American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week) in Florida: George Mason

Sept 29 Mason
It’s American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week!) in Florida. Today, on the last day of Freedom Week, we have one of the most important, but perhaps least remembered, Founders: George Mason.

Why does George Mason matter? After all, he was one of only three delegates to the Convention of 1787 who refused to sign the Constitution. But it is, indeed, that very refusal that tells us why George Mason matters: He is the Father of the Bill of Rights. It was Mason’s vocal objections, and his work on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, that led to the drafting and incorporation of the Bill of Rights into our Constitution.

Even with the promise from the Federalists to include a Bill of Rights, Mason fought hard against ratification of the Constitution; his arguments failed to persuade enough Virginians to vote against ratification however. And his fervent and sometimes angry opposition to the Constitution in some ways destroyed his relationships with those who he fought beside for independence. In a letter to his son, he wrote that

You know the friendship which has long existed (indeed from our early youth) between General Washington and myself. I believe there are few men in whom he placed greater confidence; but it is possible my opposition to the new government, both as a member of the national and of the Virginia Convention, may have altered the case.

Indeed, Washington himself was bitter about Mason’s opposition, and they never reconciled before Mason’s death in 1792. Despite his opposition to the Constitution, however, is to George Mason that most Americans owed their first tastes of liberty under the new government and his Bill of Rights. You can learn more about George Mason from this excellent lesson provided by the Bill of Rights Institute. 

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured at the top of this post: George Mason AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical
George Middleton: An Early Leader for Civil Rights and Equality
Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death
Thomas Jefferson: A Complex Man
Phillis Wheatley: Poet
Judith Sargent Murray: Fighter for Women

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American Founders’ Month in Florida: Judith Sargent Murray

Sept 28 Murray
American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week!) continues in Florida. Today, let’s take a look at one of the earliest advocates for women’s rights in our young nation’s history: Judith Sargent Murray.

Judith Sargent Murray was born in pre-Revolutionary Boston, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant family. It as fortunate for us, as it was for her, that her parents believed in educating their daughters as well as their sons. Unfortunately, this education was limited to reading and writing; Sargent Murray had little opportunity for advanced education. Instead, she took advantage of her father’s vast library and educated herself in history, civics, philosophy, literature, and so much more. This education, so much of it self-taught, she put to work as a writer and thinker and, most importantly, advocate for the rights of women and the equality of the sexes.

For Judith Sargent Murray, the way in which we consider the roles and educations of boys and girls was unjust, stifling, and wrong. In her seminal work, ‘On the Equality of the Sexes‘ (1790), she raises doubts about the argument that men are inherently the intellectual superiors to women:

“Yet it may be questioned, from what doth this superiority, in thus discriminating faculty of the soul proceed. May we not trace its source in the difference of education, and continued advantage?…As their years increase, the sister must be wholly domesticated, while the brother is led by the hand through all the flowery paths of science”

In other words, the only reason men can claim superiority to women is because we do not give women the same education and opportunities as men! This theme would reappear throughout her work over the years, and she never ceased believing that America offered a great opportunity for a reconsideration of the role and education of girls. The new nation, after all, needed women who would raise the next generation to believe in and understand the American spirit and model, a ‘Republican motherhood‘ that required educated, passionate, and (to a degree for its day) liberated women.

Sargent Murray practiced what she preached, educating the children in her house as she believed they deserved and as was right. She also wrote hundreds of essays and letters and articles, many of which were published under pen names in such a way as to hide the fact that she was a woman, for she feared her arguments would be automatically rejected. She was a ‘Founding Mother’ of the pursuit of equal rights, an advocate for the American project, and someone who encouraged the new nation to live up to the ideals it promised. You can learn more about the wonderful Judith Sargent Murray from this excellent lesson.

Grab the PowerPoint featured at the top of this post: Judith Sargent Murray AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical
George Middleton: An Early Leader for Civil Rights and Equality
Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death
Thomas Jefferson: A Complex Man
Phillis Wheatley: Poet

American Founders’ Month and Freedom Week: Phillis Wheatley

Sept 27 Wheatley

American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week) continues in Florida. Today, we look at an early voice of patriotism, liberty and hope: Phillis Wheatley.

