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founding father

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noun

(often capitals) a person who founds or establishes an important institution, esp a member of the US Constitutional Convention (1787)

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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

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What is a Founding Father?

A Founding Father is someone who significantly contributed to the founding of the United States.

Founding Father generally refers to one of the men who took part in the founding of the United States. It is not an official title, and there is no specific criteria that determines who is considered a member of this group.

However, the American Revolution and the Constitutional Convention are two major events often cited to indicate someone was a Founding Father. If a person played a major role in either or both of these events, they are usually considered to be a Founding Father. The National Archives, for example, considers every person who served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention to be a Founding Father.

While historians often debate who should be considered a Founding Father, certain names are on many lists, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, and John Jay.

Why is Founding Father important?

The term Founding Fathers has been used to refer to the men who contributed to the founding of America since at least 1903. The term combines the word founding, meaning “creating or establishing,” and father, meaning “a male parent.”

The Founding Fathers “created” the United States in the sense that they helped to achieve the American colonies’ independence from England and helped establish the government of the new nation. While most of them were literal fathers, they were also metaphorical fathers of a newly born country. Of course, they were also all male, as politics was largely patriarchal at that time.

Today, the Founding Fathers are seen by most Americans as larger-than-life figures who were beacons of liberty, justice, and freedom. The nation’s capital, Washington D.C., is named after Founding Father George Washington. Washington and fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson are depicted on Mount Rushmore. Several Founding Fathers, including Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin, are depicted on American money.

Even today, most politicians argue their viewpoints by assuring listeners that they know what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. Similarly, some Supreme Court justices try to interpret the US Constitution as the Founding Fathers would have done hundreds of years ago.

Did you know … ?

George Washington never signed the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson never signed the Constitution, although it is highly likely they both would have if they had the chance. Washington was leading the army during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was serving as the minister to France during the Constitutional Convention, but he heavily contributed to the drafting of the Constitution through letters with delegates.

What are real-life examples of Founding Father?

This painting by Howard Chandler Christy, entitled Signing of the Constitution, is on display at the United States Capitol Building. The painting depicts many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.

Howard Chandler Christy / AOC.gov

Even hundreds of years later, the Founding Fathers are viewed with great respect by many Americans.

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following people is NOT considered to be a Founding Father?

A. George Washington
B. Thomas Jefferson
C. Abraham Lincoln
D. Benjamin Franklin

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