“”How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
|—Dr Samuel Johnson in Taxation, No Tyranny, discussing the Founding Fathers' attachment to slavery.|
The Founding Fathers are a loosely defined group of men who were instrumental to the creation of what we now know as the United States of America. Ohio senator (and future president) Warren G. Harding coined the phrase during his keynote speech at the 1916 Republican National Convention. In general, they include the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and those who worked on drafting the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights eleven years later.
America takes its Founding Fathers very seriously, and in many ways to an extreme level. Often to the point where one would say 'the Founding Fathers would be ashamed of you' for whatever your politics may be, while rarely actually researching their beliefs and opinions and adapting one's own to match theirs. Assuming they would agree with one's already established beliefs is so much easier — eerily similar to the question, "What would Jesus do?" Unfortunately the left and right are equally guilty of this, and liberals find much to admire in Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin while conservatives find much to admire in Washington, among others. The mythologization of the Founding Fathers forms an important aspect to American Exceptionalism.
 Who is a founding father?
There are over 130 people who can be considered to be among the founding fathers of the United States, and nobody has heard of most of them (but God help you if you run into one of their spawn at a party in the Hamptons). According to the guy everyone agrees is the best American historian ever, the seven most important founding fathers were Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. So nobody else mattered.
These seven people were particularly instrumental in the shape the country was to take, but many of the 126 other official Founding Fathers did and said a lot of important things too.
And who says it's all about the A-List? There were thousands of people across the country who are not officially considered Founding Fathers yet who had great influence. James Iredell is not an official founding father but he's hardly just some Carolina cracker. Iredell sat on the very first Supreme Court and wrote the lone dissent in Chisholm v. Georgia, disagreeing with FF A-Listers John Jay, James Wilson and John Blair. Everyone was so mad at the A-Listers that the country just two years later ratified the Eleventh Amendment overturning their ruling. Iredell helped organize the court system of North Carolina, and some manifesto he wrote predated the Declaration of Independence but said a lot of the same stuff and his dissent became the Eleventh Amendment, more-or-less. Yet he's B-List, if even.
Citing the founding fathers is tricky with even the A-List founders and their wildly divergent opinions, to say nothing if you start to include B-Listers like Iredell.
 Some dad
For no good reason, here is a short list of the better known Original Daddies:
- George Washington - slept here, stood up in boats, first President.
- Benjamin Franklin - all around smart guy, noted womanizer.
- Thomas Jefferson - scribbled the Declaration of Independence on the back of love letter envelopes.
- Alexander Hamilton - appears on the ten dollar bill, really wanted a strong state and banks, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
- Samuel Adams - brought the beer, in an eerie presaging of George W. Bush.
- John Adams - cousin of the above, both best friend and worst enemy of Thomas Jefferson (sometimes simultaneously).
- James Madison - wrote the rough drafts of the Constitution; one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
- Thomas Paine - Stirred the country to war, then wrote the best defense of religious freedom ever.
- John Marshall - Pretty much created the American judiciary system as we know it.
- John Jay - First chief justice of the Supreme Court, but not as influential as Marshall; one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
- Patrick Henry - Known for being the "voice of the revolution" he is also the fundamentalist's favorite founder.
 Some of the moms
Believe it or not, there were several important founding mothers. Important ladies include:
- Martha Washington - First First Lady
- Abigail Adams - Kept John Adams grounded.
- Betsy Ross - Designed the American flag, at least according to legend.
- "Molly Pitcher" - The wife of an officer who took over her husband's post after he was wounded.
- Dolly Madison - Main rival of Hostess Twinkies, until Hostess Brands bought them out in the 1990s. Dolley Madison, on the other hand, saved much of the White House's art during the War of 1812.
Surely the people who wrote and signed the Constitution of the United States of America can be trusted to tell us what it means. Original letters written in their own words give us a much truer understanding of their intentions than third party commentaries written a hundred years later. - ChristianParents.comConstitution; and that wording was not purposefully vague because they could not agree on their meanings at the framing.
This line of reasoning should lead you to question why the founding fathers even felt the need for a Supreme Court, since everyone knew what the Constitution said and meant. Simply cracking the Federalist and Antifederalist Papers should dispel this notion rather quickly. And just a couple of examples of the divisions between the founders: The Bill of Rights itself (tacked on to please the anti-federalists) and the three-fifths compromise. There are also the rather unsavory facts about how the founders immediately began to violate the Constitution after they had been elected into office, e.g. John Adams' signing the Alien and Sedition Acts and Thomas Jefferson's purchase of the Louisiana territory from the French.
So you've dug up some founding father who wrote something that backs up what you think, and this is great. Because now whatever belief you hold is shared by the monolithic founding fathers and you can pull out your quote to prove you are right.
Here's how to overcome some pitfalls. In the unlikely event somebody in earshot has read a book and says ""How can you say that? These men were immediately arguing in the Supreme Court about what they meant in the Constitution!" you should say that was all just pencil sharpening, and tell them to stop with the liberal claptrap.
If you cite the founding fathers "original intent", it's possible that someone will point out that there were founding fathers who thought and wrote the exact opposite things that you're claiming. History calls some of this nonsense "Federalist v. Anti-Federalist"; "Big State v. Little State"; and "Federalism v. Republicanism".
To win, just say that particular founding father was an idiot everyone actually hated. Say that "the founding fathers believed X and founding father Y wrote this in a letter" and the implication is that they all believed as founding father Y, whose ideas were cheered and adopted by everyone! Argument won, because you get to say, whoever you are arguing with over whatever position, that it is originalist.
Proponents of the legal doctrine of originalism often make references to these 130 men and what they thought about stem cell research, automatic weapons, segregation, and the humor of George Carlin.
 Deists, Christian soldiers or satanic atheists?
While fundamentalist Christians like to claim that all these men were devout Christians, in truth, most were deists (in the classical sense where an individual's relationship with God is impersonal), though their individual religious stances were as varied as night and day. Above all, however, they held secularist viewpoints that were strongly influenced by the Enlightenment and had strong opinions in favor of insulating religious matters from state interference - and vice versa.
It was Benjamin Franklin who edited out Thomas Jefferson's initial line in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be sacred..." and changed it to: "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." So much the worse for the theory of a Christian source for the founding document. Instead of being held up as sacred revealed truths, the rights are held up as purely intellectual axioms accepted by the founding fathers as the basis for rights. Thomas Jefferson said that the Declaration of Independence was "an expression of the American mind." Now, if he had said it was "an expression of the American faith", like the religious right currently claims (and retrojects into the document), they might have a point.
Conservatives counter that no matter how unorthodox Thomas Jefferson was in regards to religion (he was, after all, the man who wrote the secularist Jefferson Bible), he, along with the other founders, most certainly believed that God was the source of our human rights. But in that event, the word "God" becomes meaningless, because the God of Christianity (and Judaism, and Islam...) grants no rights in the various scriptures. There are only bald assertions by a group of men coming out of the Enlightenment period that a vague fuzzy deist "God" established the rights, and this is held as a matter of unquestioned "self-evident" truth.
Other examples of non-Christian behavior include Washington, who would often get up and walk out of church rather than take communion and, contrary to his popular image, he disappointed contemporary theologians with his lack of enthusiasm in preaching the Christian faith. 
At least one fundamentalist group, the Society for the Practical Establishment and Perpetuation of the Ten Commandments, recognizes that most of the Founding Fathers were not Christians in the sense that we would recognize them today. Of course, it then jumps to the conclusion that the Founding Fathers were inspired by Satan, that democracy is evil and ungodly, and that we should overturn the Constitution and replace it with a theocracy.
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on 1916 Republican National Convention.
- ↑ List of Founding Fathers
- ↑ Richard B. Morris in his 1973 book Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries.
- ↑ ChristianParents.com
- ↑ Read 'em all: The Federalist Papers and the Antifederalist Papers
- ↑ Texas school board "reinstates" Jefferson
- ↑ Rand Paul's America
- ↑ FCC v. Pacifica
- ↑ Waldman, Steven. Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty. (Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2009)