Ten Weird Facts about the Founding Fathers
June 25, 2012 | Lists
The framers of the constitution, or the farmers of the constitution as they’re known to dyslexics or people who type really fast into Google, were the statesmen instrumental in fighting the Revolutionary War and establishing the US Constitution.
Many, such as George Washington, are well-known, with faces gracing the bills slipped into g-strings by cheap-skates. Others, like James Madison, authored the Bill of Rights and led the nation into the War of 1812 (during which the British occupied, feasted at and and then burned down the White House – about which John Adams proclaimed, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof!”, a hope proven wrong by at least every other administration).
And then there’s Thomas Jefferson, third president and Enlightenment polymath after whom schools, memorials, counties, cities, universities, elementary schools and even spas and gentrifying black sitcom families are named.
While most are familiar with these leading lights, commemorated famously in the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States,
cheaply expertly photoshopped by the authors here, there are some lesser known facts about the Founding Fathers we thought we’d bring to people’s attention.
1. James Madison was highly unpleasant.
Bill of Rights champion and Jefferson protégé James Madison, was called “a cloistered pedant”, “cold and repulsive”, “a gloomy stiff creature” and “the most unsociable creature in existence” by contemporaries. He was also a hypochondriac who never traveled because he feared the effects a cold Atlantic Ocean would have on his health.
2. James Madison tried to found a National Brewery and a position that we feel would rival head of the State Department in prominence: The Secretary of Beer
3. City Tavern was the place to be.
Philadelphia’s City Tavern was a favorite of both Alexander Hamilton and George Washington and it was there that the first (though unofficial) Continental Congress was held (The continental Congress was a meeting of the 13 colonies to deal with the whole “taxation without representation” stuff).
Washington, clearly no stranger to the tipple (As a candidate in the Virginia election of 1758, he was billed for 146 gallons of rum punch, beer, wine and brandy – all apparently consumed by only a few hundred voters) made a point of making the acclaimed tavern his very first stop when he arrived in the City of Brotherly Love. According to Christine Sismondo, author of the excellent book America Walks Into A Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, the City Tavern “was remarkable for its elegance, impressing visitors with a bar room, coffee room [and] two kitchens” as well as its “medeira wine, slings, toddies and flips (strong beer made with dried pumpkin, molasses and rum).
4. Slave to the State. South Carolina governor Charles Pinckney co-introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause – requiring that escaped slaves who crossed state lines, be returned to their owners.
5. William Paterson, behind the 8-ball.
Paterson advocated the prohibition of billiards. A notorious prude, Paterson associated billiards with licentiousness and tried to shut down the state’s taverns as New Jersey’s second governor.
It’s after this signer of the constitution, that the town of Paterson New Jersey is named, a place with a crime rate such that living there would require a drink to steady the nerves. You’ll remember Paterson as the location of the really high bridge from which an associate of the Barese crime family was tossed – on the orders of Junior Soprano. The movie Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman, about a principle who turns around a group of kids who pillage the school and the beat the living crap out of one another to the tune of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle, was set in Paterson.
6. Thou shalt not re-write the Ten Commandments.
Thomas Jefferson rewrote the Ten Commandments to include “never buy what you don’t want because it is cheap”, an injunction which, if adhered to would put Walmart out of business.
7. Morris Dancing?
Founding Father Gouverneur Morris, signatory to the Articles of Confederation, had a peg leg.
There were rumors that Morris, who “never passed up an opportunity for amorous adventure”, shattered his limb caught in flagrante delicto by a jealous husband. Unfortunately, historians say this is apocryphal but details surrounding his gruesome passing are not. According to the book, Gouverneur Morris: An Independent Life, Morris tried to treat a urinary tract blockage with “an appalling self-surgery with a whale bone”, the horrible details of which can be left to your imagination.
8. George Washington had horse teeth.
Speaking of prostheses, Washington did not have the kind of choppers that would come in handy if you needed a tooth pick. An anthropologist from the University of Pittsburgh, studied George’s famous mouth and determined that the dentures were “made from gold, ivory, lead, human and animal teeth” (with horse and donkey teeth being common components).
9. Luther Martin, lush.
New Jersey-born Luther Martin, Confederation Congress member and leading anti-federalist, refused to sign the Constitution. He’s not to be confused with Martin Luther, though he’s also known for indulgence, if not the Catholic guilt variety. Martin had a booze hound reputation and “a face crimsoned by the brandy which he continually imbibed”.
10. Hot tempers. During the signing of the Constitution in 1787, debates were literally heated – the hot summer had steamed up the Assembly Room. To make matters worse, butchers had set up shop nearby as delegates arrived and Philadelphia stank – a tradition it would maintain to this day, at least with respect to its sports teams.
According to the engaging book Me The People, “Tanners continued their usual practice of throwing used carcasses into the sewer along Dock Street, joining the excrement that flowed down one of Philadelphia’s main thoroughfares” (the street which is today home to the Philly Beer Run).