Monday, March 24, 2008

The Diverse Minds of the Founders

As you all can tell from our blog's poll, there are some very differing opinions as to which Founding Father was the "smartest." Obviously it is impossible to measure which of the Founders possessed the highest IQ, the best ACT scores, etc. The only thing we really can do is weigh their individual achievements against one another, and then make a personal decision as to who we feel possessed the greatest intellect.

Since this recent poll has been so tight, I thought it might be interesting to briefly dive into the minds of each of these founders. By doing so, one can gain a greater appreciation for the unique contributions of each of these individuals, not to mention a greater understanding of their brilliance.

Benjamin Franklin: There can be no debate that Franklin was a man of incredible intellect. Franklin's accomplishments in printing, science and politics are second to none. With virtually no education, Franklin claimed not only the social ladder, but the academic ladder of success as well. Though often seen as a little eccentric, Franklin's intellect is often considered to be the greatest of all the Founding Fathers. Historian Gordon Wood considers Franklin to be the smartest person of his generation.

Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson is another popular choice. As the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson has been hailed as the example of civic virtue and government of the people. Jefferson's contributions as President, vice President, and Secretary of State have added to his luster. Jefferson is often considered to be one of the greatest political idealists ever to live.

James Madison: As the "Father of the Constitution," Madison has gained recognition in the historical community for being the most brilliant mind in terms of his understanding of government. Madison's observations in the Federalist Papers reveal his keen understanding of why governments succeed and fail. His contributions to the development of the Constitution cannot be overstated. As one Madison biographer put it, "Madison was, and still is, the most knowledgeable advocate for republican government in all of American history."

Alexander Hamilton: Hamilton is often overlooked in this debate (though I am glad he is having such a good showing in our poll). Historian Joseph Ellis has given Hamilton his personal endorsement as the most brilliant mind of the Revolution. The mere fact that Hamilton is even remembered at all is a miracle in itself. Having been born in obscurity on a Caribbean island, Hamilton could have been completely passed by in the records of history. The fact that he was a genius, however, propelled Hamilton to greatness. Once in America, Hamilton excelled in college, passing many students of "advanced standing" in his first year. His understanding and brilliance on the battlefield also gained Hamilton recognition with General Washington. Hamilton's contributions to the Federalist Papers also reveals his deep understanding of government. Perhaps his greatest contribution were his economic plans, which literally saved America from economic demise.

Abigail Adams: I am also glad to see that Abigail is receiving some attention in our poll. Though never a political figure, Abigail's role as the wife of John Adams cannot be downplayed. As historian David McCullough points out, Abigail had better political sense than her husband, was a better judge of people, and had just as keen of a mind. Abigail's role as helpmate to her husband helped to shape and influence his contributions to the Continental Congress and as president. It can be safely said that without Abigail, John Adams may not have been the man he became.

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