“Founding Fathers”

Did you know that the phrase “founding fathers” wasn’t coined until 1916? It was then that Warren Harding used that wording in a speech to the Republican National Convention.  Somehow, I always find this a surprising fact.  Have Americans only thought about the revolutionary generations as father figures for a century?

Americans before 1916 certainly put these leaders on a pedestal even if they didn’t think of them as figurative fathers of the nation.  Washington’s birthday was widely celebrated and democrats had Jefferson-Jackson balls, for example.  But, there is something deeply powerful about thinking about the American nation as a family with Washington et. al as pleasantly paternal figureheads.

I’m teaching an upper-level class on the American Revolution this term and we spend a lot of time thinking about how we Americans today talk about the Revolution.  I invite you to join us, too.  What do we gain by seeing these people as “fathers?” What do we lose?

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