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Lisa Longo Headshot

Who, What, Where, Why and How

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We hear so much about the Founding Fathers and how we should adhere to their "vision" of America. I decided it was time to find out a few facts about what these Founding Fathers actually thought. I started with the most basic questions:

  • Who were the Founding Fathers?
  • What was important to them?
  • Where did their values tell them to guide these United States?
  • Why would anyone think we are not on a path they would approve of?
  • How can we best continue our quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

My first task was to try to find out who were the Founding Fathers. Was there a list? How many Founding Fathers were there? Who decided who was a Founder? Were they self-proclaimed as Founders? Or did someone else, a historian or journalist, give them this name? As it turns out, there is no one answer to these questions. The term seems to have been first used in 1916 by Warren G. Harding, who as a Senator used the term in a speech at the RNC. Various sources give different answers as to who is a Founder, and how many there were. The number is anywhere between seven and several hundred. Some include only the signers of the Declaration, others the signers, as well as others who gave input. According to Wikipedia there are seven "key" Founders, from the Wiki page: "Historian Richard B. Morris in 1973 identified the following seven figures as the key Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington."

I decided to focus on three Founders: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Each has left us with many letters and essays from which we can attempt to glean their thoughts. I also hope that both conservatives and liberals will agree that these three were highly influential on the foundation of our nation and their personal values become the pillars of our democracy.

Off into the stacks of the Internet went I. I love doing research, and there is so much information online, it was almost overwhelming. I actually had to force myself to stop doing research and start writing. One thing jumped out at me that the Founders of our nation wrote about again and again, can you guess what it was, what exactly did they value most? What was it they thought we should provide and protect above all else?

Drumroll please, the winner is: education. Yes, boys and girls, the Founders were huge fans of free public education, right through college for students who could not afford to pay for it. They also loved free public libraries and our postal service. Imagine that.

Thomas Jefferson was quite prolific in his writings on education and it was hard for me to pick only one quote, but this one sums it up best I think:

"My bill proposes, 1. Elementary schools in every county, which shall place every householder within three miles of a school. 2. District colleges, which shall place every father within a day's ride of a college where he may dispose of his son. 3. An university in a healthy and central situation... To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the colleges and university." --Thomas Jefferson to M. Correa de Serra, 1817. ME 15:155

And our first President was also vocal on the subject:

George Washington in an address to Congress said "A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?"

Pretty clear right? Above all else we need to provide and protect our public education system, and that includes college. And what did they think would happen if we did not and did they support funding free public education via taxes? You betcha they did, more from Thomas Jefferson:

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." --Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786. ME 5:396

"[Surely no] tax can be called that which we give to our children in the most valuable of all forms, that of instruction... An addition to our contributions almost insensible... in fact, will not be felt as a burden, because applied immediately and visibly to the good of our children." --Thomas Jefferson: Note to Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:42

All also agreed on the need and value of free public libraries and the postal service. There are numerous quotes and essays I read before writing this, and it seems very clear to me, the Founding Fathers all agreed, the one thing we need most to ensure the success of this great experiment in democracy is education. Our most perfect union can only be safeguarded by educating our citizens. And in order to continue on our path of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we must fight to protect our public schools.

So to all those who think it is "conservative" to bad-mouth teachers, to call them greedy union thugs, please stop saying you are doing so to honor our Founding Fathers, you aren't. And to those on both sides, Democrat and Republican, who can't understand why our taxes may need to be increased to cover the cost of education, remember the cost of ignorance is much higher, and the price of tyranny is incalculable. Our Founding Fathers were very clear, the best way to safeguard our democracy is education. And the cost is a public good, one we all benefit from equally.

One other interesting fact I learned during my research, Benjamin Franklin was "dismissed for subversive acts on behalf of the rebellious colonies in 1774". More proof that our Founding Fathers were really a bunch of rabble rousing radical community organizers. My kind of people. So the next time someone calls me a radical, I'll just say thank you.

As part of my research I posted a question on Facebook: How many Founding Fathers were there? There were several really good responses, but the one I like best is this one from my friend Michael Biddison:

The place is still being founded. And we're not sure how big or small it is or will be. When we're done founding whatever we've found I'll give you a number.

Absolutely. We are still working on it. And the truth it, not only does it take a village to raise a child, it takes money. Education is essential to protecting our democracy, and taxes are price we pay to protect our way of life. Just ask the Founding Fathers.

So please, support our teachers and our public schools. They are a national treasure.

And feel free to share this with your legislator, especially those "darlings" of the "tea" "party" who don't seem to know a whole lot about the Founding Fathers they love to invoke.

List of articles and sources:

  • •
  • • Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government,
  • • In Defense of Public Education,
  • • Teaching Youth the Principles of Republican Government,
  • • U.S. Postal Service: Back to the future?,
  • •
  • • About the Founding Fathers,
  • • Education in the Republic,
  • • Colonial Era Communication,
  • • George Washington signs the Postal Service Act,
  • • Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More,
  • • Education and the Constitution,
  • • Thomas Jefferson on Teacher Bashing,
  • • The Need for Formal and Informal Mechanisms to Prevent, "Tyranny of the Majority" in Any Democratic Government,