Founding Fathers Facts

History Uncovered Episode 5:
Little-Known Facts About The Founding Fathers

Published October 3, 2023

George Washington wore the teeth of his slaves, John Adams made it illegal to criticize the president, and John Hancock supported the revolution because it benefitted his smuggling operation. These are the dark truths about America's revered Founding Fathers.

The Founding Fathers are mythologized today, but they were, of course, just men. Figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson accomplished great things, however, there is certainly a dark side to their legacies.

These men were involved in the unification of the 13 colonies, the fight for independence, and the formation of the American government as we know it. Some drafted the Constitution of the United States, some helped create the Declaration of Independence, and many had a hand in both.

You’ve likely heard legends of the Founding Fathers because they were unprecedented in our nation’s history. They sculpted the country out of turmoil, but they were still human, and they existed in a time when both slavery and pistol dueling for bragging rights were acceptable behaviors.

For instance, Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Virginia, Monticello, had over 100 enslaved laborers at any given time. Jefferson even put children to work and withheld food rations if they didn’t meet his standards. Though he claimed that all men were created free and equal, he certainly didn’t live that way.

Thomas Jefferson

Wikimedia CommonsWhen he signed the Declaration of Independence and wrote “all men are created equal,” Thomas Jefferson owned 175 slaves.

Then there was John Adams, who instituted the draconian and despised Alien and Sedition Acts. Congressman Matthew Lyon noted that the president was “swallowed up in a continual grasp for power, in an unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.”

Adams then accused Lyon of being a “malicious and seditious person and of a depraved mind and a wicked and diabolical disposition” and used his new acts to prosecute him. Lyon was fined $1,000, convicted of sedition, and sentenced to four months in prison for his criticism of the president.

Another famous Founding Father was Patrick Henry, who famously exclaimed, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” All the while, he had his mentally ill wife locked up in the cellar. Sarah Henry started struggling with her mental health in 1771 after giving birth to their last child. She began acting out violently, and Patrick Henry restrained her in a strait-dress and ordered enslaved workers to watch over her at all times.

Other well-known figures, such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, meanwhile, had their own scandals. This deep dive into the dark side of America’s Founding Fathers shows that history isn’t always what it appears on the surface.

Discover more about the dark side of America’s Founding Fathers.

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