Skip to comments.[Redux: from July 4, 2012] The 7 Most Badass Founding Fathers
Posted on 07/05/2015 12:11:18 AM PDT by Mount Athos
They all pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honors, and it was more than just an idle boast.
The Founding Fathers were committing treason against the most powerful empire that the world to date had ever seen. It was also their Mother Country, to which many of their friends, family, and neighbors were still loyal.
And while they certainly, in the words of Patrick Henry, made the most of their treason, the idea that they would establish the most free and powerful nation in the history of mankind was not the most likely outcome.
So in singling out these 7 men in standing out as badasses (and I am sure some of you will find a more worthy nominee or two that I should have thought of, so please feel free to enlighten me in the Comments section), I am not minimizing the notion that Ben Franklin was right that they could most certainly all hang separately whether they all hung together as he urged them, or not.
However some men risked just a bit more, courted danger a little more closely, and were just a bit more reckless with their lives or fortunes. Here are 7 of them, and on this Independence Day, I hope I do these Founding Badasses justice.
7. Henry Laurens
Veteran Indian fighter Henry Laurens from the Cherokee campaign of the French and Indian War was a bit too old to serve in the Continental Army during the Revolution, but that didnt stop him from being the only American to be imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London.
After that war, Laurens became a very wealthy rice planter, and was a continuously elected member of the South Carolina Assembly. Like most of the eventual revolutionaries, Laurens favored reconciliation with the Crown, even while advocating for more freedom for the colonists.
He became a prominent member of South Carolinas revolutionary government, was elected to the Continental Congress, and eventually succeeded John Hancock as the president of the Revolutions governing body.
Meanwhile Henrys son John was making a name for himself as a soldier in the Continental Army. John vociferously argued that slavery was anathema to the fledgling nations rhetoric about liberty, and was granted permission to offer South Carolinas slaves freedom in exchange for military service.
He was vigorously opposed by Governor Rutledge, who was not quite as fierce in his defense of Charleston from the British. When Rutledge tried to surrender, John Laurens took on the defense of Charleston and repulsed the British forces.
Shortly thereafter, he was captured by the British and shipped to Philadelphia, just as his father Henry was leaving that city for a secret mission to convince the Netherlands to help the American cause financially. Henrys diplomatic mission was successful, but he was himself captured by the British on his second voyage to Amsterdam and tossed into the abysmal conditions of the Tower.
Eventually both Laurens were freed in prisoner exchanges (Henry for Lord Cornwallis himself), and, undaunted, John went back to fighting Redcoats and Henry back to get money from the Dutch. John was killed in a skirmish late in the war in 1782; but his father honored his principles by manumitting all 260 of their slaves after the war.
6. Patrick Henry
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!
When Patrick Henry delivered those words, they were not just a political slogan, a t-shirt or the motto on a license plate, they were reflective of a potential reality.
Quite possibly the rhetorician who lit the revolutionary fires in a young Thomas Jefferson, Henry was perhaps the most passionate defender of individual rights of the Founding Fathers. In fact, after winning the war for liberty against King George, Henry became involved in the Constitutional Convention to keep George Washington and his colleagues honest in Philadelphia, fearing a too-powerful central government might result.
Henry practiced law and served in Virginias House of Burgesses where he advocated for the state to join the Committees of Correspondence. Organized by Samuel Adams, the goal was for the colonies to present a united face to the Crown.
His most famous speech, with its immortal line excerpted above, was Henrys second consequential address. In the other, he introduced the Virginia Stamp Act resolutions, whose language was so defiant it made even many sympathetic members of the assembly squirm, while others loudly accused Henry of treason.
If this be treason, he retorted, then make the most of it.
The day after Lexington and Concord, Henry, a colonel in the militia, led troops in what became known as the Gunpowder Incident, when Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia, fearing his own unruly colonists, attempted to disarm them by commandeering the colonys gunpowder stores. Henry intervened and the governor backed down without bloodshed.
Henry was not an advocate of a Constitution setting up a more powerful federal government. In fact, he set out for Philadelphia worried that liberty was again under assault. Henry was the most influential voice in the adoption of the Bill of Rights which while it might not have been needed under Washingtons administration, has certainly acted as a bulwark against the encroachments of plenty of others, since.
5. Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton may have lost the most famous duel in American history but at least he showed up for it. Thats got to count for something.
But then whatever else Hamilton was short of, guts would not make the list. Unlike modern politicians who get caught in compromising positions with women, Hamilton, unlike fellow New Yorker Eliot Spitzer, did not use his wife as a human shield. He stood alone and admitted what hed done, albeit in uncomfortable and inappropriate detail.
Of all the Founders, Hamilton may have traveled the furthest to reach the pinnacle of success. Illegitimately born and on his own from age 11, young Hamiltons sheer brilliance made others believe in him and invest in his future.
While at Kings College, Hamilton published articles in favor of the Revolution, and then quit to join the militia. He quickly rose through the ranks and eventually became part of George Washingtons staff. Though he was involved in everything from diplomacy to espionage to strategic planning, Hamilton badgered Washington throughout the war for the chance to return to a battlefield command. His mentor finally relented near the wars end, and Hamilton again served with distinction.
Between serving in the war, and joining Washintons cabinet, Hamilton founded the Bank of New York. He was the first secretary of the treasury, and fought the likes of Thomas Jefferson in establishing a true national economy particularly nationalizing the debt incurred by states in the Revolutionary War.
He founded the United States Mint, the Coast Guard, and took effective command of, and developed, the U.S. Army during the quasi-war with France.
Unfortunately, even with all of that, the man considered the most dashing of the Founders still found time to have a scandalous affair with Maria Reynolds that ended his public life for awhile.
Never a uniting figure, Hamiltons legacy is still fiercely debated, with some sure we would be living in a libertarian paradise today, if not for his evil centralized bank; while Pat Buchanan types are equally sure if we had taken his theories on tariffs and protectionism more seriously, we would be manufacturing the bulk of the worlds goods today.
If any Founder followed the motto Go big or go home, it was Alexander Hamilton. If only he had been a better shot
4. Benjamin Franklin
Merely listing the accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin in the areas of science, politics, writing, philosophy, journalism, or diplomacy would take more room than this column allows. But the fact that he was the American equivalent of Leonardo DaVinci and then some is not what makes him a badass.
In an age when we are bombarded with commercials asking us if age has slowed us down and offering testosterone supplements, consider this: At the age of 70, which was considerably older than the average lifespan of his time, Benjamin Franklin not only undertook the arduous ocean voyage to France to negotiate the military alliance that would save the Revolution, he had a good enough time doing it that it royally pissed off John Adamss puritan sensibilities.
Franklin was nearly as influential in establishing the American character as Washington was in establishing how it would be governed. His observations and one-liners still permeate the American lexicon today. Far from the lofty public utterances of many public speakers of the time, Franklin dazzled with a brilliant, yet down-to-earth, wit and wisdom that came from the working-class roots he stayed proudly true to no matter how far he climbed in the social stratosphere.
Even while he preached unity among the colonies and independence from the Crown, Franklin was a wildly popular figure in England and also in its most bitter enemy, France. While on his mission to make France an ally of the fledgling United States, Franklin managed to help end discrimination against non-Catholics by the French government in his spare time, I suppose.
For succeeding in nearly everything he put his hand or mind to, and for doing it for pretty much all of his 84 years, Ben Franklin gets to add one more title to his dozens that of genuine badass.
3. John Paul Jones
I have not yet begun to fight! may only be the second most badass line of the Revolutionary War, but when he delivered it, John Paul Jones was literally looking down the barrels of a broadside of British battleship cannons.
In his first command mission as the captain of the 21 gun sloop Providence, Jones took command of no less than 16 British vessels. Later, Jones actually attacked a British coastal town which rattled the enemy considerably. Then, of course, there is his comeback victory as the captain of the Bonhomme Richard after being offered a chance to surrender which led to his immortal, defiant response.
While the Continental Navy hardly swept the mighty Royal Navy from the seas, it was an important factor in making the war against the colonists simply too costly for the British to continue.
It would be nearly 200 years before another man rose from the enlisted ranks to command an American warship in wartime (my friend, the late Lt. Command Henry Dale); but John Paul Jones is more than just a war hero.
