The Fifty-five Founding Fathers: A Brief Overview
information is taken from: The Charters of Freedom website at
the National Archives
Samuel Johnson, Connecticut
55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention were a
distinguished body of men who represented a cross section of 18th-century
American leadership. Almost all of them were well-educated men
of means who were dominant in their communities and states, and
many were also prominent in national affairs. Virtually every
one had taken part in the Revolution; at least 29 had served in
the Continental forces, most of them in positions of command.
out more about each of the delegates at the Charters of Freedom
group, as a whole, had extensive political experience.
the time of the convention, four-fifths, or 41 individuals,
were or had been members of the Continental Congress. Mifflin
and Gorham had served as president of the body.
only ones who lacked congressional experience were Bassett,
Blair, Brearly, Broom, Davie, Dayton, Alexander Martin, Luther
Martin, Mason, McClurg, Paterson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney,
Strong, and Yates.
men (Clymer, Franklin, Gerry, Robert Morris, Read, Sherman,
Wilson, and Wythe) had signed the Declaration of Independence.
(Carroll, Dickinson, Gerry, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris,
and Sherman) had affixed their signatures to the Articles of
only two, Sherman and Robert Morris, underwrote all three of
the nation's basic documents.
all of the 55 delegates had experience in colonial and state
government. Dickinson, Franklin, Langdon, Livingston, Alexander
Martin, Randolph, Read, and Rutledge had been governors, and
the majority had held county and local offices.
delegates practiced a wide range of occupations, and many men
pursued more than one career simultaneously. Thirty-five were
lawyers or had benefited from legal training, though not all of
them relied on the profession for a livelihood. Some had also
the time of the convention,
individuals were businessmen, merchants, or shippers: Blount,
Broom, Clymer, Dayton, Fitzsimons, Gerry, Gilman, Gorham, Langdon,
Robert Morris, Pierce, Sherman, and Wilson.
were major land speculators: Blount, Dayton, Fitzsimons, Gorham,
Robert Morris, and Wilson.
speculated in securities on a large scale: Bedford, Blair, Clymer,
Dayton, Fitzsimons, Franklin, King, Langdon, Robert Morris,
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Sherman.
owned or managed slave-operated plantations or large farms:
Bassett, Blair, Blount, Butler, Carroll, Jenifer, Mason, Charles
Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Rutledge, Spaight, and
Washington. Madison also owned slaves. Broom and Few were small
of the men received a substantial part of their income from
public office: Baldwin, Blair, Brearly, Gilman, Jenifer, Livingston,
Madison, and Rutledge.
had retired from active economic endeavors: Franklin, McHenry,
and Williamson were scientists, in addition to their other activities.
McHenry, and Williamson were physicians, and Johnson was a university
had been a minister, and Williamson, Madison, Ellsworth, and
possibly others had studied theology but had never been ordained.
few of the delegates were wealthy. Washington and Robert Morris
ranked among the nation's most prosperous men. Carroll, Houston,
Jenifer, and Mifflin were also extremely well-to-do. Most of
the others had financial resources that ranged from good to
those with the most straitened circumstances were Baldwin, Brearly,
Broom, Few, Madison, Paterson, and Sherman, though they all
managed to live comfortably.
considerable number of the men were born into leading families:
Blair, Butler, Carroll, Houston, Ingersoll, Jenifer, Johnson,
Livingston, Mifflin, Gouverneur Morris, both Pinckneys, Randolph,
Rutledge, Washington, and Wythe.
were self-made men who had risen from humble beginnings: Few,
Franklin, Gorham, Hamilton, and Sherman.
and Educational Background
of the delegates were natives of the 13 colonies.
eight were born elsewhere:
(Butler, Fitzsimons, McHenry, and Paterson) were born in in
(Davie and Robert Morris) were born in in England,
(Wilson) was born in Scotland,
(Hamilton) was born in the West Indies.
the mobility that has always characterized American life, many
of them had moved from one state to another.
individuals had already lived or worked in more than one state
or colony: Baldwin, Bassett, Bedford, Dickinson, Few, Franklin,
Ingersoll, Livingston, Alexander Martin, Luther Martin, Mercer,
Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, Read, Sherman, and Williamson.
others had studied or traveled abroad.
educational background of the Founding Fathers was diverse. For
the most part, the delegates were a well-educated group.
like Franklin, were largely self-taught and had received scant
had obtained instruction from private tutors or at academies.
half of the individuals had at tended or graduated from college
in the British North American colonies or abroad.
men held advanced and honorary degrees.
and Family Life
their era, the delegates to the convention (like the signers of
the Declaration of Independence) were remarkably long-lived. Their
average age at death was almost 67.
reached the age of 92, and Few, Franklin, Madison, Williamson,
and Wythe lived into their eighties.
or sixteen (depending on Fitzsimmon's exact age) passed away
in their eighth decade.
or 21 died in their sixties.
lived into their fifties.
lived only into their forties.
delegates (Hamilton and Spaight) were killed in duels.
first to die was Houston in 1788; the last, Madison in 1836.
of the delegates married and raised children.
fathered the largest family, 15 children by 2 wives.
least nine (Bassett, Brearly, Johnson, Mason, Paterson, Charles
Cotesworth, Pinckney, Sherman, Wilson, and Wythe) married more
delegates (Baldwin, Gilman, Jenifer, and Alexander Martin) were
terms of religious affiliation, the men mirrored the overwhelmingly
Protestant character of American religious life at the time
and were members of various denominations.
two, Carroll and Fitzsimons, were Roman Catholics.
delegates subsequent careers reflected their abilities as well
as the vagaries of fate.
were successful in their subsequent careers.
(Fitzsimons, Gorham, Luther Martin, Mifflin, Robert Morris,
Pierce, and Wilson) suffered serious financial reverses that
left them in or near bankruptcy.
Blount and Dayton, were involved in possibly treasonous activities.
as they had done before the convention, most of the group continued
to render outstanding public service, particularly to the new
government they had helped to create.
Who Later Held Public Office
and Madison became President of the United States, and King
and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney were nominated as candidates
for the office.
served as Madison's Vice President.
McHenry, Madison, and Randolph attained Cabinet posts.
men became U.S. senators: Baldwin, Bassett, Blount, Butler,
Dayton, Ellsworth, Few, Gilman, Johnson, King, Langdon, Alexander
Martin, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, Paterson, Charles
Pinckney, Read, Sherman, and Strong.
served in the House of Representatives: Baldwin, Carroll, Clymer,
Dayton, Fitzsimons, Gerry, Gilman, Madison, Mercer, Charles
Pinckney, Sherman, Spaight, and Williamson. Of these, Dayton
served as Speaker.
men (Bassett, Bedford, Brearly, and Few) served as federal judges,
four more (Blair, Paterson, Rutledge, and Wilson) as Associate
Justices of the Supreme Court.
and Ellsworth also held the position of Chief Justice.
delegates (Davie, Ellsworth, Gerry, King, Gouverneur Morris,
Charles Pinckney, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney) were named
to diplomatic missions for the nation.
delegates held important state positions, including:
(Blount, Davie, Franklin, Gerry, Langdon, Livingston, Alexander
Martin, Mifflin, Paterson, Charles Pinckney, Spaight, and Strong)
most of the delegates contributed in many ways to the cultural
life of their cities, communities, and states.
surprisingly, many of their sons and other descendants were
to occupy high positions in American political and intellectual