John Adams (1735-1826)

  • John Adams, one of a handful of the most important men of the Founding era, was an American patriot and statesman. Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College in 1755, after which he considered entering the ministry, but decided instead to study law. In 1764, he married Abigail Smith, daughter of a Weymouth, Massachusetts minister. A protest Adams wrote against the Stamp Act first brought him prominence in American public life. He was elected to the first Continental Congress in 1774, and was one of the first American leaders to advocate independence from Great Britain. He was instrumental in the appointment of George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in 1775. Adams was the main author of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, whose Declaration of Rights began with these words: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights." He participated in the negotiations that ended the Revolutionary War. Adams served under Washington as the new nation's first vice-president and became the second president after Washington's retirement in 1797. Adams was defeated for reelection in 1800 by Thomas Jefferson. He lived long enough after his retirement from public life to see his son, John Quincy Adams, elected president in 1824. Adams died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and mere hours after Jefferson. His many writings include Thoughts on Government (1776), Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States (1787), and Discourses on Davila.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

  • Samuel Adams was one of the Revolutionary era's foremost patriots. Born in Boston and educated at Harvard College, Adams began his career in his father's brewing business. He is probably best known for the patriotism and leadership he displayed during the period leading up to the War for Independence. In his many newspaper articles and documents drafted for official political bodies in Massachusetts and the Continental Congress, Adams was one of the most articulate expositors of the political theory of natural rights that became the basis of the American Revolution. He helped organize the Sons of Liberty, private patriotic organizations whose purpose was to oppose, sometimes through direct action, acts of the British government that they viewed as unconstitutional and oppressive. He organized and led opposition to the Sugar, Stamp and Townshend Acts, and it is likely that he cooperated with John Hancock in organizing the Boston Tea Party. He was a member of both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Continental Congress, and also served as governor of Massachusetts.

Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805)

  • Charles Cornwallis was a general in the British army during the War for Independence, and the officer who made Britain's formal surrender to General Washington. Born in London and educated at Eton and Clare College, Cambridge, Cornwallis entered the army in 1756, served in Germany and eventually became a major general. Although he supported the Whig opposition to taxation of the American colonies, in 1776 he was sent to America to command forces in North Carolina and with reinforcements for Sir William Howe. He participated in the battle of Long Island, the capture of New York, and the occupation of Philadelphia. He returned to England, but was soon sent back to America as second in command to Sir Henry Clinton. He was then charged with conducting operations in South Carolina. Despite victories over General Horatio Gates and General Nathaniel Green, Cornwallis was forced to surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781. After the defeat of the British, Cornwallis returned to England. In 1786, he was appointed governor general and commander in chief in India. He lived to distinguish himself as both a soldier and a statesman in the service of his country and died in 1805.

John Dickinson (1732-1808)

  • John Dickinson won distinction in 1767-68 chiefly by a series of twelve letters written in response to several acts of the British Ministry and Parliament that he argued violated the rights of American colonists. These "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies" were immediately published in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Williamsburg, London, and Paris. Not until Thomas Paine's Common Sense appeared in 1776 was any product of an American pen so acclaimed--on both sides of the Atlantic--as the "Farmer's Letters." Dickinson was a representative of Pennsylvania at the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, and was chief author of the "Declarations of Rights and Grievances" and the petition to King George III approved by that Congress. He was a member of the First Continental Congress and had a hand in drafting the official proclamations of that assembly, including the "Declarations and Resolves," whose list of grievances would be echoed in the Declaration of Independence. In the Second Continental Congress, Dickinson authored the famous "olive branch petition" to the king and, with Thomas Jefferson, the "Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms." Dickinson wrote the original draft of the Articles of Confederation, submitted to Congress on July 12, 1776. Though he supported its principles, Dickinson opposed issuing the Declaration of Independence on prudential grounds.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

  • Benjamin Franklin was a man of many talents and varied accomplishments. He was born in Boston, and though he received little formal education, he became one of the most learned men of his day. As a boy, he learned the trade of candle-making by working in his father's shop. He then worked with his brother and learned the printing trade. He moved to Philadelphia in 1723, where he would eventually grow famous and wealthy. Among Franklin's various occupations were publisher, a scientist, inventor, statesman, and diplomat. He founded Philadelphia's first circulating library, served in the Pennsylvania Assembly, and was appointed as Deputy Postmaster of North America for the colonies. He also represented Pennsylvania in the Second Continental Congress. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence, and was a member of the delegation from the United States to Paris, to negotiate an end to the war with Great Britain. Franklin also served as a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention.

