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Things You Didn't Know About Our Founding Fathers

We read in school about our founding fathers. But which one created a code system? And which one helped launch one of the most successful Ad campaigns of our time?

The signing of the Declaration of Independence by artist John Trumbull. Credit, UShistory.org.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence by artist John Trumbull. Credit, UShistory.org.

By Patch Community Editor Gina Tenorio

As we celebrate this great nation’s birthday, let’s not forget the founders who stood tall, fought hard and, in some cases, pulled a few stunts here and there that enabled the United States to become what it is now.

How much do you know about the founding fathers?

Unless you’re a history buff, you may be surprised to learn a few stories about these men.

BEFORE WIKILEAKS

Before there was Wikileaks, there was Benjamin Franklin. Known as a man of many talents, Franklin was also postmaster general for the Colonies in 1772. At the time relations between the colonists and their British governors were beginning to deteriorate.

His position allowed Franklin to intercept letters written by Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor of Massachusetts, who had written to his superiors asking permission to crack down on colonists. Hutchinson wanted to deprive them of their liberties as a way squashing any kind of uprising.

Franklin leaked the letters, which made their way to the local press causing an uproar. Needless to say Mr. Franklin was fired.

Citations: History Chanel “10 Things You Didn’t Know,” “Famous Leaks in American History,” Washington Post

DECIPHERING JEFFERSON

A lot has been written about Thomas Jefferson, in part because he did so much writing himself. He wrote the Declaration of Independence. But apparently our nation’s third president did not want everyone reading what he wrote. According to Monticello.org, an online archive on Jefferson, “In response to the opening of his mail by European postmasters during his service as Minister to France (1784-1789), Jefferson began to rely heavily on codes to send important messages. His belief in the practice was strong enough to prompt him to invent his own enciphering device, the Wheel Cipher … in the early 1790s.”

The president was so intent on keeping his communications private, he had cipher wheel sent to Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark during their expedition of the Louisiana Purchase. But Lewis never found a need to use it, historians say. It’s not clear how often Jefferson used the Wheel of Cipher himself.

Citation: Monticello.org.

GOT HAMILTON?

Where do you start with a man like Alexander Hamilton? He was the product of an extra-marital affair. He arrived in New York at age 16 from his native West Indies, to get an education. He would become a member of the Continental Congress. He helped convince the fledgling nation to ditch the Articles of Confederation and create a constitution. He served as Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington.

But his is best known for how he died. In 1804 he was shot in a pistol duel with Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson’s vice president.

And that has helped earn Hamilton - and Burr - a very modern distinction. Hamilton’s tragic end helped launch one of the most successful advertising campaigns of the 20th and 21st Century.

In 1993, the first “Got Milk” commercial aired showing a man, in what appears to be a shrine to Hamilton, slathering peanut butter onto a slice of bread as classical music plays sweetly in the background.

Just as our subject has shoved half the slice of bread in his mouth, the radio host announces a contest. Whoever can correctly answer a trivia question could win $10,000. The question: “Who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel?”

We won’t tell you the rest. You can see it for yourself on Youtube. But the commercial, and Alexander Hamilton’s untimely death, launched a two decades-long campaign and more than a few parodies. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Citations: WikipediaBiography.comGotmilk.com


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