The Founding Fathers of our country were remarkable men of exceptional talent, clear intent, and in their own words cited their beliefs about God, slavery, and openly struck against the “Divine Right of Kings” philosophy which led to the Declaration of Independence. A “Founding Father” is a person who exerted significant inspiration in leadership and development of America to become an independent, self-governing nation. These individuals would include signers of the Declaration of Independence, fourteen Presidents (from 1774 – 1789), military leaders, fifty-five members at the Constitutional Convention, State Governors, Supreme Court members, ninety members of the First Congress, and numerous individuals that contributed much, but were not in any group, like Patrick Henry and Noah Webster. Approximately 250 individuals were considered “Founding Fathers” responsible for creating this great nation.
In this lesson plan, we will help students discover how historical revisionists have used untruths, broad generalizations, omission, innuendos, fiction as if it were fact, and lack primary source references to distort history to sway public opinion concerning the Founding Fathers of our country. Students will also learn: about the role that more than 5,000 blacks played in the Continental Army during the Revolution; the truths contained in the Declaration of Independence; the Founders who started America’s first anti-slavery society; and an explanation of the Three-Fifths Clause in the Constitution.
• Provide some Founders own words about their views on God and slavery
• Provide the history of Founders who started an anti-slavery society
• Discuss truths in the Declaration of Independence
• Crispus Attucks, a free black man, is the first casualty of the American Revolution
• Provide information of blacks’ influence in the American Revolution https://iusbvision.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/black-heroes-and-founders-of-the-great-american-revolution/
• Explanation of the Three-Fifths clause
• Expose historical revisionism
• Use of guiding questions for discussion
Time: This lesson plan will vary according to the instructor’s time frame.
• Illustrations for discussion
• Founders own words for review
• The strategy of the Three-Fifths clause
• Guiding questions
• Thomas Jefferson’s original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence - https://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.001_0545_0548/?st=gallery
• Declaration of Independence - https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript
In the colonies, the first formal slavery protest was passed by the Mennonite Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1688. By 1774, the Quakers in Pennsylvania set up the first abolitionist society, by 1835, there were 435,000 white abolitionists in the colonies. These colonists opposed slavery on religious and moral grounds. Great Britain, for economic reasons, consistently vetoed all efforts to abolish the practice. By 1711, our Founding Fathers passed colonial legislation to outlaw slavery, but the British Crown overturned their law. Revisionist historians and left-leaning professors fail to note that most of the Founding Fathers abhorred slavery and most did not own slaves. The Founding Fathers did not introduce slavery to the colonies, but the British Kings and Parliaments introduced slavery two centuries before.
There were a few serious efforts to end the institution of slavery before the American Revolution. The Revolution was a turning point in the national attitude, and it was the Founding Fathers that contributed to that change in position. The Founding Fathers were well-bred, well-read and fell into several categories: national political figures, senior statesmen, architects of the federal government, and quiet men that built the consensus needed for compromise. Other revolutionary movements in world history lacked sufficient intellect to guide and control their actions. These men were instruments of Providence and guided the destiny of America.
Examining Revisionist History Examples:
Steven Morris wrote “Founding Fathers Were Not Christians,” in 1996:
George Washington, first president: He seems to have had the characteristic unconcern of the 18th century Deist for the forms and creeds of institutional religion. Although he often referred to Providence as an impersonal force, remote and abstract, he never declared himself to be a Christian according to contemporary reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence. Washington championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion. When John Murray (a Universalist who denied the existence of Hell) was invited to become an army chaplain, the other chaplains petitioned for his dismissal. Instead, Washington gave him the appointment. On his deathbed, Washington uttered no words of a religious nature and did not call for a clergyman to be in attendance. https://ffrf.org/legacy/fttoday/1996/march96/morris.html
Nelly Parke Custis’ letter, adopted daughter, on George Washington’s Christian faith to Jared Sparks, dated February 28, 1833
…General Washington had a pew in Pohick Church, and one in Christ Church at Alexandria. He was very instrumental in establishing Pohick Church, and I believe subscribed [supported and contributed to] largely. His pew was near the pulpit. I have a perfect recollection of being there, before his election to the presidency, with him and my grandmother…
He attended the church at Alexandria when the weather and roads permitted a ride of ten miles [a one-way journey of 2-3 hours by horse or carriage]. In New York and Philadelphia, he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition [sickness]. The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company.
… It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o’clock where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, “that they may be seen of men” [Matthew 6:5]. He communed with his God in secret [Matthew 6:6].
… Is it necessary that any one should certify, “General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity?” As well may we question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country. His mottos were, “Deeds, not Words”; and, “For God and my Country” http://christiananswers.net/q-wall/wal-g011.html
- There are many historians like Steven Morris, W.E. Woodward, John P. Riley, and Robert Ingersoll (to name a few) who ascribe to the belief that the Founding Fathers were not Christian. What purpose would these historians have in promoting this belief?
- Steven Morris wrote his article in March 1996, and Nelly wrote her letter February 28, 1833. Which document do you feel might be more reliable? Why?
