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Various Authors | Biography

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George Washington

George Washington is most famous for being the first president of the United States. He was born to a family of tobacco farmers on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. As a youth Washington began surveying land, and he received his first government appointment as the official surveyor of Culpeper County in 1749. When he was 20, his brother and his brother's daughter died, leaving Washington the heir to the large estate at Mount Vernon. He began a military career and rose to prominence, serving as a colonel. During the Revolutionary War (1775–83) when the American colonies gained independence from Great Britain, Washington was the commander in chief of the army, and he led the colonial forces to victory. Washington was a key figure in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 because he had earned the trust of the people during the war. He mostly oversaw the debates and maintained order. He later served as president and then retired to his estate in Mount Vernon, where he died on December 14, 1799.

James Madison

James Madison was born in Virginia on March 16, 1751. He is known for writing the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution. He later became president of the United States in 1808 and served two terms with his wife, Dolley, at his side. Madison's father owned a large plantation and possessed many slaves. Madison was schooled mostly at home on the plantation and went on to attend Princeton University. He studied many subjects, but important to his political thought were his studies of Greek and philosophy. He served on a public safety committee in his county in Virginia in 1774 and quickly found himself caught up in the workings of the new country. He helped draft the first constitution of Virginia and was later called upon to represent his state at the Constitutional Convention. Many referred to him as the "Father of the Constitution," but Madison frequently argued for a collective responsibility for the document. He and his fellow founders Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804) and John Jay (1745–1829) promoted the new Constitution in a series of essays called the Federalist Papers (1787–88). As president, Madison declared the War of 1812 (1812–15) against Great Britain to protect American trade, seamen, and expansion. He advocated for the United States and the power of the Constitution until his death on June 28, 1836.

John Adams

John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, in Massachusetts. He served as vice president under George Washington. He attended the First and Second Continental Congresses as a representative for Massachusetts and played a key part in forming the new country. He was a Harvard-educated lawyer who greatly valued political thought and philosophy. Adams was highly critical of British influence and control on the early United States. While living in Boston before the United States formed the Constitution, he was outspoken about the harmful results of British intervention, like the Stamp Act of 1765 (a British tax on legal documents and newspapers) and the Townshend Acts of 1767 (taxes that led to the revolt now known as the Boston Tea Party). He was a learned thinker and was not a showy politician. Although he was openly opposed to slavery, he was dismissive of the abolitionist cause. He had difficulty serving as vice president because he felt that the role was superfluous. His wife, Abigail, was learned and he often sought advice from her, and he frequently complained to her about the position.

John Adams became the second president in 1797. He was not elected to a second term, largely because of the critical response of the Alien and Sedition Acts he signed into law, which allowed the government to deport anyone who disagreed with the new government. Many saw this as a return to the policies they tried to escape by immigrating to the United States. Adams and his wife moved back to Massachusetts, where Adams continued his political activism through writing books and columns in newspapers, and frequently corresponding with Thomas Jefferson. Adams died on July 4, 1826, less than two years after his son John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) was elected president.

Benjamin Franklin

Although Benjamin Franklin is well known for helping draft the Declaration of Independence, he was very much a jack-of-all-trades: a scientist, inventor, governmental icon, and early leader of the United States. He invented bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove, and he furthered the contemporary understanding of electricity. His many different skills and inventiveness, despite his modest childhood, make him an archetype for the American Dream. He was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, and he moved to Philadelphia as a young adult, where he accumulated wealth through a printing business. Unlike the other founders, Franklin was not educated in a typical way. He became politically active in Philadelphia and established community resources there, including a lending library, police force, and a fire prevention company. Franklin was a community-minded person, and he wanted the city of Philadelphia to have every resource. He even raised money for new paved roads.

Franklin had the idea for a congress of states in 1754. This framework eventually became the Constitutional Congress. He was selected to serve as a delegate for the Second Constitutional Congress and helped draft the Constitution. Although he died earlier than the other founders, on April 17, 1790, the image of Benjamin Franklin became key in the formation of the identity of the new country.

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