8 Little-Known Facts About the Founding Fathers Sure to Spark Your Interest

Ben Graham | July 2, 2015
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In the spirit of Fourth of July weekend, here are eight facts about the Founding Fathers we bet you haven't heard before.

Most people likely think of the Founding Fathers as heroic intellectuals and warriors, but they're a little more human than that. So, this Independence day, we'll start with a fun fact about the Declaration of Independence:

1. No one trusted Benjamin Franklin to write the Declaration of Independence.

Though he served on the committee that drafted the history-making document, Benjamin Franklin wasn’t trusted to write it. Everyone thought that he’d try to conceal a joke in its contents.

Upon his signing of the finished document, Franklin would then jokingly say, “Gentlemen, we must now all hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.”


2. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the 50th anniversary of our nation's birth.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The two spent many years as adversaries with very different views on government. 

They eventually reconciled as friends when Adams, 90, laid on his deathbed and spoke his last words. He said, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” He ended up being wrong as Jefferson, 82, had been dead for five hours in his estate, Monticello. 

3. James Madison was the smallest president in history.

He was 5’4” and only weighed about 100 pounds. That is actually shorter than Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon is often comically depicted as being a short man with a compensatory aggressive demeanor, popularly deemed the “Napoleon Complex.” In reality, Napoleon was 5’6”.


4. George Washington was idolized by Napoleon.

Napoleon grew up hearing tales of the Revolutionary General. He was a student at the military academy in Brienne while Washington commanded the Continental Army. It’s said that Washington was seen as a source of inspiration for the French Revolution.

When Washington died on December 14, 1799, Napoleon gave a public eulogy for him and ordered ten days of national mourning in France.



5. In the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, the man holding the flag is James Monroe.

James Monroe was, in fact, a lieutenant in Washington's army at the time of the famous crossing of the Delaware River. He suffered a life-threatening injury in the battle that followed when he led the charge against enemy cannons.

So, while he was verifiably present, it is not likely that Monroe was ferried across on the same boat while holding the American flag.

This, along with other facets of the scene, were not historically accurate. Rather, it was artistic depiction of the heroic spirit of Washington and the Revolutionaries. Seeing as the painting is still such a poignant part of U.S. history, it’s safe to call it a success.


6. Some Founding Fathers had very strange names for their beloved pets. 

John Adams had a dog named Satan. Washington had dogs named Sweetlips, Scentwell, Vulcan, Drunkard, Taster, Tipler, and Tipsy.


7. Thomas Jefferson owned TWO grizzly bears that he kept in a cage on the lawn outside of the White House. 

In 1807, a man by the name of Captain Zebulon Pike led an expedition along the Arkansas River and ended up getting arrested by the Spanish for invading their territory. While being escorted back to U.S. lands, Pike purchased the bears as cubs from a local. 

They were unlike the bears early Americans had encountered on the east coast. Pike noted in a letter to Jefferson that the grizzlies were “considered by the natives of that country as the most ferocious animals of the continent.”

He was aware of the dangers of the grizzly from tales told by Lewis and Clark. 

So, instead of accepting them from his friend Pike, Jefferson attempted to give them to Charles Wilson Peale, a friend who owned Peale’s Museum. Though Peale accepted them immediately, it took months for him to claim them. In the meantime, the bears were kept in an enclosure on the White House lawn. Can you imagine?

When Peale finally took the bears, he had expected that they would be tame since they had matured in the presence of humans. That proved not to be the case. One bear broke free from it’s cage and caused terror before being shot dead in Peale’s basement. The other bear was quickly put down as well.


8. Benjamin Franklin had a very unusual - and downright scary - habit that he called "taking an air bath."

Benjamin Franklin was admired by many for his accomplishments in politics and science; however, along with his intelligence, Franklin had some quirks. 

One held the form of a daily ritual where he would stand naked before an open window and take what he called an “air bath.” He described it to a friend, saying

“I have found it much more agreeable to my constitution to bathe in another element, I mean cold air. With this view I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but on the contrary, agreeable.” 

Unfortunately for Franklin's neighbors, this window happened to be on the first floor of his home.