As we celebrate the birth of the United States with fireworks, BBQs, concerts, picnics and other public events, we can't forget the brave and patriotic people who helped make our independence possible leading to the birth of the United States of America – our Founding Fathers.
Like many things over time, the truth gets a little distorted or falls by the wayside. For example, most historians have concluded that the Declaration of Independence was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4, 1776 as is commonly believed. The same could be said about our Founding Fathers. Sure, they did some great things, but there's also a heck of a lot that we don't know about them. After all, they were only human too.
Happy Fourth of July!
1Thomas Jefferson: A man of contradictions
Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father and also the third President of the United States who wrote so eloquently and was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, was an exceptionally poor public speaker. It is widely believed Jefferson was terrified of public speaking and during his eight years in the White House, he limited his speechmaking to two inaugural addresses, which he simply read out loud “in so low a tone that few heard it.” Said fellow friend and second President John Adams of Jefferson, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.”
Jefferson was also a slave owner who opposed slavery. Fearful of dividing the fragile new nation, Jefferson and other founders who opposed slavery did not insist on abolishing it. His first draft of the Declaration of Independence originally included a passage attacking slavery, but it was replaced with a more general passage about King George's incitement of "domestic insurrections among us." Of course, we also all now know about Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, which resulted in his fathering six children with her.
Jefferson was a deeply spiritual man, but advocated the separation of church and state and played a major role in the passage of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
We could make a whole list of Jefferson's “contradictions” alone but let's move on to Jefferson's presidential predecessor, shall we?
2John Adams: An unassuming patriot
John Adams, along with Jefferson, was the only signee of the Declaration of Independence who later became president. Unlike Presidents Washington through Monroe, however, he was not a slave owner (but was against abolition as he thought it would be destabilizing)??. Adams' work was essential in helping the United States become independent from England. He became a member of the Massachusetts legislature and then served as their delegate at the Second Continental Congress. While serving on the Congress, he was a strong advocate of independence for America and helped create the Declaration of Independence with his sometime political rival, Thomas Jefferson.
Adams, who was overweight and known as “His Rotundity," was the first VP under George Washington but found his job boring and insignificant. As President (a post he narrowly won over rival Thomas Jefferson), he mainly kept the US from entering into war with France, which hurt his popularity.
Adams and Jefferson died on the exact same day, July 4th 1826, the 50th anniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence. His final words were "Thomas Jefferson still survives.” However, he didn't know that Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.
3Benjamin Franklin: A babe magnet?
Some would call Benjamin Franklin America's first Renaissance Man – and who could argue? Franklin was a successful printer, publisher, scientist, inventor, diplomat, civic leader, statesman, and philosopher. He was also a member of the Continental Congress and, in addition to signing the Declaration of Independence, signed the United States Constitution and the Treaty of Paris. Good ol' Benjamin started the first library, hospital, fire department and insurance company in the city of Philadelphia and as a scientist was one of THE prominent figures in the American Enlightenment for his findings and theories regarding electricity. Among his many inventions are the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass “armonica.”
It turns out Benjamin Franklin also loved sex. Franklin's essay "Advice on the Choice of a Mistress" published in Philadelphia in 1745 argues that young men should marry, but if they do not, they should choose older women over young women as lovers. Franklin even listed eight reasons why! (Number eight states that old women make preferable lovers because "they are so grateful!”)
It has been written that although Deborah Read was Franklin's common law wife, he had many different mistresses throughout their relationship. Read even took Benjamin's illegitimate son – one of fifteen he was rumored to fathered out of wedlock – as her own.
Perhaps Franklin summed up his philosophy on the opposite sex with his entry in Poor Richard's Almanac stating, “After three days men grow weary of a wench, a guest & weather rainy.”
Another essay that Franklin wrote was the notorious "A Letter To A Royal Academy" (a.k.a. “Fart Proudly”) in which he asked for research to be undertaken to improve the odor of human flatulence.
4Alexander Hamilton: Humble beginnings and an untimely death
Americans see his image every day on the ten dollar bill, but not many of us know Alexander Hamilton's important contributions as a Founding Father.
Hamilton was the first Secretary of Treasury of the United States. He also co-authored “The Federalist Papers,” a series of essays which argued for the ratification of a new Constitution in 1787. He was also the leader of the United States' first political party, the Federalists.?
Hamilton was not without his controversies, however. He was born an illegitimate child in the West Indies. Because Hamilton's parents were not legally married, the Church of England denied him membership or education in the church school.
Hamilton had an extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds, a con artist who attempted to blackmail him along with her husband James. He also had an extramarital affair with Benedict Arnold's (yes, the one known for being a traitor) wife. Martha Washington named a tomcat Hamilton, in tribute to Alexander's reputation with the ladies.
Of course, we can't leave out the infamous duel that Hamilton tragically had with Aaron Burr, President Jefferson's VP. The men decided on the duel based on insults exchanged over political issues. Burr was charged for murder in New Jersey, but the state never pursued a conviction.
Strangely enough, this wasn't the first duel in Hamilton's family! Three years before Alexander Hamilton lost his life to Burr, Hamilton's son Philip lost his life in a duel as well! Philip died on the same field and used the same guns that his father later used.
5John Hancock: A big signature and an even bigger ego
Founding Father John Hancock is probably best remembered these days for his flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence. The term “John Hancock” has since been synonymous with “signature.”