- Washington’s own contemporaries did not question his Christianity but were thoroughly convinced of his devout faith – a fact made evident in the first-ever compilation of The Writings of George Washington, published in the 1830’s. Do you feel that revisionists have changed the narrative of American history?
- What can you tell about the illustration of George Washington praying at Valley Forge? Does it fit the narrative of what you know from Nelly Parke Custis’ letter?
In David Barton’s Original Intent, Barton wrote how historian Kenneth C. Davis use of omission to change the meaning of a quote by Patrick Henry, 1775. According to Barton, this is what Davis wrote:
“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?... I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry, 1775
The ellipsis (“…”) indicate a portion of the text was omitted. This is the actual quote with the omitted words in bold text:
"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death?" Patrick Henry, 1775.
- How does the meaning of the quote change by the omission of these words?
- Why would Davis omit the words in this quote?
- What is your opinion of revisionist history? Is revisionist history dangerous to understanding history?
Founding Fathers in Their Own Words on Slavery:
Benjamin Franklin: 1773 letter to Dean Woodward
“…a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many of Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even Virginia Assembly have petitioned the King for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more into that colony. This request, however, will probably not be granted as their former laws of that kind have always been repealed, and as the interest of a few merchants here has more weight with government than that of thousands as a distance.”
John Adams: Primary Source
“Although I have never sought popularity by any animated speeches or inflammatory publications against the slavery of the blacks, my opinion against it has always been known and my practice has been so conformable to my sentiment that I have always employed freemen both as domestics and laborers, and never in my life did I own a slave.”
Charles Carroll: Signer of the Declaration of Independence
…why keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil; let an effectual mode of getting rid of it be pointed out…”
John Jay: President of Continental Congress; Original Chief Justice U.S. Supreme Court
“That men should pray and fight for their own freedom and yet keep others in slavery is certainly acting a very inconsistent as well as unjust and perhaps impious part.”
Richard Henry Lee: President of Continental Congress; Signer of the Declaration
“Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts…by agreeing to this duty.” http://www.azquotes.com/quote/651726
Benjamin Rush: Presbyterian Signer of the Declaration of Independence
“Slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is practical denial of the effect of the death of a common Savior. It is encroaching on the authority of the great Sovereign of the universal who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property of the souls of men.”
George Mason: Father of the Bill of Rights
“As much as I value a union of all the States, I would not admit the Southern States into the Union unless they agree to discontinuance of this disgraceful trade (slavery).”
- Who did the Founding Fathers blame for slavery in the colonies?
- Why did Great Britain support slavery?
- By looking at the above quotes, what principles did the Founders have that made slavery reprehensible to them?
Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson’s Original & Final Draft
This is one of the most unique documents in history, and when Thomas Jefferson drafted it, he knew that Great Britain would call it an act of treason and would order troops to end the rebellion. Most of the Founders abhorred slavery and felt that Britain brought slavery to the colonies two centuries before for monetary reasons. The Founders were patriots and realists, this struggling new government had to survive. To lose the unity of this fledging nation, would be the end of their inspirational attempt at freedom.
In Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft, he condemns slavery and includes it in a paragraph in his list of complaints against King George III. The issue of slavery was so divisive that the southern colonies vehemently opposed the anti-slavery language. If the southern colonies didn’t participate in the Revolution, the cause of freedom would have been lost. The offending paragraphs to the southern colonies, in the draft, were eliminated.
Digital rough draft of Declaration of Independence
- Do you think that Jefferson was right to take out the paragraphs that offended the southern colonies? Why?
- What would you have done if you were in Jefferson’s shoes?
- Compare the draft and the final copies of the Declaration of Independence. Which one would you have supported? Why?
- There are many illustrations of drafting the Declaration of Independence, what can you tell about the artist’s rendering of this illustration?
- If you lived during this time, what would you have said when the Founding Fathers declared the answer to political freedom was to be self-governed?
Black Founding Fathers from the American Revolution:
Crispus Attucks The Boston Massacre
The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770. British troops were sent to Boston to support a sentry that had been heckled by a crowd. The British troops let loose a round of shots into the crowd of American patriots. This was known as “the shot heard around the world,” and the first patriot to die was a member of the Sons of Liberty, Crispus Attucks, a free black man. Attucks was in the front line of a group of 50 patriots and was hit with two bullets in the chest. Attucks was representative of thousands of blacks who fought for an independent America.
Prince Estabrook, The Battle of Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775
Oliver Cromwell & Prince Whipple
Oliver Cromwell was a light-skinned black, a farmer, and was raised by the family of John Hutchin. It is possible that he was born a free black man. He served in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and Yorktown. He and Prince Whipple made the famous crossing of the Delaware on December 25, 1776, and are depicted at the front of the boat (Cromwell is the highest figure at the bow and Whipple is behind him to the right). Black soldiers who fought during the American Revolution were fully integrated and fought side by side their white patriots. Many of these black heroes are forgotten today, but without their efforts the American Revolution might have had a different outcome.