Wheatley was born in Africa and enslaved as a young girl, sold to a wealthy Boston merchant family. There, she was educated, in the classics and in history and philosophy, discovering the joy of writing. She became a poet, recognized in London and in Boston for her prose. Indeed, her poetry inspired even other poets to write poems in her honor! She was, eventually, emancipated as a young woman, freed from the confines of slavery. Her writing continued, her prose celebrating the Revolution and its leaders, her Christian faith, her love of life and freedom, and the struggles against slavery. Sadly, Phillis Wheatley died very young, at about the age of 31, and her voice, one of the first and strongest African-American voices in our early history, was silenced. But we still have her poetry, and you can learn more about Phillis Wheatley and her celebrated poetry in this wonderful lesson.

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured at the top of this post: Phillis Wheatley AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical
George Middleton: An Early Leader for Civil Rights and Equality
Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death
Thomas Jefferson: A Complex Man

American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week!) in Florida: Thomas Jefferson

Sept 25 Jefferson

American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week) continues in Florida. Today, we look at Thomas Jefferson. Out of all of the Founders’, it may be Thomas Jefferson that most schoolchildren are most familiar with. They know him, of course, as the author of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration, of course, is considered on of the clearest rebukes of tyranny ever written, and it remains to this day a symbol of the pursuit of liberty the world over.

Like many of his peers, however, Jefferson was a man of massive contradictions. An advocate for liberty who owned a great many slaves, a slaveowner who recognized the evils of slavery (‘the rock upon which the Union would split’) but never freed his own slaves (unlike his colleague and friend George Washington, who freed his own upon his death), an opponent of an activist and strong central government who nevertheless used his power to purchase vast swathes of land from the French (despite his doubts about whether the Constitution gave him that power), and a believer in the importance of civility and comity in politics and life who was involved in one of the most brutal presidential campaigns in American history.

Thomas Jefferson was indeed many things, some good, some bad, but all important to the legacy of freedom and the Founders of this country. As one of his successors as president, John F. Kennedy, once said while hosting a dinner for Nobel Prize winners,

I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.

Log in and learn more about Thomas Jefferson from this excellent lesson provided by our friends at iCivics! 

You can grab the PowerPoint featured at the top of this post here: Thomas Jefferson AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical
George Middleton: An Early Leader for Civil Rights and Equality
Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death

American Founders’ Month in Florida: Patrick Henry

Sept 23 or 24 Henry

American Founders’ Month continues in Florida, and it coincides with Freedom Week. There may be no quote more famous in our nation’s history than Patrick Henry’s “…give me liberty or give me death!” It is perhaps an appropriate way to start off our celebration of Freedom Week as we wrap up American Founders’ Month.

Patrick Henry, like many of his peers, was a man of many talents, beliefs, and contradictions. He was a brilliant orator, fiery and powerful, but few of his speeches survived him, as he rarely wrote anything down. Unlike his contemporaries, he did not write many letters, so we have few primary sources to consider him with. A passionate advocate for liberty, he was, like many of his elite contemporaries from the South, a slave holder. Like many of them (though not all!) he recognized the evils of slavery without necessarily choosing a path towards his own complicity. A believer in strong bonds across the states, he was embittered by what he saw as New England’s reluctance to contribute fairly to the national project under the Articles of Confederation.

His passion for liberty led Henry initiallt to the Anti-Federalist camp; he did not trust those working in Philadelphia at the constitutional convention, and he did not trust the new Constitution.

 This Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, Sir, they appear to me horribly frightful: Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting; it squints towards monarchy: And does not this raise indignation in the breast of every American? Your President may easily become King: Your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may continue forever unchangeably this Government, although horridly defective: Where are your checks in this Government? Your strong holds will be in the hands of your enemies: It is on a supposition that our American Governors shall be honest, that all the good qualities of this Government are founded: But its defective, and imperfect construction, puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs, should they be bad men

Ultimately, however, he sided with the Federalists, in part because of rivalry with his fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson. He is, without a doubt, a good person to begin this Freedom Week with. You can learn more about Patrick Henry’s famous ‘give me liberty’ speech with this close reading plan here!

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured in this post: Patrick Henry AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical
George Middleton: An Early Leader for Civil Rights and Equality

American Founders’ Month in Florida: George Middleton

Sept 22 Middleton
American Founders’ Month in Florida continues! Today, we will meet George Middleton. Colonel Middleton was one of the leaders of the African-American community in Revolutionary-era Boston, and helped established a predominately African-American militia during the war. This militia, known as ‘The Protectors’, helped defend property and people in Massachusetts throughout the war.

Colonel Middleton was also a strong advocate for the rights of African-Americans in the new United States. Whether fighting against slavery and for civil and political rights or equal opportunities for education for African-American children, Middleton is a role a model for citizens in the nation, then and now.