While some might be surprised to see him in a list of Founding Fathers, John Paul Jones is certainly the founding father of the United States Navy. Unfortunately, the Continental Navy was disbanded after the war despite Joness urging that the ability to project naval power would be a deterrent to future aggression but Jones would be considered the inspirational father of the United States Navy, without which the young nation would have had no means of projecting power in a hostile world.
2. Samuel Adams
Of all of the Founders of the American Revolution, Samuel Adams was perhaps the revolutionary-est. And if for nothing else, the fact that his revolutionary fervor and tactics toward Loyalists during the Revolution has some modern-day liberals blasting him as no more than a common thug, Samuel Adams gets the title of badass.
It was Adamss letter calling for cooperation among the colonies that led the British to send troops to occupy Boston in the first place. Adamss response: to quit calling for cooperation and start coordinating it. His committee of correspondence system linked patriots throughout the colonies and formed the organizational basis for the Revolution to come.
Stories of the extent of Sam Adamss involvement in the Boston Tea Party range from one of his fiery speeches merely being the accidental inspiration for it, to his actually putting on war paint and throwing crates into the harbor.
No taxation without representation was the unifying theme behind much of Adamss rhetoric, including this line from his speech protesting the Sugar Act:
For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands? Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of?
John Roberts, call your office.
Thomas Jefferson called Samuel Adams truly the Man of the Revolution. For his fearless and tireless efforts to form a new nation, no matter how many troops King George sent to quiet things down, Samuel Adams was a badass.
1. George Washington
If you had any doubt where this was ending up, then you probably dont care enough about the topic to make it this far. Yes, our first founding father defined the term badass. You could even consider him an action hero whose commanding presence and calmness under fire would be worthy of a John Wayne movie.
But aside from the fact that this president would have regarded leading from the rear with utter contempt, or the number of horses he had shot out from under him and the bullet ridden coat you can still see on display, what proves George Washington is not only the Number 1 Badass of the Founding Fathers, but possibly in American history, is the reaction of his contemporaries.
This is a guy who could settle an argument among a room full of the best and brightest men in the world with a simple declaration of how things should be. (At least 2 of those men had the hubris to rewrite the Bible the way they thought it should be, and all of them had risked hanging to establish a new form of government.)
And when you think of the contentious fights between those egos over who would be the succeeding presidents to Washington, the idea that he would be the not only unanimous but obvious choice of this group to lead them is just mind-boggling.
Without the rhetorical flourishes of a Henry or a Paine, Washington could enter a room full of possibly rebellious soldiers whose rightful pay was being withheld by the Congress and leave them weeping simply by the force of his character.
And last, but not least, nearly everything he did to establish how a president should act and lead (basically on the fly and by instinct) was naturally accepted as correct and proper by his peers, and established precedent for centuries.
And for at least a hundred years after his death, political arguments could be settled by the mere fact that Washington said so.
Arguments among historians that any other president should be placed at the top of the list of American greats are plain ignorant. Of the Top 10, the first 9 places should be occupied by George Washington.
Not a founding father, but somehow this article brings to mind what a fearsomely strong willed badass Andrew Jackson was
The Founding Fathers were committing treason against the most powerful empire that the world to date had ever seenNo they were not. Can we get past that bit of leftist rhetoric?
“Franklin” is the middle name of one of our sons. The other’s middle name is “Washington.”
There appear to be some missing relevant items and/or inaccuracies in the discussion of Henry Laurens.
He was not just a wealthy rice planter. He became one of the wealthiest men in North America primarily by being a partner in the continent’s largest slave importing and trading firm.
Conditions in the Tower of London were not necessarily appalling. They varied from luxurious to horrific, depending on what the prisoner could afford and the treatment specified by the government. Laurens was not treated particularly harshly.
He was certainly treated much better than American prisoners in British hands in America, where the death rate (over 1/3) considerably exceeded that at Andersonville during our civil war and of American POWs in Japanese hands during WWII. It was roughly equivalent to that of Russians taken prisoner by the Nazis. This is an element of American history that’s largely been forgotten.
I can find no evidence Laurens ever freed his slaves, except perhaps one or two of his hundreds. He expressed dislike of the institution and a theoretical desire to get rid of it someday. But then so did almost all southerners of the day.
John Laurens, however, was indeed an outspoken foe of slavery.
I see conflicting accounts of whether he freed his slaves or not.
This account is from the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor established by congress.
“Henry buried his son on the plantation, and after the war he freed all of his (then 260) slaves.”
In volume sixteen of the Papers of Henry Laurens, editors David R. Chesnutt and C. James Taylor has mentioned how Laurens dealt with his slaves in detail. “At his death,” according to the editors, “[Laurens freed but one slave]. His stated policy never to sell a slave for profit and to purchase one only to unite a family appears to be supported by the documents” (xxi).
The FFs were indeed committing treason against the King. Treason is a legal term. If British law applied, they were traitors.
They, however, rebelled against and rejected British law. If they won, they’d be heroes. If they lost, they’d be traitors. They were perfectly well aware of this.
That’s where the quote comes from. “Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason.” The treason of the Founders prospered, so we don’t call it that.
I would object more to the claim that the empire they were rebelling against was the most powerful the world had ever seen. The metric to be used is unclear. But the British Army of 1775 was <50,000 men and scattered all over the world. There were several European powers with armies that were a multiple of this and probably more efficient to boot. Russia, France, Prussia, Austria among them. The small size of the British Army at the time is of course why much of their force in America was composed of German mercenaries.
There is no question the Royal Navy was the best in the world, but our Revolution was won at Yorktown primarily because the French Navy turned back a Royal Navy rescue force.
Was the British Empire of 1775 actually more powerful than the Roman, Mongol or Tang empires? Don’t know any way to actually compare them.
Washington. Always Washington.
I can scarcely imagine a man, at that time, in his position vehemently turning down the offer of being King.
Was a display of character largely unseen in world history. Period.
The point is that the they knew that the British considered them traitors and that if they were captured or were defeated, they could well swing for it.
Since it’s not just signers of the Declaration of Independence, I have to add one of my favorite Revolutionary guys, Daniel Morgan. A tough frontiersman and cousin of Daniel Boone, he was flogged by the British in the French and Indian war and took 499 lashes, usually a death sentence. He never forgave them and made them pay dearly a decade later. He was named to command of one of the first three Virginia companies from ability alone. From the Siege of Boston, to the assault on Montreal, Saratoga, and his stunning victory at Cowpens, Morgan and his elite riflemen were always at the front of the battle. They specialized in killing the British Indian guides and officers, leaving them blind and leaderless. A true badass.
Compare and contrast with today’s so-called leaders. Maybe we need another revolution so the cream will again rise to the top.
>> Wouldn’t most people love history if this was an example of what kids read in school?
Hell, I fear the obligation of having to react it.
The liberals are fond of using it to demean the Founders. They typically falsely compare it to later leftist-type revolutions, from the French down to the Russian et al. I’m more reminded of the secession of the Ten Tribes from Rehoboam’s unjust rule, at least in the beginning of that.
Yes, from one POV.
The left likes to deliberately misinterpret Romans 13 in light of this, however. I’ve seen them do it.
There is also the point of religious freedom being one of the primary reasons for leaving the homeland for northern America, and the Crown did represent state religion.
You’re just wrong. The founders recognized that signing the Declaration of Independence was an act of treason. They knew that if they were not victorious in the war, that they were all going to get the William Wallace treatment.
Only from George III’s POV. But he was remiss in his own oath to uphold the law, which is treason in and of itself, although the king’s accountability is supposed to be to a higher power as well as to the people. If the Founders themselves felt that they were being treasonous, they would not have even started an endeavor for independence; the perspective is that they knew that the ruling powers in Britain would regard them as committing treasonwhich is why the Declaration of Independence is worded as it is, and why the motto was “No king but King Jesus”.
Remember how the left likes to try to Alinskyize things too. They would throw Romans 13 in the Founders’ direction as an example of them not being “subject unto the higher powers”, even though warring for independence is not applicable to suchnobody sought to remove the government in London or kill George III.
All of what I’m saying is in your own signature, or at least I believe it is.
And The Swamp Fox, Francis Marion. Of all the heroes in the Revolutionary War, he is my favorite. He fought the British, frustrating them at every turn. He attacked supply lines, forcing Cornwallis to try and capture him. He failed and The Swamp Fox continued his guerrilla tactics to defeat the British multiple times.
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