King George III (1738-1820)

  • George III (George William Frederick) was king of Great Britain and Ireland (together the United Kingdom) during the crucial years in the struggle for American independence from Britain. George III came to the throne in 1760. Grandson of George II (ruled 1727-1760) and great-grandson of George I (ruled 1714-1727), he was the third Hanoverian monarch of England and the first of this line of British rulers born in England. (The Hanoverian line is so named because George I, the first Hanoverian monarch, was Elector of Hanover, a small principality in western Germany. George I became King of England upon the death of Queen Anne, his cousin and daughter of James II.) George III ascended the throne as a young man, at a time when the powers of the monarch were in decline. During the reign of the first two Georges, the ministers had acquired more power than the king. The Whig party had long been the dominant political party, and comprised various factions contending with one another for control of the government. George III, on the other hand, was a man of strong will, determined to restore the monarchy to its former strength and prestige. He was able to do this by playing the various Whig factions off against each other. King George's support for the British actions that resulted in the American Revolutionary War made him quite popular with the English people. Despite the defeat of Great Britain in that war, George III generally remained popular and kept most the power he had reacquired for the monarchy. King George ended his days suffering from what was thought at the time to be insanity. Modern research into medical records of the time indicate that he was not insane, but suffered from porphyria, a rare metabolic disease.

Nathan Hale (1755-1776)

  • Nathan Hale was a staunchly patriotic American soldier who was executed by the British as a spy during the War for Independence. Hale was born in Connecticut and educated at Yale. He began his career as a school teacher, but soon became famous after a speech he gave following the Battle of Lexington. He was appointed a lieutenant in the Connecticut militia by the General Assembly of Connecticut on July 1, 1775. He participated in the siege of Boston and was chosen by Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton as a captain of Knowlton Rangers (a band of men who were to defend New York's borders in the event of an attack from General Howe). Hale volunteered to spy on the British after they had occupied Long Island and Staten Island, and to report his discoveries to George Washington. He was eventually found out by the British and taken before General William Howe, commander of the British troops in New York, in September 1776. Hale admitted being an American spy, and was hanged without court martial on September 22. Before he was hanged, Hale is reported to have said, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804)

  • Alexander Hamilton was an American military officer, writer and statesman. Contrary to common opinion, Hamilton was a full supporter of what he called in 1788 "the inalienable rights of man," which he showed in his lifelong opposition to slavery. Born in the British West Indies in 1755, at age 15 Hamilton attended school in New Jersey and later enrolled at King's College (now Columbia University) in New York. He fought in the Revolutionary War as a Captain, where he came to the attention of George Washington. In 1777 Washington made Hamilton, though only 22, a Lieutenant Colonel and one of his personal advisors. After marrying Elizabeth Schuyler, Hamilton became a lawyer and a delegate to the Continental Congress. Together with James Madison, he organized the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Hamilton was one the most vigorous advocates of a strong federal government and independent executive. After the convention he joined with Madison and John Jay to write a series of New York newspaper essays defending the work of the Convention and arguing for ratification of the proposed Constitution. These essays became The Federalist Papers, the greatest commentary on the Constitution ever written. When George Washington was elected president in 1789, he appointed Hamilton to be Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton established the first Bank of the United States, rebuilt the country's economic strength, and restored its credit, which had been badly damaged in the Revolutionary War. While in Washington's cabinet, Hamilton became one the major figures in the new Federalist Party and helped draft the famous Farewell Address that Washington delivered to the nation upon leaving office in 1797. Hamilton continued to be an important figure in American politics after he left office. In 1800 he helped to ensure the election of Thomas Jefferson. Although Hamilton disagreed with Jefferson on many issues, he thought that Jefferson's opponent, Aaron Burr, would destroy the country if elected to the presidency. In 1804, Burr killed Hamilton in a duel.

