The A-Team

Meet America's team: the diverse group of patriots who helped to usher our country into independence.

 

The Propagandist

An elder statesman at the time of the Revolution, Benjamin Franklin is one of our most important Founding Fathers. He was the only man to sign all four documents that helped to create the U.S.: Declaration of Independence (1766), Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), Treaty of Peace between England, France and the U.S. (1782), and the Constitution (1787). One of Franklin's many talents was producing propaganda to aid the colonies and to incite support for the cause. On one occasion, he impersonated a Prussian Prince in a letter which attempted to create dissatisfaction within the ranks of German mercenaries assisting the British. He wrote to the commander of the Prince’s troops questioning the casualty figures provided by the British government and exposed human rights violations committed by British soldiers.

Join, or Die (litho) by Bejamin Franklin/ Peter Newark American Pictures
The Passage of the Delaware, 1819 (oil on canvas) by Thomas Sully / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Humble Hero

A legendary figure of the Revolutionary War, George Washington was the obvious choice for America's first figure head.  When supporters encouraged Washington to title himself King he requested to be called Mr. President stating that America had been ruled by a king for far too long. During his time in office he reconciled competing factions and contradictory policies within the government. He also tried to maintain peace between his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, and Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, whose differences typified evolving party divisions from which Washington rose above. At the end of his second term he relinquished his post even though many people encouraged him to seek a third term.

The Rebel With A Cause

Today John Hancock is remembered for two things, his involvement in the Boston Tea Party and his beautiful signatureon the Declaration of Independence. What many may not know is that Hancock made most of his fortune by smuggling goods into the colonies. Hancock who had already clashed with the British several times due to his “business” became outraged when the British started selling their East Indian tea for less money than his smuggled Dutch tea. Afraid that the British would ruin his business Hancock along with other leaders of the period organized the Boston Tea Party. Therefore the Boston Tea Party aside from being protest against British taxes was also a personal vendetta for Hancock.

Old House, formerly in Dock Square, where the tea-plot is said to have been hatched (litho)/ Peter Newark American Pictures
John Adams, c.1766 (pastel on paper) by Benjamin Blythe/ Massachusetts Historical Society

The Diplomat

As a Harvard-trained lawyer, John Adams was an advocate of justice. He believed in this so much that he defended the British soldiers accused of murdering Crispus Attucks in the Boston Massacre. One of the leading voices of independence, he also negotiated the eventual peace treaty with Great Britian. He, along with Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Declaration of Independence. The two sat on opposite sides of political ideology (Adams a Federalist, and Jefferson a Republican), and despite many disagreements they remained lifelong friends. His last words were "Thomas Jefferson still survives" not knowing that his good friend had died just a few hours earlier that same day.  

The Scholar

Thomas Jefferson, one of the most influential Founding Fathers, spoke five languages, avidly collected books and was a staunch believer in states' rights and the separation of church and state. An eloquent writer, Jefferson is credited with penning the Declaration of Independence and while most of his words were not changed, two sections of Jefferson’s original draft were omitted. In the first, Jefferson condemns citizens of Great Britain for not challenging King George for his treatment of the colonists. Members of Congress thought this too antagonistic and removed it along with a section denouncing the institution of slavery, as the delegates felt that so much of the South depended on slave labor that it might collapse if slavery was abolished. After retirement from politics, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson Writing the Declaration of Independence, from 'The Story of the Revolution' by Henry Cabot Lodge, by Howard Pyle/ Delaware Art Museum
First draft of the Constitution of the United States, 1787/ Photo, Boltin Picture Library

The Architect & The Conservator

James Madison is considered to be the "Father of the Constitution" as he was the principal author of the document. In addition to authoring the United States Bill of Rights, Madison wrote over a third of the 'Federalist Papers.' Madison believed in the principle of divided power; power must be divided between the federal and state levels. It might be a surprise to learn that Madison was originally opposed to the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. Madison believed at the onset that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary because the Constitution itself was essentially a list of rights. After receiving more than 200 proposals from citizens, Madison chose twelve amendments that gave protection to the civil rights of people. Of the twelve amendments Madison put together the last ten were ratified, the second wasn’t ratified until 1992 (now the 27th amendment).

Madison's wife, Dolley, set the standard for the modern First Lady. She was the first First Lady to formally associate herself with a pet public project; she helped to found a Washington D.C. home for orphaned girls. What cemented her legend though was a selfless act of patriotism in the face of extreme danger. During the War of 1812, in the hours before the burning of Washington by the British, Mrs. Madison refused to leave the White House until the large portrait of George Washington was safely removed. It is also believed that it was Dolley who convinced the President and Congress to keep Washington as the Capitol, instead of returning it to Philadelphia.

The Judge

John Jay, a moderate statesman from New York, served as delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses. After his work in Philadelphia, he drafted the Constitution of New York and worked to defeat conspiracies from Loyalists to the Crown. With Franklin, he negotiated terms to end the Revolutionary War in Paris. His most important contribution to the birth of our nation was his appointment as the first Chief Justice of the United States by President Washington. As Chief Justice, he helped to create many of the rules and procedures still in effect today, and established an early precedent for the Court's independence from political affairs.

The John Jay Freedom Box, 1784 / Christie's Images
Titlepage to 'Common Sense' by Thomas Paine, 1776 / American Antiquarian Society, Massachusetts

The Idealist

Thomas Paine had a grand vision for society:  freedom, equality and peace. Idealistic and passionate, Paine successfully communicated his ideas across societal and class boundaries. In 1776 he published what was to be a call to arms for American independence, 'Common Sense.' His follow up pamphlet, 'The Crisis,' would inspire the army and the infant nation to stay the course in the middle of a difficult war. Paine was adamantly opposed to slavery and was one of the first to advocate for social security for the poor and for an organization devoted to the cause of world peace.

The Partisan

Alexander Hamilton proposed the establishment of a national bank, funding of the national debt, and assumption of state war debts. His pro-business economic policies and sympathies for Great Britian brought him into conflict with Jefferson and Madison. This conflict contributed to the formation of the first U.S. political parties. The two-party system pitted Hamilton's Federalists against Jefferson, Madison and the Democratic-Republicans. During Washington’s administration Hamilton and Jefferson were constantly at odds but the former's views usually prevailed with the President. Hamilton also opposed fellow-Federalist John Adams, and he tried unsuccessfully to prevent his election to the presidency in 1796.

Alexander Hamilton in the Uniform of the New York Artillery (oil on canvas) by Alonzo Chappel/ Museum of the City of New York
British Revenue Stamps, c. 1765/ Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA

The Politician

Cousin of John Adams, Samuel Adams was a popular Patriot in Boston. Early in his career he spent time as a tax collector, which could have worked against him in the public eye, but instead he used his knowledge of the tax codes and his relationships with merchants to agitate for resistance. Adams was emphatically against being taxed without proper representation. Sam Adams was the perfect politician; he was popular and a good orator. Elected to the Massachusetts Assembly, he was the first to propose a continental congress. Ten years later, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence. He continued to be in the public eye and served as Governor of his home state until well into his seventies.

 


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