Happy 4th of July from the 9th state to join the party! New Hampshire takes Independence Day seriously, as one might imagine, and there are parades and games and celebrations all over the state.

The American Founding is one of the eras of history that holds my interest, and has for some time (nearly 20 years at this point!). You can squarely lay the credit/blame at the feet of my mother, who had us reading out of the old school McGuffy’s readers from Kindergarten onward. The older volumes contained heavy amounts of classical works and Founders, though at the time Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington were the major highlights. Adams, Madison, and Hamilton were still awaiting their renaissance (James Wilson is still waiting for his. Ask me about him some time).

Mom gets full credit for bringing 1776 into my life — yes, we’ve had musicals about the founding before Hamilton!

All kidding aside, July 4th presents us with a day every year that we can use to reflect on our origins — on who these men were, what they’re thoughts and writings contain, what they’re hopes and doubts and fears were. The fact of the matter is, while declaring independence was not a compromise, everything else really was. Most have abandoned the view that the Founders were demigods with a divine mandate, but where does that leave us? Have we conceived of our own history as Adams said we might?

The Essence of the whole will be that Dr Franklins electrical Rod, Smote the Earth and out Spring General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his Rod—and thence forward these two conducted all the Policy Negotiations Legislation and War. These underscored Lines contain the whole Fable Plot and Catastrophy. if this Letter should be preserved, and read an hundred Years hence the Reader will say “the Envy of this J.A. could not bear to think of the Truth”! [1}

I hope not. Technology is to our advantage here. When I was working on my Junior Project 9 years ago, there were few online resources to be had. Most were locked behind paywalls when they existed, and poor college students do not have the option or luxury of traveling from historical society to museum to National Archive outpost to the Library of Congress to get all their research together. Some of that is still required for the serious student, but the rest of us are able to learn more these days by taking advantage of digitization

  • The National Archive has put together a digital collection entitled Founders Online. The collection is made up of the papers of Ben Franklin, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Because of the prolific nature of correspondence in those days, every other major and minor Founder makes at least a cameo in the exhibit. Fun note: Abigail Adams has 988 records that she authored housed in the collection. Abigail is pretty much excellent, and you should read her letters as well as those of her husband– theirs is a classic love story.
  • The National Archives also has a Boston location. Check their page for hours and holdings if you’re in the midst of research.
  • The Archives have had an exhibit up for some time entitled “The Charters of Freedom” which provide images and resources for the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
  • The Library of Congress has a number of resources. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: the library was established in 1800 by act of Congress (signed by John Adams, not Jefferson). The original library was burned in 1814 along with most of the rest of Washington DC, and it was at that point that Jefferson donated his library.
  • The Library has online access to the following collections: Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention (1774 – 1789); The George Washington Papers (1741 – 1799); The Thomas Jefferson Papers (1606 – 1827); and the James Madison Papers, 1723 – 1859.
  • Closer to home, the New Hampshire Historical Society has collections related to NH statehood, including the period of the Revolution. Those, for the most part, are not digital but Concord isn’t far from Merrimack!
  • The Massachusetts Historical society has a number of resources available in person in Boston, but there is also a digital exhibit entitled The Coming of the American Revolution which is of interest as well.
  • Also in Boston is the Freedom Trail, full of sites tied to the Revolution, including the Old State House, the Site of the Boston Massacre, the Old North Church, and Old Ironsides — the USS Constitution.
  • Finally, there is the Online Library of Liberty, which has a large collection of works by the Founders, covering the Declaration, the War, and the Constitution.
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