“Freedom is desirable, if not, would men sacrifice their time, their property and finally their lives in the pursuit of this?”

Middleton’s words ring true today. As we enter Freedom Week, it is important that we remember and recognize all of those that have lived those words throughout our history.

You can learn more about George Middleton from the National Park Service and see his home if you visit the Black Heritage Trail in Boston!

Grab the PowerPoint slide at the top of this post here: George Middleton AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical

American Founders’ Month in Florida: Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton AMF

It’s American Founders’ Month in Florida, and today we look at Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, one of the youngest of those men and women so significant in the early life of the United States, has certainly experienced something of a renaissance lately. This is due in no small part to the wonderful work of Lin Manuel Miranda and his musical interpretation of Hamilton’s life and career. But did you know that this great musical is actually based on a fantastic historical book about this immigrant and leader? It draws from the work of historian Ron Chernow, and has inspired many Americans, young and old, to consider anew the life and beliefs of this sometimes controversial Founding Father.

Alexander Hamilton was many things. An intellectual, a Federalist, an immigrant, the father, and even savior, of the American economy, Treasury Secretary, an advocate for an aggressively strong federal government, an effective national bank, and ultimately a man who had as many enemies as he did friends. You can learn more about Hamilton from the New York Historical Society.

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured in this post: Alexander Hamilton AMF

Check out Lin Manuel Miranda performing one of the best songs from his impactful musical.

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty

American Founders’ Month in Florida: Mercy Otis Warren

Sept 19 Warren

American Founders’ Month continues here in Florida. Today, we take a look at one of the most influential of those women who played a role in the establishment and early days of the United States: Mercy Otis Warren.

Mercy Otis Warren was one of the most well-read and literate residents of Massachusetts in her day, man or woman. A playwright and a historian, an eloquent essayist and inveterate letter writer, she was one of the loudest voices speaking out against the failures and perceived tyranny of British government in Massachusetts and the other colonies.

A long time friend to both Abigail and John Adams, she broke with her dear friend over the creation of the U.S. Constitution, which she opposed as a violation of the ideals she and Adams were strong advocates for during the Revolution. Indeed, she was one of those Anti-Federalists who wrote in response to the Federalist Papers; using the nom de plume ‘A Columbian Patriot’, she wrote powerfully on perceived flaws in the new Constitution, and as herself to her dear friend John Adams on how he had so betrayed what they fought for. Sadly, her relationship with the Adams family never truly recovered.

You can learn more about this fascinating woman through the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. 

Grab the Powerpoint slide featured in this post: Mercy Otis Warren AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More

American Founders’ Month in Florida: The Sons of Liberty

Sept 14 Sons of Liberty

American Founders’ Month in Florida continues today with a look at the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty were a sometimes controversial secret society devoted to combating what it perceived as British oppression by any means necessary.

While they may be most famous for organizing boycotts of British goods and dumping tea into Boston Harbor, they also took sometimes-violent action against people seen as serving British interests. We all recall, for example, those images from the era that illustrate Sons of Liberty tarring and feathering British tax collectors.

Philip_Dawe_(attributed),_The_Bostonians_Paying_the_Excise-man,_or_Tarring_and_Feathering_(1774)_-_02

The Bostonian Paying the Excise-Man, 1774 British propaganda print, referring to the tarring and feathering, of Boston Commissioner of Customs John Malcolm four weeks after the Boston Tea Party. The men also poured hot tea down Malcolm’s throat

The Sons of Liberty were sometimes extreme in their pursuit of liberty; was that extremism always justified? How can we really say, from our own vantage point today? What a fascinating discussion we can have! You can learn more about the fascinating Sons of Liberty and its role in the Boston Tea Party from the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured in this post: Sons of Liberty AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution

American Founders’ Month in Florida: James Madison

Sept 15 or 16 Madison

Sunday is Constitution Day, so it is perhaps a good time now to share the Founder perhaps most associated with the Constitution: James Madison. Madison is sometimes referred to as the father of the Bill of Rights, and was an influential voice in the effort to replace the Articles of Confederation with a working national government under a federal system. He, like many of the Founders’, was a man of contradictions: a believer in liberty while owning slaves, an opponent of the debt and taxes necessary for waging war and yet leading (with some good cause) the United States into an ill-advised war with the British in 1812, and so much more. He was a complex man, this Father of the Constitution. One wonders what he would make of his handiwork today.

You can learn more about James Madison from the National Endowment for the Humanities!

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured in this post: James Madison AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty