Many of the founding fathers had quite dramatic lives. Their biographies are fascinating. Here are some trivia facts I picked up over the years to brighten everyone’s Fourth of July and get you in the spirit.
George Washington never had any children but he adopted his wife, Martha’s two from her first marriage. He is the only president to be elected with unanimous consent of the electors. He refused the title His Excellency the President of the United States for the more modest title Mr. President. George Washington missed the turn of the century, dying in December 1799 of complications from a sore throat. He is the only founding father to free his slaves which he did in his will. His adopted granddaughter married a man named Robert E. Lee, (yep, the same one) their estate was confiscated when he went over to the rebel side and it became Arlington Cemetery during the Civil War.
Benjamin Franklin ran away from his apprenticeship in Boston, breaking his contract. A renegade. He escaped to the young city of Philadelphia and became a wealthy printer. Though he never said, historians speculate he turned outright rebel to the crown after being publically humiliated by the English government while assigned as the ambassador to mend our relationship before the beginning of the War for Independence. Benjamin Franklin had an illegitimate son, William, which he raised with his wife. When the war broke out, William stayed a Royalist becoming Governor of New Jersey. Benjamin disowned him and held that grudge for the rest of his life.
The first president to live in the White House was John Adams. George Washington spent his terms first in New York City and then Philadelphia as part of the compromise that saw our capital city built in the middle of Virginia wilderness and close to Washington’s home of Mount Vernon.
The man who wrote the preamble for the Constitution (you know, We the people, in order to form a more perfect union) had the unusual name of Governeur Morris. He lost a leg in a carriage accident. A lady’s man, in later life he married a woman much younger than himself.
The man who financed the War of Independence, Robert Morris, backed up the new country’s notes with his own fortune earned in the shipping business. Robert Morris later ended up in debtor’s prison when that fortune failed. His is not a name you hear anymore, but the war would not have been possible without him. He found ways to supply our troops.
The former vice president of Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, fatally shot our national’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel over politics. (You can see Hamilton on the ten dollar bill. Hamilton was illegitimate and self educated.) Burr never won another election and very oddly, tried to collude with both Spain and Great Britain to start a war over territory in the Louisiana Purchase area. Burr was charged with treason but acquitted.
During the War of 1812 with Britain, British soldiers captured Washington DC. They burned the Capitol building and the White House, putting the flame to the White House after drinking toasts and eating the dinner left for President Madison. You’ve probably heard how Dolly Madison refused to leave even as troop approached until she save the painting of President Washington. Heroic woman, the title of First Lady was well deserved.
Perhaps the oddest and my favorite strange fact, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day—July 4th, fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. Friends for years since they met in Paris as ambassadors, a dirty mud-raking election where Jefferson defeated Adams drove them apart. The name calling was much worse than today's brand. Only after the deaths of Jefferson’s daughter and Adam’s wife did they again correspond. While living, Thomas Jefferson had to sell his library to pay his debts. His estate was sold after he died, along with his slaves, to pay his bills. John Adam's last words were "Jefferson still survives". He was mistaken.