Brackets are fun. There is no denying that. They’re especially fun when it’s about subjective items. Tonight, my mind wandered while I was putting the kids to bed to a topic I’ve been internally debating for years. Who were the Founding Fathers?
Of course, certain ones are obvious. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay are universally considered the main guys. Then there’s James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, John Hancock, Robert Morris and Patrick Henry. But what defines a founding father? Does it have to be someone who signed one of the founding documents? I’d argue that’s too rigid. Thomas Paine and John Marshall were very influential on the birth of the country but neither of them signed a founding document. They have to be included.
So as my sports- and history- addled brain looked at the question again, I pondered what would a Final Four-like bracket of the founders look like.
Two of the kids were off in wonderland when I got to this point. I guess you could argue I was, too. The oldest and I talked a bit about the Declaration. He’s pretty obsessed with “Hamilton.” I showed him the clip from “John Adams” with the announcement of the Declaration of Independence.
When I pointed out John Adams, he got excited. I’m not sure, but I think his 5-year-old mind thinks it’s the actual John Adams (He understands the people in Hamilton are actors.)
Anyway, as we watched the clip, I thought about the bracket and how I would break it down.
The Top Seeds
This is the easiest part. George Washington is clearly the No. 1 seed. First of all, he led the military campaign. Second of all, he was one of the driving forces behind having a Constitutional Convention. Third of all, he was the first president. Fourth of all, he walked away from power.
The second seed was also easy. Ben Franklin. He was the most famous American at the time of the Revolutionary War, thanks to his scientific and literary capabilities. He was also an important player at the Revolutionary Convention.
The next two seeds were tough. I knew who they were, but I wasn’t sure where they’d fall. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration and was a two-term president who doubled the size of the country. But without John Adams we probably don’t break away from Great Britain. So I’d put Jefferson fourth and Adams third.
I thought about putting all the military people in this bracket. Then finding three other topics to separate the other founders into. You’d have Washington (1), Hamilton (6), Marshall (8), Dickinson (20), Knox (21), Greene (25), Lafayette (26) and Von Steuben (29). I couldn’t find three other topics that worked so I did the overall bracket and broke them down. That’s where the numbers in parentheses come in. To me, this one might be the Most Underrated bracket. People don’t realize how important Marshall and Monroe were. Ellsworth is basically forgotten despite leaving a big impact. Wilson was vital in writing the constitution.
1. George Washington (1) vs. 8. Oliver Ellsworth (32)
4. James Monroe (16) vs. 5. James Wilson (17)
3. Robert Morris (9) vs. 6. Robert Livingston (24)
2. John Marshall (8) vs. 7. Nathaniel Greene (25)
You’ve got the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Father of the Constitution in one field. That’s quite a top two. The rest of the group is kind of made up of the cast-offs of the revolutionary era. Morris was a ladies man who, according to some, lost his leg trying to get away from an affair. That’s probably apocryphal, though. Meanwhile, historians have never been able to decide how influential Sam Adams was. Dickinson refused to sign the Declaration. Richard Henry Lee has kind of unjustly been portrayed as comic relief in popular culture. That leaves us Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben, who can no doubt whip these miscreants into shape.
1. Thomas Jefferson (4) vs. 8. Baron Von Steuben (29)
4. Gouverneur Morris (13) vs. 5. John Dickinson (20)
3. Samuel Adams (12) vs. 6. Henry Knox (21)
2. James Madison (5) vs. 7. Richard Henry Lee (28)
It’s possible this is the smartest group, thanks to Adams, Hamilton, Rush and Mason. It’s also possibly, thanks to Adams and Hamilton alone, the brashest group. With Adams and Sherman, it’s the only bracket with two members of the Committee of Five.
1. John Adams (3) vs. 8. Elbridge Gerry (30)
4. Benjamin Rush (14) vs. 5. George Mason (19)
3. James Monroe (11) vs. 6. Roger Sherman (22)
2. Alexander Hamilton (6) vs. 7. Edmund Randolph (27)
Abigail Adams is the only woman in the entire field. I came close to adding Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton and Dolly Madison. Both were integral in memorializing the founding. This is probably the most abolitionist bracket, with Adams, Franklin and Wythe all being ardently opposed to slavery at the time of the revolution. Jay would also eventually be a part of the abolitionist movement. Thomas Paine never owned slaves. Marquis de Lafayette tried to convince Washington to join him in an experiment to free his slaves.
1. Benjamin Franklin (2) vs. 8. Thomas McKean (31)
4. John Hancock (15) vs. 5. Abigail Adams (18)
3. Thomas Paine (10) vs. 6. George Wythe (23)
2. John Jay (7) vs. 7. Marquis de Lafayette (26)
I’m sure I missed an important Founding Father who could fit in the 20-32 range, but I’m confident I have a solid list here. Some were definitely tough exclusions, including George Clymer, Dolly Madison, Elizabeth Schuyler, George Read, John Paul Jones and Mercy Otis Warren.