Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers is a generic name given to the men and women who contributed to the separation of the American colonies from England. The exact people involved is up to some level of interpretation. Some people look only at the delegates that met, drafted and approved the Declaration of Independence, some include the delegates involved with the Constitution. Everyone agrees on such famous men as George Washington, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry and John Hancock.

They are often viewed in two main groups: those who signed the Declaration of Independence and those who signed the Constitution.

Speech Relevance[edit]

Reagan does little more than mention the term "Founding Fathers" in most of his speeches, including 'Encroaching Control' and 'A Time For Choosing'.

However, in the CPAC speech 'A City Upon a Hill', he digs a little deeper.

Fifty-six men, a little band so unique — we have never seen their like since — pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Sixteen gave their lives, most gave their fortunes and all of them preserved their sacred honor. What manner of men were they? Certainly they were not an unwashed, revolutionary rabble, nor were they adventurers in a heroic mood. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants and tradesmen, nine were farmers. They were men who would achieve security but valued freedom more.

And what price did they pay? John Hart was driven from the side of his desperately ill wife. After more than a year of living almost as an animal in the forest and in caves, he returned to find his wife had died and his children had vanished. He never saw them again, his property was destroyed and he died of a broken heart — but with no regret, only pride in the part he had played that day in Independence Hall. Carter Braxton of Virginia lost all his ships — they were sold to pay his debts. He died in rags. So it was with Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Rutledge, Morris, Livingston, and Middleton. Nelson, learning that Cornwallis was using his home for a headquarters, personally begged Washington to fire on him and destroy his home—he died bankrupt. It has never been reported that any of these men ever expressed bitterness or renounced their action as not worth the price. Fifty-six rank-and-file, ordinary citizens had founded a nation that grew from sea to shining sea, five million farms, quiet villages, cities that never sleep — all done without an area re-development plan, urban renewal or a rural legal assistance program.

Named Signers[edit]

Reagan mentions 56 men. He's referring to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Who are the men he mentioned by name?

  • John Hart: Reagan may have exaggerated (whether by accident or not) Hart's time spent in the wilderness of the Sourland Mountains. Hart fled his home in Trenton, New Jersey when the British took the city in November 1776, but returned shortly after Washington won the Battle of Trenton in late-December 1776. His home wasn't destroyed, in fact he invited Washington to dine with him once. He lived three more years.
  • Carter Braxton: Braxton didn't die in rags, as Reagan suggests, but he did sink a great deal of his personal fortune into the Revolution.
  • William Ellery: I can find no evidence that Ellery had financial trouble after signing the Declaration of Independence. He served in the Rhode Island courts and died in 1820.
  • George Clymer: Not only did Clymer not become poor, but he seems to have gotten more wealthy as the war continued. He remained in Philadelphia when General Clinton took the city.
  • Lyman Hall: Hall lived in Sunbury Georgia until the town was burned by the British in 1779. His family stayed there until after the end of the war. He settled in Savannah and was governor of Georgia for a year.
  • George Walton: Walton spent two years of the war as a British prisoner of war. He was captured after having his leg broken by a cannon ball. He was eventually traded for a British officer.
  • Button Gwinnett: Gwinnett was killed in a duel with Lachlan McIntosh in 1777.
  • Edward Rutledge: Rutledge, youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence, served as an artillery man in the American Army until his capture at the fall of Charleston. He was later released in 1781. He lived until 1800, serving in the South Carolina assembly until 1796.
  • Lewis Morris: Morris' home in New York was burned down at some point during the Revolution, to be rebuilt after the war. In 1790, he donated his land to the government (thinking they would construct a capital in New York).
  • Philip Livingston: After the British captured Philadelphia, the Continental Congress moved to York, Pennsylvania. Livingston died there of unknown causes during the war.
  • Arthur Middleton: Middleton, like Rutledge, was captured at Charleston and held as a prisoner until after the end of the war. He died in 1787 and his plantation passed to his son Henry. Doesn't look like he was terribly poor either.
  • Thomas Nelson Jr.: Nelson was from Yorktown, but there is no evidence that he begged Washington to fire on his home.

Reagan's story is suspect at best and might be the source of an email mentioned by Snopes (see sources).


Founding Fathers (Wikipedia)

The Price They Paid (Snopes)