What Happened to the Founding Fathers after US Independence?

The Declaration of Independence was formed as a sign of independence for the Thirteen Colonies from British rule. This document took great steps in forming the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence would not have been created if not for the genius minds that were brought together. This is what happened to each of the founding fathers post-independence.

The term “Founding Fathers” is often disputed but in this article, we are referring to the list of 7 key figures by historian Richard B. Morris.

A painting of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence by the Committee of Five. This John Trumbull painting features 3 of the 7 founding fathers that are discussed in this article.

John Adams

Portrait paining of President and Founding Father, John Adams.
A painting of founding father and President of the United States, John Adams. Painted by John Trumbull in c. 1792

In November 1777, John Adams was named as a commissioner to France. Previously, during September 1777, the British Army defeated George Washington and his men in a battle. This resulted in the fall of Philadelphia. As a result of the capture of the city, the American people felt that they needed a strong ally but they feared that ties between America and France would not be strong enough.

John Adams was sent with another of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, and Arthur Lee to Paris in order to negotiate an alliance with France. Although they were chosen as the strongest negotiators, Adams did not get along with the other two. He felt that Franklin was lazy and a flatterer who would do anything to gain the support of the French. He also felt Arthur Lee was paranoid and too much of a cynic. Adams became frustrated with the lack of progress and eventually returned home in March 1779.

Over the next decade, John Adams became a Minister to the Dutch Republic (present-day Netherlands) and aimed to strengthen the alliance between America and the Republic. He was also appointed as Minister to Great Britain from 1785 until 1788. During this time he was trying to create a new relationship between the two world powers.

One of his greatest accomplishments was being elected President of the United States following the 1796 election; during his time as President from 1797-1801, he primarily focused on continuing to strengthen the relationship between the US and France. However, France still held strong hostility to the US and after an undeclared war between the two countries ended, Adams’ popularity was severely damaged. He lost his reelection bid, and in 1801 was replaced as by Thomas Jefferson. He died on the United States’ 50th Independence Day on the 4th of July 1826. Adams died on the same day as another of the founding fathers, find out which one later in the article!

George Washington

President George Washington facing left
A painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart in 1797.

Thirteen years after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, on the 30th of April 1789, George Washington, a national hero, became the First President of the United States. He initially did not have any interest in becoming the leader but did so at the request of his fellow Americans.

During his presidency, he established a group of advisors named collectively as the “Cabinet”. This included the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and War, as well as the Attorney General. Washington also oversaw the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. This included the 10 fundamental rights which included the right to a trial by jury, the right to bear arms, and the right of free speech.

He did not want to serve a second term, due to the fact that his cabinet was almost always at odds and the press regularly scrutinized him. However, he did not want to let the American people down, so he quietly ran for office again and the Electoral College elected him. In his second term, he witnessed the resignation of some of his cabinet officials including Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Alexander Hamilton for various reasons. By the end of 1776, Washington refused to run for a third term, making a precedent rule for future presidents to only serve two terms.

After his term ended in 1797, he quietly returned home to Mt. Vernon, Virginia and lived the rest of his days there until his death on December 14, 1799.

President and founding father George Washington on his deathbed surrounded by his family, doctors and staff
President George Washington on his deathbed surrounded by members of his family.

Alexander Hamilton

Founding father Alexander Hamilton standing with his hand on a table
Portrait painting of founding father Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull in 1792.

Participating in wars and serving the United States was something Alexander Hamilton believed was his calling. When he was invited to serve as an aide-de-camp with the rank of lieutenant colonel, he quickly accepted. He served four years as the chief staff aide; during this time his duties included, but not limited to drafting President Washington’s letters, negotiating with senior army officers, diplomacy, and intelligence. Hamilton successfully worked as Washington’s right-hand man but he always wanted to hold command and return to combat. Washington eventually made him a commander of infantry on the 31st of July 1781.

Alexander Hamilton passed the bar examination in 1782, and in 1784 he founded Bank of New York. In 1789, President Washington appointed him as the first Treasurer of the United States; his biggest accomplishment during this post was establishing the Coinage Act of 1792, which led to the development of the US Mint. The act declared the silver dollar as the official unit of money in the US and established the decimal system for currency.

After his duty as Secretary of Treasurer ended, Hamilton’s career involved other wars and a scandal involving an extramarital affair. The biggest blow to his career was on the 11 June 1804; he was challenged to a duel against Aaron Burr, the third Vice President of the United States. Burr accused him of attacking his honor during the 1804 gubernatorial election. He and Burr dueled at dawn and when they both shot their guns, Burr’s shot was fatal and Alexander Hamilton died the next day on the 12th of July 1804 from his wounds.

drawing of Aaron Burr shooting founding father Alexander Hamilton
An illustration of Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton in the duel that took his life.

Alexander Hamilton is now one of the best known founding fathers thanks to the critically acclaimed musical about his life.

Benjamin Franklin

Painting of founding father Benjamin Franklin
A 1785 Joseph Siffred Duplessis painting of Benjamin Franklin.

