The history of the United States typically begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. The key people who helped found the early American colonies, include the settlers from Europe, seeking a life in America.
It was in the late eighteenth century that the modern United States of America was forged as an independent nation. The principal Founding Fathers included; Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.
This is a look at the most influential people who built and created the modern United States.
Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506)
Christopher Columbus was a navigator and explorer who made several transatlantic journeys to the America. He was not the first person to arrive in America, but he was the first to establish permanent settlements. He helped to raise the awareness of America in Europe and paved the way for the flow of European travellers and settlers to move East looking for a new life and new opportunity.
Pilgrims – Early settlers (17th Century)
Pilgrims or the Pilgrim Fathers is a name ascribed to a group of early settlers who left England and founded a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts, around 1620. The group, original from the East Midlands of England, had fled religious persecution and political instability. After a temporary stay in Holland, they sailed for America in 1620, on the Mayflower. They founded the oldest continuously established British colony, and are a symbol of the many people who later left Europe to found a new life in the ‘new world’ of America.
William Penn (1644 – 1718) William Penn was a Quaker who was involved in building the ‘model city’ of Pennsylvania. In the Pennsylvania Frame of Government (1682), Penn included democratic principles and the ideal of religious tolerance. Penn was also an early advocate for uniting the different colonies of America.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an author, politician, diplomat, scientist and statesman. In particular, Benjamin Franklin is remembered for urging the colonies to join together and one of the strongest supporters of the idea of a United States. His slogan in 1765 was ‘join or die’; this was a key factor in helping spread the idea of a ‘United States of America’ that didn’t really exist before. He served as US foreign minister to France (1778-1785) symbolising the new face of America. He rose from humble working class roots to be a successful world figure – he was an epitome of the ‘American Dream’ and left a lasting legacy on American society.
George Washington (1732–1799)
George Washington was a Founding Father of the United States, who acted as Commander in Chief during the American Revolutionary War. A great strategist, he succeeded in defeating the British armies – even though he lost individual battles. After victory he didn’t assume power as Commander in Chief but was later elected the first President of the United States in 1788, serving for eight years. His first presidency set the tone for how America would be governed – one of the first partial democracies in the world. He used a cabinet, gave inaugural addresses and maintained American neutrality in foreign conflicts. He is widely regarded as the ‘Father of the Country.”
Thomas Paine was an English-American writer and political activist. In 1776, he wrote the best-selling pamphlet Common Sense; this advocated America seeking independence from Great Britain. It was widely read and helped to propagate the idea of American independence.
John Adams said, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.
He wrote many similar articles throughout (1776-83) supporting the revolution and republican ideals. He was also a supporter of the French Revolution and wrote the influential book ‘Rights of Man’ (1791).
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” (Declaration of Independence)
Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father and the principal author of The Declaration of Independence (1776) In this declaration, Jefferson laid out the fundamental principles of America, calling for equality and liberty. He served as third President of the United States and helped to expand the territory of the US through the Louisiana declaration of (1803). He also founded the University of Virginia and passed the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
– Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, who served as a soldier, economist, and lawyer. He served as the first United States Secretary of the Treasury and was responsible for the economic policies of George Washington. He established a national bank, taxation system to pay off debt and negotiated trade deals with Great Britain. During the War of Independence, he served as a confident to George Washington.
John Adams (1735-1826)
“But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
John Adams was a Founding Father and the second US President. Adams assisted Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence and helped to pass the Declaration through Congress. Adams was a strong advocate of American independence and Republicanism. He negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain and secured loans from Amsterdam bankers during the War of Independence. He wrote the Massachusetts Constitution (1780) and Thoughts on Government.
James Madison (1751-1836)
“Equal laws protecting equal rights, are found as they ought to be presumed, the best guarantee of loyalty, and love of country; as well as best calculated to cherish that mutual respect and good will among citizens of every religious denomination which are necessary to social harmony and most favorable to the advancement of truth.”
– James Madison (1820)
James Madison was the fourth president of the US (1809-1817) and was responsible for drafting the United States Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. In 1788, along with Hamilton and John Jay, he wrote the Federalist Papers, which strongly advocated support for the US constitution.
John Marshall (1755-1835)
John Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the United States (1801-1835). His opinions helped to lay the framework for American constitutional law and helped strengthen the position of the Supreme Court within the US political system. His decisions increased the role of the Federal government over states, and also allowed laws to be struck down if they violated the constitution.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
“…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Gettysburg on November 19, 1863)
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the US from 1861-1865. He led the US during the American civil war – where the southern states which to break free from the union to preserve their right to allow slavery. Lincoln led the North to victory preserving the Union and ending slavery. His speeches, such as the Gettysburg address, have become key elements of what constitutes America. He was assassinated in 1865, just after the end of the civil war.
Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919) Born in Scotland to poor parents, Carnegie moved to America where he became very wealthy through dominating the US steel industry. Carnegie literally helped build America during the Nineteenth Century industrial revolution through supplying steel and other raw materials to the building trade. After making a fortune in business, he retired and became a noted philanthropist.
John D. Rockefeller (1839 – 1937) Rockefeller became one of the richest persons in the world through his dominance of the oil and railroad industries. His railroad companies became the dominant monopoly force, providing the backbone of American infrastructure. He also oversaw the boom in oil production, especially as demand for petrol grew.
Henry Ford (1864-1947) Founder of Ford Motor company. Ford pioneered the use of the assembly line for making cars, helping to reduce the price and make cars affordable for the average American consumer.
The model T Ford car was critical in enabling mass car ownership after the First World War. Ford was also able to offer higher wages to workers, due to increased efficiency.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “People Who Built America”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net. Updated 12th December 2016.
Famous Americans – Great Americans from the Founding Fathers to modern civil rights activists. Including presidents, authors, musicians, entrepreneurs and businessmen. Featuring Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey.
People of the American Revolution Leading figures in the American Revolution. Includes military leaders, philosophers, British protagonists and ordinary people. List includes; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George III and Benjamin Franklin.
People of The American Civil War (1861-65) A list of over 20 famous and influential figures in the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) Includes politicians, generals, soldiers, spies and social activists. Including; Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.
People of the Enlightenment (1650s to 1780s) The Enlightenment is a period which saw the growth in intellectual reason, individualism and a challenge to existing religious and political structures.
The Men Who Built America
- The Men Who Built AmericaWoodrow Wilson – A. Scott Berg at Amazon.com
- The Men Who Built America at Amazon.co.uk