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Top Five Founding Fathers Not to Forget

Stephen Eldridge, TeachHUB

Top Five Founding Fathers Not to ForgetGeorge Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Most students can, at some point, recite the names of our first four presidents without resorting to checking their books. Most also know the stories of Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment and Alexander Hamilton’s fatal duel—or if not, they at least know that the two statesmen appear on our money. And anyone who’s ever jotted down their John Hancock recognizes the name of the President of the Continental Congress that signed the Declaration of Independence!

But somehow students seem to forget John Jay, whose influence and accomplishments stack up against any of his contemporaries. In recognition of Jay’s birthday, December 12th, here’s what your students need to know about one of our most important historical figures, as well as four other founding fathers who deserve to be remembered alongside Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams.

 

5: Elbridge Gerry

What did he do?

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Elbridge Gerry served in the Continental Congress, signing both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He was one of the only delegates to the Constitutional Convention that refused to sign the Constitution—he demanded it contain a recognition of individual rights. Later, he helped to write the Bill of Rights to fix this omission. He was a member of the first United States Congress, became governor of Massachusetts, and later served as Vice President under James Madison.

What’s the one thing your students should remember?

As governor of Massachusetts, Gerry was known for dividing up congressional districts to gain political advantage. Today, we call that tactic gerrymandering because of him.

4: Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris was deeply influential in the writing of the Constitution. Having already signed the Articles of Confederation, he was sent to the Constitutional Convention. He wrote much of the final text of the document, including its preamble. He also passionately opposed tolerating slavery in the new nation. Despite his name, Morris was never a Governor—instead he served in the Senate.

What’s the one thing your students should remember?

His work in drafting our founding document led to the nickname the “Penman of the Constitution.”

3: Robert R. Livingston

What did he do?

Robert Robert Livingston (yes, you read that right) was a delegate to the Continental Congress, helping Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence. As Chancellor of New York, which was the nation’s capital at the time, he administered George Washington’s presidential oath of office. Believe it or not, Livingston’s most important role was as minister to France under Thomas Jefferson. It was in that position that he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.

What’s the one thing your students should remember?

When Livingston negotiated to buy the Louisiana territory, he just about doubled the size of the United States. That should stick in your students’ heads.

2: Robert Morris

What did he do?

Called the financier of the American Revolution, Morris was a banker and merchant who served in the Continental Congress. He controlled the funds of the Continental Army, raising, borrowing, and even personally providing the funds Washington needed to conduct the war. In the early years of the United States, Morris was Superintendent of Finance, in charge of the nation’s economy. This made him probably the second most powerful man in America—behind only George Washington. He also went to the Constitutional Convention and served in the Senate.

What’s the one thing your students should remember?

Morris is one of only two people to have signed all three of the nation’s founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States. (The other was Senator Roger Sherman.)

1: John Jay

What did he do?

A better question might be what didn’t he do? During the Revolutionary war, John Jay served as the 6th president of the Continental Congress. He also worked with Benjamin Franklin to negotiate peace with Britain.

After the war, Jay joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to author the Federalist Papers, which rallied support for the United States Constitution. The Federalist Papers are still used to help judges determine the intent behind our foundational laws today.

This patriotic track record would be enough to secure Jay’s place in history by itself, but in 1789 he became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Later, as governor of New York, he fought to abolish slavery in the state. He’s also remembered for the Jay Treaty, which settled a number of our young nation’s grievances with Great Britain.

What’s the one thing your students should remember?

If you have to pick just one of Jay’s seemingly endless accomplishments, “First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States” is probably the way to go.

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