Prince Whipple may have been a member of a royal African family. He was sent to America to get an education and sold into slavery in Baltimore. He was bought by Founder William Whipple of New Hampshire, signer of the Declaration of Independence. When William Whipple joined the revolution, Prince accompanied him and was in attendance on the crossing of the Delaware, he and Cromwell were oarsmen. He also fought in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, and the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. Prince later served as an aide on Washington’s general staff. Prince was given his freedom.
Peter Salem at Bunker Hill
The Battle of Bunker Hill in June 17, 1775, Peter Salem, a black marksman, enlisted in the Massachusetts Minutemen and played a vital role in that battle. Salem’s owner, Lawson Buckminster, permitted him to enlist at which time he was freed by his owner.
The British launched a reckless assault on American positions at The Battle of Bunker Hill. They hoped that a show of force would isolate and intimidate the rebels at Boston. The British tried twice to take the American positions, but the colonists drove them back. British Major John Pitcairn rose and shouted, “This day is ours,” and commanded the colonists to surrender. Peter Salem’s response was to shoot Pitcairn dead.
The British forces seemed confused, and the colonists only retreated when they ran out of ammunition. British forces now had to reassess American strength.
Peter Salem can be seen on the lower right-hand side of the painting.
James Armistead at the Battle of Yorktown
James Armistead was a black spy during the Revolutionary War. Armistead was born into slavery in Virginia, but with the permission of his master, he joined the Continental army in 1781 and served under French General Marquis de Lafayette. Armistead posed as a runaway slave, gained the trust of General Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold, providing information that helped American forces learn the strategic British movements. This information helped the American forces to prevail at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.
Conclusion: Blacks in the Continental Army
There are many more examples of black men that served as soldiers in the American Revolution. Some were free blacks fighting for their countries freedom, others were fighting for the promised personal freedom. They served in integrated regiments by the thousands. These men fought from Lexington and Concord to the Battle of Yorktown. They suffered at Valley Forge and were represented in nearly every one of the thirteen colonies.
- Were you aware of the critical role that blacks played in the American Revolution?
- What were the reasons for blacks playing such an essential role in the Revolution?
- What can you tell about the uniforms that are worn by each side? What side seems more organized? Why?
- What miscalculations do you think Great Britain made in the American Revolution?
Founders and Anti-Slavery Foundations:
The Founding Fathers said that one of their primary reasons for the separation from Great Britain was rid the country from slavery that was imposed on them by the British King George III. By 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first antislavery society. Another similar society in New York was founded by John Jay. Numerous abolitionist societies were formed. Thomas Jefferson headed one of the first of them.
Other important Founding Fathers who were members of anti-slavery societies were Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Caroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more.
After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Vermont amended its Constitution to ban slavery. Other states, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts ended slavery in 1780, New Hampshire in 1792, Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784, New York in 1799, and New Jersey banned the institution in 1804, adopted anti-slavery legislation, and freed their slaves.
- What do you notice about the Founding Fathers, their representative states and their support of anti-slavery societies?
- Why are no southern states represented?
- How would this affect the passing of the Declaration of Independence?
Understanding the Three-Fifths Clause:
How many times have you heard that the Founding Fathers thought that blacks were only three-fifths of a person? The Three-Fifths Clause was not pro-slavery, but it was an anti-slavery clause to prevent the South from counting their slaves toward the population that would determine the numbers of representatives in the federal legislation. If the South could count their non-voting slaves, it would have given the South more power to expand slavery. The North argued that if counting non-voting slaves in the South were allowed, then the North could count their property as well. Free blacks, and there were many in the North and South, were counted the same as whites.
• What was your understanding of the Three-Fifths Clause?
• What did you learn about the Three-Fifths Clause?
• What are the characteristics that you learned about our Founding Fathers?
• How were these revolutionaries different from others in world history?
• What did you learn about our Founding Fathers?
• Original Intent by David Barton, (WallBuilder Press), 123, 279 - 282, 283, 293 -295
• America a Call to Greatness by John W. Chalfant, 46 – 50,
• Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, (reprint of an 1848 original) pages 7-12
• Blacks in the American Revolution https://iusbvision.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/black-heroes-and-founders-of-the-great-american-revolution/
• Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White by David Barton, (WallBuilder Press) 5 – 9,
• Black Yellow-Dogs by Ben Kinchlow (Midpoint Trade Books) 9 – 17,
• Library of Congress rough draft of Declaration of Independence. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/declara/ruffdrft.html
• NY Public Library Digital Collections (Declaration of Independence) https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-d9ee-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99#/?uuid=510d47e3-d9ee-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
• Gilder Lehrman History Resources https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/early-republic/resources/john-adams-abolition-slavery-1801
• Ben Franklin http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/franklin-the-works-of-benjamin-franklin-vol-vi-letters-and-misc-writings-1772-1775/simple#lf1438-06_head_037
• Oliver Cromwell https://newsone.com/3015828/oliver-cromwell-black-soldier/
• Crispus Attucks, first casualty of American Revolution: http://www.crispusattucksmuseum.org/crispus-attuck/