The Founding Fathers Collection of American Historical Documents

Important and inspiring documents signed by Founding Fathers: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hancock and Benjamin Franklin

6 great documents signed by the Founding Fathers, showing their leadership, patriotism, and inspiration.  Click images to browse collection

1 - Gen. George Washington Thanks a Soldier for His Service in the Revolutionary War

At the end of the Revolutionary War, General Washington signed discharges himself because he wanted each soldier of the Continental Army to know that he was personally grateful for his service. Soldiers carried these precious discharges around with them.

2 - Benjamin Franklin, in Paris As American Minister to France During the War, Lends His Own Personal Funds to Aid His Fellow Treaty Negotiator

In September 1776, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee as joint commissioners to negotiate a treaty with France. Franklin was, at that time, the most famous American in the world. His reputation was based on his scientific, literary and political accomplishments, and he was a natural choice for such a crucial mission. He quickly became a celebrated figure in Paris - the toast of the city. Deane was the first American diplomat; in early 1776, he was sent to France by Congress in a semi-official capacity, as a secret agent to induce the French government to lend financial aid to the colonies. He was also to purchase munitions and supplies for Congress with money and credit from selling American commodities, and was to receive a 5% commission for this. Deane, often advancing his own funds, organized shipments of arms and munitions to America, thus helping finance the war, and enlisted the services of a number of Continental officers, among whom were Lafayette, DeKalb and Von Steuben.  By the end of 1780, Deane’s financial resources were gone. Franklin could provide Deane no official aid; Deane’s biographer, C.H. James writes that Franklin told Deane that he could not advance any U.S. funds to him without authorization from Congress. But the following document proves that Franklin so cared about Deane’s plight that he personally lent Deane money to live on. The money was apparently delivered by Franklin’s grandson, William Temple Franklin, who was with him in France, serving has his secretary.

Autograph document signed in the text by Benjamin Franklin, also signed by Deane, and with an additional autograph note by Deane, Passy district of Paris, December 5, 1780, evidencing a loan from Franklin to Deane. “Borrowed and received of Benjamin Franklin, The Sum of Six Thousand Two Hundred Livres tounois, which I promise to repay on Demand, Witness my hand.”

3 - James Madison Approves of the “love of truth & devotion to the cause of Science”

Science was important to Madison, and he associated it with freedom of information and liberty. In his First Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1809, he specifically stated his intention “to favor in like manner the advancement of science and the diffusion of information as the best aliment to true liberty...” Another time he wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”?  In writing about Thomas Jefferson after his death, he listed Jefferson’s scientific knowledge even before his political accomplishments: “[He] will live in the memory and gratitude of the wise & good, as a luminary of Science, as a votary of liberty, as a model of patriotism, and as a benefactor of human kind.”

Autograph Letter Signed, Montpellier, January 22, 1822. “I have received a copy of your Memoir on the fossil tree, which you politely forwarded. Of the decisive bearing of this phenomenon on important questions in geology, I rely more on your good judgment than my own. The present is a very inquisitive age, and its researches of late have been ardently directed to the primitive composition and structure of our Globe, as far as it has been penetrated, and to the processes by which succeeding changes have been produced. The discoveries already made are encouraging; but vast room is left for the industry & sagacity of Geologists. This is sufficiently shown by the opposite theories which have been espoused; one of them regarding water, the other fire, as the great agent employed by nature in her work. It may well be expected that this hemisphere, which has been least explored, will yield its full proportion of materials toward a satisfactory system. Your zealous efforts to share in the contributions do credit to your love of truth & devotion to the cause of Science. And I wish they may be rewarded with the success they promise, and with all the personal gratifications to which they entitle you.”