John Hancock (1737-1793)

  • John Hancock was president of the Second Continental Congress, the body that produced the Declaration of Independence. A Boston merchant and shipper, he led the fight in Massachusetts against the tax laws and policies Great Britain imposed on the colonists. He was the sole signer of the Dunlap-Broadside version of the Declaration, and was first to sign the final version. His signature is the largest on that document, allegedly so that King George would have no difficulty reading it. Hancock was the first to be elected governor (as opposed to being appointed by the King) of Massachusetts, and was reelected several times to that office. He was also reelected president of Congress again after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. He presided over the Massachusetts convention that ratified the United States Constitution.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

  • Patrick Henry was an American statesman and orator whose famous line "Give me liberty or give me death" has become a part of the American heritage. This statement is perhaps the most memorable expression of the Founders' conviction that the rights of mankind are not grounded in selfish passions or mere interest, because if they were, it would be better to sacrifice liberty for the sake of mere survival. Henry was born in Virginia and received little formal education. He tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at various kinds of work until his marriage to Sarah Shelton in 1756. He then began to study law and eventually became one of the best criminal lawyers of the period. Henry gained a reputation for oratorical brilliance following his defense of the natural rights of Americans against George III's attempt meddle with Virginia's tax laws. After passage of the Stamp Act, Henry became even more famous for a speech he gave in Virginia's House of Burgesses in which he compared King George to Brutus, one of the men who assassinated Julius Caesar. Henry was a delegate from Virginia to the first Continental Congress, and at the Virginia Convention of 1775, he successfully sponsored measures for armed resistance to the British. Henry also served in the Second Continental Congress and as governor of Virginia after independence was won. A strong Anti-Federalist, Henry opposed the new Constitution because he feared that it insufficiently provided for the protection of the rights of the states and individual citizens. Henry was especially concerned that the federal government would interfere in the institution of slavery, which he thought Virginia alone should control. Still, he lamented that he felt obliged to defend slavery (as a necessary evil, not a positive good), "at a time when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision in a country above all others fond of liberty." Henry was influential in the adoption of the Bill of Rights, which set limits to the authority of the national government. He was offered several posts under the administrations of Washington and Adams, but declined for reasons of poor health and family considerations. He did, however, serve one more term in the Virginia legislature, but died soon after winning election.

John Jay (1745-1829)

  • John Jay is perhaps best known for his contribution to The Federalist Papers. A native of New York City, he grew up to become a jurist, statesman and diplomat. Like so many of the other Founders, Jay studied and practiced law. When the struggle with England began to intensify, Jay represented New York at the First Continental Congress, and for part of the Second. He led a committee that drew up the constitution for the state of New York. He also served on the New York Supreme Court. In 1779, Congress appointed Jay to negotiate a treaty with Spain. He also assisted John Adams and Benjamin Franklin in negotiating the Treaty of Versailles with Great Britain. Jay was influential in getting New York to ratify the Constitution, contributed several numbers to The Federalist. He was an active opponent of slavery. He was appointed the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and completed his political career as governor of New York. Jay was a devout Protestant who was a no less devout supporter of what he called in Federalist No. 2 the "natural rights" of the people.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

  • Jefferson was one of the most talented and versatile men in a time abounding with talented and versatile men. His accomplishments were wide ranging: farmer, lawyer, writer, political philosopher and scholar, inventor of innumerable machines and gadgets, architect, diplomat, and one of America's greatest statesmen. A man of leisure and honor who devoted his life to politics and philosophy, Jefferson was a living example of an Aristotelian gentleman. He was born in Virginia. After graduating from William and Mary College, he practiced law. He wrote the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress. He served as governor of Virginia for part of the War for Independence. Afterward, he was America's Ambassador to France, and served as Secretary of State, Vice President (under John Adams), and finally as the third President of the United States. He was the founder of the Republican-Democratic party and as president negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with France, which increased the size of the United States by 140%. Later in his life he founded the University of Virginia and designed many of its buildings. He died fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826.

