It's the Fourth of July, and that means we look back at the people who started our country with reverence. This is our day to commemorate them. Says the British historian Paul Johnson, "Unfortunately for Britain--and fortunately for America--the generation that emerged to lead the colonies into independence was one of the most remarkable men in history--sensible, broad-minded, courageous, usually well-educated, gifted in a variety of ways, mature, and long-sighted, sometimes lit by flashes of genius.
"It is rare indeed for a nation to have at its summit a group so variously gifted as Washington and Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Adams. And what was particularly providential was the way in which their strengths and weaknesses compensated each other, so that the group as a whole was infinitely more formidable than the sum of its parts ... Moreover, behind this front rank was a second, and indeed a third, of solid, sensible, able men capable of rising to a great occasion."
If there were a Founding Fathers Hall of Fame, Johnson's six nominees would be the unquestioned introductory class. Four of them were Presidents and the other two were so important that they appear on our money today. Several others have strong cases, and would certainly join the HOF in the second and third classes. There would be more than a few, like say James Monroe, Ethan Allen, and John Hancock, whose cases would be doubtful and who would be the source of countless arguments.
I personally would set the size of the HOF at about fifty, and would award Honorable Mentions to key contributors who weren't at high levels of power, such as Paul Revere and Joseph Warren.
But how do we rank the top six? Both peak value and career value must be considered. My personal vote might be controversial.
1. Washington. They made him the leader not once but twice.
2. Franklin. Would still be famous even if the Revolution hadn't happened.
3. Jefferson. Key thinker, ups and downs as President.
4. Hamilton. Washington's ADC and then prime minister. The other key thinker. Career cut short.
5. Adams. Went everywhere, did everything, underrated President, lived forever.
6. Madison. Not important during war. Very important Constitutionally. Mediocre President.
1. Hamilton. Established US government as we know it during Washington's administration.
2. Jefferson. Wrote Declaration of Independence. Downhill from there. Nowhere else to go.
3. Washington. Was always there in the clutch.
4. Madison. His work before and during the Convention was superb.
5. Adams. His diplomatic work during the war was invaluable.
6. Franklin. Was the elder statesman. PR man in Paris for Adams.
Nominees for further balloting: John Marshall, Robert Morris, John Jay, George Mason, Gouverneur Morris, Roger Sherman, Samuel Adams, Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, Thomas Paine, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, John Dickinson, Charles Pinckney, Abigail Adams, Andrew Jackson, Edmund Burke.
Black Sox: Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr.
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