After the Declaration of Independence was completed in 1776, Benjamin Franklin was sent to be an Ambassador to France along with John Adams and Arthur Lee. Although he did not get along with the two resulting in an almost immediate disband, he was able to establish a successful relationship with France. The bond resulted in a stronger military alliance and eventually contributed to the negotiating the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Active as a Freemason for the majority of his life, Franklin served as Venerable Master of the Lodge Les Neuf Soeurs from 1779 – 1781. He was a strong advocate for religious freedom while spending his time in France. He argued that the non-Catholic French should have the right to practice their faith. Louis XVI, then King of France, agreed; in November 1787 he signed the Edict of Versailles which gave non-Catholics fairer rights.

Benjamin Franklin wanted to create his character in a more virtuous way and came up with thirteen virtues in which he felt he and others should live by. The thirteen virtues were: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He did not always live by these virtues, but he felt that if one attempted to, that is what mattered.

Benjamin Franklin suffered from poor health most of his life due to heart ailments and obesity. He succumbed from these issues, amongst others on the 17th of April 1790.

John Jay

Portrait of founding father John Jay sitting and holding a book.
Painting of John Jay sitting on a chair. Painted in 1794 by Gilbert Stuart.

John Jay is one of the lesser-known Founding Fathers. In 1783, John Jay, along with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Henry Laurens, was selected by Congress to negotiate peace with Great Britain. The meeting was a success; they were able to establish the Treaty of Paris which helped establish the independence of the colonies.

After returning home in 1784, Jay learned that in his absence, he had been elected as Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the government. To his dismay, he did not like the new post as he felt the new government of America had a weak structure and did not establish the Articles of Confederation well enough; he joined forces with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to secure ratification and solidify the Articles.

In 1794, George Washington sent Jay to negotiate a new treaty with Great Britain for American grievances. Even though the Treaty of Paris had been signed and negotiated, the British still interfered with American shipping amongst other things. John Jay successfully created a treaty to address the issues, but the treaty had minimal effect. They could not settle their differences with the British until the Treaty of Ghent in 1812.

When Jay returned from London in 1795, he learned that he had been elected as Governor of New York. During this time he advocated for judicial reform, penal reform, and the abolition of slavery amongst other important issues. He retired from public service in 1801 and passed away on the 17th of May 1829 aged 83.

James Madison

Painting of founding father James Madison
Painting of President and Founding Father James Madison in c. 1821 by Gilbert Stuart.

Following the American Revolution, James Madison played a big part in the formation of the Constitution. He was a representative for Virginia at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. At the convention, he proposed new ideas to strengthen the government including a two-house legislature.

Madison, along with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, created the Federalist Papers. These papers advocated for the new Constitution and convinced individual states to accept the new government.

In 1789, Virginia elected Madison to the US House of Representatives. During his first term, Madison wrote the first version of the Bill of Rights. Even though he wrote 29 of the Federalist Papers, he began distrusting Federalists because of their ideas to have a more commercial country rather than focusing on agriculture.

James Madison was chosen by Thomas Jefferson in 1801 to serve in the government as Secretary of State. Madison was tasked to try and prevent conflict with England and France. This was hard because both countries regularly kidnapped American sailors and stole American cargo. Madison knew that America’s military was weaker than Britain and France’s so instead enacted the Embargo Act of 1807; this stopped the trade from the US and other countries of the world.

He became President in March 1809. The War of 1812 took place during his presidency. The war against Great Britain ended in a military stalemate and was financially damaging. In 1814, the two countries called a truce and the war ended in February 1815. Madison was the last of the founding fathers to become President of the United States

Andrew Jackson leading his men during the war of 1812 at the battle of New orleans
A painting showing the Battle of New Orleans which took place during the War of 1812. Future President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, is depicted in this painting.

After his presidency ended in 1817, James Madison retired and lived a quiet life in Virginia on he died on the 28th of June 1836.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson painting by Charles Wilson Peale.
Portrait of President and Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. Painted by Charles Wilson Peale in the 1790s.

After the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson returned to Virginia in September of 1776. From 1779 – 1781 he served as Governor of Virginia. He was elected to Congress in 1783 and became Minister to France in 1785.

After the confirmation of the Constitution, he served as the first Secretary of State in George Washington’s cabinet from 1790 until 1793. Thomas Jefferson ran for President himself in 1796, but lost to John Adams but served as his Vice President from 1797 – 1801.

In March 1801, Thomas Jefferson became President of the United States. He served two terms as president and during this time the purchase of the Louisiana territory of France occurred in 1803. After the purchase, the United States doubled in size.

Following the end of his presidency in 1809, he had a strong interest in education; he founded and formed the University of Virginia in 1819. He planned the curriculum and designed the architecture of the university. Unlike other universities that were centered around the church, Jefferson decided the University of Virginia was to be centered around the library and books.

Statue of founding father Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia
A Statue of Founding Father and President, Thomas Jefferson, at the University of Virginia which he founded in 1819.

Jefferson’s health began to decline in 1825 and by mid-1826 he was ordered for bed rest. Like John Adams, he passed away on the 50th Independence Day on the 4th of July 1826.

The Founding Fathers’ legacies have been recognized tremendously ever since their creation of the country. So much so that many landmarks, statues, books, schools, and more are named after them in honor.

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