John Paul Jones (1747-1792)

  • John Paul Jones was an American naval officer who distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War. Born in Scotland with the family name of Paul, Jones went to sea as a cabin boy at the age of 12. He got into some trouble with the British naval authorities and went to Virginia, where he assumed the name John Paul Jones. He was commissioned a naval officer by the Continental Congress in 1775 and very quickly proved to be a superior leader and was given command of an American naval vessel. Jones was quite successful in his many encounters with British warships, and he also captured many merchant vessels as prizes. Upon the conclusion of the War for Independence, Jones returned to Europe, served for a time in the Russian navy, and died relatively unknown.

Henry Knox (1750-1806)

  • Henry Knox was one of America's most successful Revolutionary War generals and a trusted advisor to General Washington. Born in Boston, he served as a young man he served in the Boston militia and was the proprietor of a bookstore. He enlisted in the Continental Army and fought at Bunker Hill and in the Battle of Trenton. Because of his outstanding service at Trenton, Washington appointed Knox chief of artillery. He saw action in most of the principal battles of the war, and was promoted to the rank of major general after the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown. After the war, Knox led in the founding of the Order of Cincinnati, a society of officers who had served under Washington. (Washington was nicknamed "Cincinnatus," after the ancient Roman hero of the same name. The original Cincinnatus was, like Washington, a farmer who left his farm and led the army of the Roman Republic against its enemies. After the war, Cincinnatus, again like Washington, retired from public life and returned to his farm.): Knox was the first Secretary of War under the new Constitution.

Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794)

  • Richard Henry Lee was an American patriot and prominent opponent of the Constitution of 1787. Born in Virginia to a family of early settlers of that colony and educated in England, Lee was among the first to advocate independence for the colonies. He composed the Lee Resolution that led eventually to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Lee came to oppose the unconditional ratification of the US Constitution, and emerged as one of the more prominent Anti-Federalists. As Senator from Virginia, he proposed the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which sets limits to the jurisdiction of the national government.

Robert R. Livingston (1746-1813)

  • R. R. Livingston is remembered principally for his role as a member of the Committee of Five appointed by the Continental Congress to draft a declaration of independence. He was appointed to represent those in Congress who did not support independence. His task was to make sure that the document did not contain any language that would offend those members of Congress who were for postponing the declaration of independence. Although he and three others of his family who served in Congress were opposed to independence at the time of the Declaration, his cousin Philip signed for the family when it was finally adopted. Livingston also served as Ambassador to France at the time of the Louisiana Purchase (1803), which he helped negotiate.

James Madison (1751-1836)

  • James Madison is sometimes referred to as "the Father of the Constitution" for his crucial role in drafting of that document. He was born in Virginia and his educated at Princeton. He was instrumental in organizing the Convention of 1787, and was perhaps its most effective leader. He was also a co-author of The Federalist Papers, and led the effort to convince Virginians to ratify the new Constitution. He was also one of the most important advocates of the Bill of Rights. Madison helped Thomas Jefferson form and give direction to the Republican Party (as it was called then--it eventually became what we now call the Democratic Party). He served Virginia in the House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797, and was President Jefferson's Secretary of State. In 1808, he was elected fourth President of the United States. Along with the writings of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams, his are among the most thoughtful accounts of the political theory of the Revolution and Constitution.

George Mason (1725-1792)

  • George Mason was a prominent Virginia farmer, politician, and intellectual. In 1749 he served as a justice of the Fairfax County Court, and in 1775-76 as a representative to the Virginia Convention, the temporary government of the state of Virginia. Mason is perhaps best known for authoring the Virginia Declaration of Rights?a document expounding the idea that men are by nature free and have inherent rights?which preceded the Declaration of Independence by a couple of months. Mason was an active delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. By the end of the convention, however, he was adamantly opposed to the final Constitution approved by the other delegates. He thought the work of the convention had given Congress too much power over the states, and he feared the presidency would give rise to a monarch. Mason became one of the leading "anti-federalists," arguing against the ratification of the Constitution by the states.

Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816)

  • Gouverneur Morris was a dominant figure in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Of French and English descent, Morris was born at Morrisania estate, in Westchester (present Bronx) County, New York, in 1752. His family was wealthy, and active in public life. Gouverneur's older brother, Lewis Morris, signed the Declaration of Independence. Gouverneur served in the Continental Congress. Along with John Jay and Robert Livingston he helped write the first constitution for the state of New York. He then relocated to Philadelphia, and in 1781 he served as principal assistant to Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance for the United States. At the close of the Revolutionary War, Gouverneur wrote the plan for peace with England which Benjamin Franklin took to France. As a delegate of Pennsylvania, Morris spoke more frequently at the Constitutional Convention (173 times) than any other member. During the Convention he was a staunch opponent of slavery. Morris was chosen to draft the final version of the U.S. Constitution. From 1789 until 1799 Morris lived and traveled in Europe. In 1792 he replaced Thomas Jefferson as U.S. Minister to France. Until the end of his life Morris stayed active in public life and business, including serving as chairman of the Erie Canal Commission from 1810-13.

Fredrick (Lord) North (1713-1792)

  • Frederick Lord North was Prime Minister of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. Born the son of an earl, he began his political career as a Member of Parliament in 1754. He argued the "North Briton" case against John Wilkes in the House of Commons in 1763, and was appointed chancellor of the Exchequer in 1767. North was elected Prime Minister of the Tory government in 1770. He supported King George III's policies toward the American colonists. Those policies proved to be a failure, and North was subsequently forced to resign from office in 1782.

James Otis (1726-1783)

  • James Otis was an American patriot, pamphleteer, and soldier. A native of West Barnstable, Massachusetts, his father was a prominent attorney and jurist in that colony. Otis attended Harvard College, and upon graduation studied law as an apprentice to a practicing attorney. He later began his own law practice. Otis vigorously defended the liberties of Americans against attempts by the British to curtail them. He wrote several pamphlets, the most influential of which was "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved" (1764) published by order of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. This pamphlet was one of the first publications endorsed by an official governmental body to argue that America's quarrel with Britain should be understood in light of universal principles discovered by human reason and articulated most impressively by John Locke. Otis argued that Parliament had transgressed the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" in taxing the colonists even though they were not represented in Parliament. He staunchly opposed "writs of assistance" as mere warrants for tyranny. (A writ of assistance is similar to a search warrant, but with far fewer restrictions. They were used by the British to search for merchandise smuggled into the colonies.) Otis was also a delegate from Massachusetts to the Stamp Act Congress, and later served in the Revolutionary War and fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Poor health kept him from contributing to the cause of independence in his later years.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

  • Thomas Paine was the foremost pamphleteer during what was perhaps the greatest era of pamphleteering. Although born in England, Paine was to become one of the fiercest and most compelling critics of what he regarded as British tyranny, and one of the most ardent supporters of the cause of limited government. Paine lived in America from 1774-1787. His most important book was Common Sense--the biggest seller per capita, except for the Bible, in American history--in which Paine called for immediate independence from Britain. He also wrote a series of pieces entitled "The American Crisis," which bolstered the Americans' resolve during some of the worst times of the War for Independence. He opposed slavery, and was the probable author of the Preamble to the law for the gradual abolition of slavery in Pennsylvania. Paine left America for France and put his talents as a writer in the service of the French Revolution, chiefly by writing The Rights of Man. Despite his support for the Revolution, Paine was imprisoned by the French and required the assistance of the United States to regain his freedom. He returned to America but did not retain the fame he had attained there earlier and lived out his remaining years in relative obscurity.

Paul Revere (1735-1805)

  • Paul Revere was an American patriot and craftsman, most famous for his "midnight ride" to warn the American militia in Lexington, Massachusetts of the approach of the British. Revere was Born in Boston and there learned the silversmith's trade and the art of engraving copper plates. He also drew political cartoons. He knew such patriots as John Hancock and Samuel Adams and participated in the Boston Tea Party of 1773, after which he rode horseback to New York to tell the news to the Sons of Liberty, a colonial patriotic society. Aside from his most famous ride, celebrated by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in "Paul Revere's Ride," Revere made several others to warn his fellow colonists about the movements of British troops, and also to carry important news across the colonies, for which the Massachusetts Assembly designated him official courier to the Continental Congress. Revere also served in the Continental Army against the British, as well as designed the first issue of Continental currency, the first official seal of the colonies, and the state seal of Massachusetts. After the war, he urged ratification of the new Constitution. He returned to business in Boston, where he discovered a way to roll copper into flat sheets. His factory eventually made copper plates for Robert Fulton's steamboat boilers.