4 - President Thomas Jefferson Praises the Spirit of the American People "which animates our nation", and Is Its "sufficient safeguard"

He condemns the violation of American neutrality - the "Events which have so justly excited the sensibilities of our country"

This was the great crisis that saw the first call for war between the United States and Great Britain since the Revolution

July 22, 1807, to Capt. Abraham Horn Jr., Lieut. Thomas Rogers, Ensign John Deatrich, and the Easton Light Infantry Company of the borough of Easton. In it, he praises their patriotism, and the spirit of the American people. "The offer of your service in support of the rights of your country merits and meets the highest praise, & whenever the moment arrives in which these rights must appeal to the public arm for support, the spirit from which your offer flows, that which animates our nation, will be their sufficient safeguard. To the Legislature will be rendered a faithful account of the events which have so justly excited the sensibilities of our country, of the measures taken to obtain reparation, & of their result, & to their wisdom will belong the course to be ultimately pursued. In the meantime it is our duty to pursue that prescribed by the existing laws, towards which, should your services be requisite, this offer of them will be remembered. I tender you, for your country, the thanks you so justly deserve."

5 - Vice President John Adams Certifies Receiving Electoral Votes for the 1792 Presidential Election

They were cast for George Washington For President and John Adams For Vice President

In 1789 George Washington was elected the first president of the United States, and Adams became the first vice president. One of the duties of the vice president is to preside as president of the U.S. Senate, and to cast tie-breaking votes. Adams did so on a variety of issues, supporting U.S. neutrality in the new war between France and Britain and the controversial financial measures proposed by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Washington, who had originally wanted to retire after his first presidential term, decided to run again at the last minute in order to try to halt the rise of political partisanship and parties. The Democratic-Republican opposition was aware of Washington's obvious and undiminished popularity, and being at the time outnumbered by the Federalists, didn't oppose his reelection. Adams, on the other hand, had alienated many of the Jeffersonians and there was a concerted behind-the-scenes campaign to replace him with George Clinton of New York. At the election in November, 1792, presidential electors were chosen from the fifteen states; some were appointed by their state legislatures, others elected by popular vote. On December 5, the electors cast their ballots for both president and vice president, as required by law. These were formally transmitted to Vice President Adams in his capacity as President of the U.S. Senate, for counting. This is the original, official acknowledgement that Adams had received the ballots of the State of Vermont, which was a new state and voting in its first presidential election.

Autograph Document Signed, Philadelphia, January 1, 1793, to Hall. “Received of Lot Hall, Esq. a Packet certified by the Electors of Vermont to contain a List of their Votes for President and Vice President of the United States. John Adams, President of the Senate of the United States.”

6 - In 1776, John Hancock Signs One of the Foundation Documents of the United States Navy

A very rare signature from June or July 1776, looking just like it did when he signed the Declaration of Independence

In October 1775, the first legislation of the Continental Congress in regard to an American Navy directed the equipment of one vessel of 10 guns and another of 14 guns as national cruisers. At the same time an act was passed establishing a "Marine Committee," which was chosen by Congress from among its own members, and consisted of John Adams, John Langdon, and Silas Deane. It was to be in complete control of naval affairs. It was not until December 13, however, that Congress authorized establishing a 13-ship Navy of the United Colonies, and the next day John Hancock, President of Congress, took over chairmanship of an expanded Marine Committee.

On December 22, the Marine Committee approved 18 men to serve as officers of the fleet being constructed. These men included John Paul Jones and Esek Hopkins, the latter being Commander-in-Chief. However, as late as mid-April 1776, Congress decided that the nominations or appointments of captains or commanders "shall not establish rank." This was to be "settled by Congress before commissions are granted." The matter was settled at the end of April. These commanders had the authority to appoint the senior officers to serve under them.

So some time in May or June 1776, a small number of documents were printed for commanders to use to commission the initial naval officers. These, with the commanders commissions, were the first appointment documents issued for the U.S. Navy. The forms then went to the desk of John Hancock, who, though President of the Continental Congress, signed them in blank in his capacity as head of the Marine Board. Document signed, Philadelphia, late June or early July 1776, being a warrant of appointment. The form read: “The Marine Committee appointed by Congress to equip and fit out the Fleet of the United Colonies, having received such recommendations as satisfy them, that you  ___ are duly qualified for the office of ___, We have therefore appointed you the said ___ to be ___ on board the ___, hereby giving you full power to execute the office aforesaid, agreeable to the rules and regulations of the Sea Service, and such Orders as you may receive from your superior officers. And for so doing, this shall be your sufficient warrant.” Hancock has signed as “President of the Marine Board”.

The signature looks just like it did when he signed the Declaration of Independence just a month or so later.