As president of Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first national government of the United States during the American Revolution, Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. Hancock signed the document in his now famous large, bold signature. (Hancock was one of two men who signed the finished draft version of the Declaration on July 4th, 1776. Most of the others signed the parchment version later.)
Legend has it that after Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence and said “Gentlemen we must all hang together,” meaning they should all sign the document together, Benjamin Franklin supposedly said, “Yes, or we shall assuredly all hang separately.” Not to say that he didn't have an ego – Hancock was reportedly disappointed when George Washington was nominated to command the Continental Army instead of him, even though he had little military experience.
Hancock became treasurer of Harvard in 1773 and was entrusted with the school's financial records and about £15,000 in cash and securities. The Revolutionary War quickly followed making Hancock unable to return the money and property due to his commitments in Congress. Harvard's leaders repeatedly wrote to Hancock requesting the return of the materials, and received no response. Hancock eventually paid the money back minus interest, but it wasn't until after his death that the matter was completely settled.
6George Washington: Common myths dispelled
Ah, George Washington, the first President of the United States and the man who led the Continental Army in victory over the British in the Revolutionary War. Next to Lincoln Washington is American history's most iconic and, perhaps, best-loved President.
Let's dispel some myths about George Washington that many have have taken for fact: ??
• George didn't have wooden teeth contrary to popular belief. His teeth were made of bone, hippopotamus ivory, human teeth, brass screws, lead, and gold metal wire.
• The story about a young George Washington cutting down the cherry tree and admitting to doing so by telling his father that he “could not tell a lie” is a myth. Washington's father died when he was 11 and he was rarely mentioned. ??
• He didn't wear a wig as was common for the time.
• Although Washington was a slave owner, he gave freedom to his slaves in his will.
• Washington was a straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense kind of guy, telling a corpulent General Henry Knox to “Shift that fat ass, Harry, but slowly or you will swamp the damn boat,” before crossing the Delaware.
He also probably never imagined his bills with his face on them being stuffed in stripper's
g-strings all across America.
7Francis Hopkinson: The real designer of the American flag?
Francis Hopkinson, a lesser known signee of the Declaration of Independence, represented New Jersey in the Continental Congress and served on the Navy Board at Philadelphia, as treasurer of the Continental Loan Office and as a judge for the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania.
Hopkinson was a man of many creative talents. He was a songwriter who became America's first secular composer. He also claimed credit for the design of the American flag. It is reported that Congress turned down his request for "a quarter cask of the public wine" as payment for its creation. Hopkinson then sent a new request to the Board of the Treasury, asking for 2,700 pounds ($3,985) for his flag design instead. The Treasury Board rejected Hopkinson's request, saying the flag was a collaborative effort and that Hopkinson was "not the only person" who contributed to the design. ??Perhaps Betsy Ross' demands were smaller? Regardless, Hopkinson DID get credit for designing the Great Seal of the United States.
8Gouverneur Morris: Death by whale bone
Founding Father Gourverneur Morris was a conservative Federalist senator, a financial expert who planned the U.S. coinage system and, as a member of the provincial congress of New York, drafted the preamble of the Constitution which earned him the nickname "Penman of the Constitution."
Morris had a hard life. In 1780, Morris lost a leg which was replaced with a wooden pegleg. This is believed to have happened when he jumped through a bedroom window to escape the enraged husband of a woman he was having an affair with.
Morris died in 1816, after having problems with, erm, peeing. To relieve the problem of his urinary track blockage, Morris pushed a whale bone up into his urinary tract. Yes folks, he stuck a whale bone up his penis! I've heard of Moby Dick but this is ridiculous!
9James Madison: A paranoid patriot
Founding Father James Madison was the 4th President of the United States. Virginia-born Madison composed the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, earning him the nickname “Father of the Constitution.” Madison and Alexander Hamilton also wrote most of the Federalist Papers, which played a key role in getting the Constitution ratified.
James Madison was the smallest President. He weighed about 100 pounds and stood only 5 feet 3 inches tall. Some might say the diminutive President was a bit paranoid. During the time of the Continental Congress, Madison was so afraid that wrong people might read his letters he used a secret code when he wrote to Thomas Jefferson and other colleagues.
10Samuel Adams: Patriot and failed brewer
What's the first thing we think of when we hear the name Samuel Adams? Beer, right?
Samuel Adams did indeed operate a brewery in his hometown of Boston, but it was a total failure.?? Papa Adams was hesitant to hire his son, because Sam had earned the nickname “Poor Adams,” which referred to his inability to maintain a steady income.?
When his father died suddenly in 1748, he inherited the brewery from his father, but really had no interest in the family business. There is some debate as to whether or not he had much to do with its operation. What is known is he wasn't good with money and the brewery ultimately failed. ??However, Adams was much more than a failed businessman. He was a strong opponent of British taxation, he helped organize resistance to the Stamp Act of 1765 and played a huge role in organizing the Boston Tea Party. Sam Adams also wrote many newspaper articles and helped organize activities that inspired American colonists to rebel against the British government.
Adams was also a member of the Continental Congress. It was while a member of Congress that he signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1773, the governor of Massachusetts tried to bribe Adams to quit his efforts in fighting the British, but he refused.
We raise our glasses to you, Samuel Adams. Heck, let's toast Adams with a Samuel Adams Utopias – at 24% abv, it was marketed as the strongest commercial beer in the world in the early 2000s.