority.”
Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) served as a leading general during the Revolutionary War.
According to Mount Vernon’s digital history, “Washington had so much confidence in Greene’s abilities that it was rumored Greene would take command of the Continental Army, should anything happen to Washington.” Greene served alongside Washington at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth.
Informing the Continental Congress that Greene was a “Gentleman in whom I place the most intire confidence,” George Washington appointed Greene to lead American forces in the South. As commander of all American troops from Delaware to Georgia, Greene reversed former leaders’ record of defeat.
As the American Battlefield Trust describes, “Greene’s martial skills shone brightest as commander of the southern theater. Soon after he took command, the tide of war began to turn in favor of the Patriots.” While British general Charles Cornwallis moved toward Wilmington, Greene captured South Carolina’s backcountry — a maneuver that “helped to isolate the British on the coast and, eventually, to force them out of the South completely.”
Samuel Adams (1722-1803) served as Governor of Massachusetts and was an early adopter of revolutionary ideals.
Soon after British Parliament began passing the Intolerable Acts, Adams — the second cousin of President John Adams — led popular resistance against the Stamp Act and other legislation that established taxation without representation. As a member of the Loyal Nine — which later became the Sons of Liberty — Adams drafted the “Massachusetts Circular Letter to the Colonial Legislatures” to draw attention to Boston’s plight.
“It is an essential, unalterable right in nature, engrafted into the British constitution, as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent,” reads the letter, which asserts that the Intolerable Acts infringed upon “natural and constitutional rights.”
After representing Massachusetts in the Second Continental Congress and signing the Declaration of Independence, Adams served on the drafting committee of the Massachusetts Constitution — a document that influenced the creation of the United States Constitution seven years later.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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