Daniel Shays (1747-1818)

  • Shays was a veteran of the War for Independence, and is remembered principally for leading an uprising of disgruntled farmers in western Massachusetts in 1786. After Massachusetts adopted its constitution in 1780, merchants won political control of the state. Massachusetts had incurred a large debt, mostly to its merchants, during the war. The state legislature took a number of actions to pay off its debt, including levying taxes on land and refusing to print paper money. The farmers in the western part of the state suffered under this levy, giving up as much as a third of their annual income to pay the taxes. County courts aggressively collected private debts and taxes. This resulted in the imprisonment of debtors and the sale of land and farms to pay off debt. Farmers petitioned the state legislature to let them repay their debts in produce, or to print paper money. These requests were refused. The farmers then united to prevent the courts from sitting and the sheriffs from selling property. Shays led a large group of debtors and broke up a session of the Massachusetts Supreme Court at Springfield. Shays led his men in other actions as well, but the rebellion was finally put down by the spring of 1787. However, in the state elections of that year, the agrarians went the polls in large numbers and elected a new legislature. Immediately upon its first meeting, the legislature passed laws significantly lowering taxes, and enacted other legislation demanded by the farmers. Shays' Rebellion persuaded many of the wealthy to support ratification of the new Constitution of 1787, in the belief that it would provide for a defense against similar insurrections in the future.

Roger Sherman (1721-1793)

  • Roger Sherman was an American revolutionary and statesman. Sherman was born in Massachusetts, but lived most of his life in Connecticut. He studied law, and eventually became part of the growing resistance to British laws and policies. He served in the Continental Congress from 1774-1781. He was a delegate from Connecticut to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Sherman helped work out what came to be known as "The Connecticut Compromise," which resolved the disagreement between the large and small states over the basis for representation in Congress. The Compromise helped establish our bicameral (that is, consisting of two separate houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate) legislature. In the House, the number of representatives for a state is based upon its population. In the Senate, each state has two senators regardless of size. Sherman represented Connecticut in the first House of Representatives under the new Constitution, and then served as one of that state's senators until his death in 1793.

George Washington(1732-1799)

  • George Washington, known as the "Father of His Country," was a farmer, military officer, and first President of the United States. Washington was born in Virginia, where his father Augustine owned several plantations, one of which, Mount Vernon, George eventually inherited upon the death of his brother Lawrence. Washington's formal education was not extensive, but he learned much from his own experience and reading. While in his teens, Washington learned the surveying trade. It was his experience on surveying expeditions that led partly to his serving under General Braddock in an early battle of the French and Indian War. In January 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, the wealthy widow of a Virginia planter. Although the marriage produced no children, Washington took great care of her children by her previous marriage as well as her grandchildren. Washington served in the Virginia House of Burgesses in the years before the War for Independence. He also took great interest in the care of Mount Vernon. Washington served as vestryman in his Episcopal parish. He served as President of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and two terms as first President of the United States under the new Constitution. He declined to serve a third term, and retired to Mount Vernon in 1797. He died there of pneumonia in 1799.

James Wilson (1742-1798)

  • James Wilson was a leader in the War for Independence and a Supreme Court Justice. He was born in Scotland and studied at the Universities of St. Andrews, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. In 1765 he emigrated to America. He studied law in Philadelphia and was admitted to the bar in 1767. In 1774 he published an essay, "Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament," which widely influenced opinion in the colonies. In it, Wilson argued that "all men are, by nature, equal and free, and no one has any authority over another without his consent." For this reason, Parliament had no authority over the colonies. However, Wilson also expressed his opinion that the colonies should declare independence only as a final resort. Wilson served in both the Continental Congress and the Continental Army. He was a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and also helped write the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1789. In that same year, President Washington appointed Wilson an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. While he served on the Court, he wrote his "Lectures on Law," the first comprehensive attempt to articulate the relationship between natural law, natural rights, and the distinctive character of American law in contrast with British and European law.