As we approach 4th of July, which marks the 238th anniversary of the birth of our independence, I found myself pondering the professions of our Founding Fathers, in particular those who signed the Declaration of Independence, and what they would think of the world today.
There is little doubt in my mind that as representatives from the 13 colonies sat sweating in those heavy, uncomfortable clothes in the sweltering Philadelphia heat, struggling to craft what would become the Declaration of Independence, they could never imagine the business world of the 21st century.
It’s interesting to speculate what would have shocked them the most. Would it be the acension of women to positions of power? The huge number of large global companies? The size of the United States and its population growth from 2.5 million in 1776 to more than 320 million today would certainly present a surprise.
Of course, the advances in technology alone in the past 238 years would be enough to astound every one of the delegates. I like to imagine Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, amateur inventors themselves, adapting quickly and rushing out to buy the newest Apple products and carefully selecting their Twitter handles.
All white males, those 56 delegates who gathered in 1776 to craft a document to tell Great Britain to take a hike and form a new country ranged in age from 26 (Edward Rutledge from South Carolina) to 70 (Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania.)
There were several lawyers, which was the most popular career at the time. Others were farmers, merchants, businessmen, writers and physicians. Some attended seminary, with a few ministers among them, while many were serving in public office.
Most were well-educated, although Benjamin Franklin had no formal education past the age of 10 and like several others, was self-taught. While many were from wealthy families, several of them lost their fortune during the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Rush from Pennsylvania was a professor and physician who published the first American textbook on chemistry.
A few didn’t fare so well as businessmen. Samuel Adams from Massachusetts was an unsuccessful brewer, who would be mighty surprised at the success of a beer named after him. Two signers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, later became president.
There’s no way of knowing what the Founding Fathers would be most blown away about the state of American business today. But one thing I believe would make them all smile. They each had a hand in creating the United States, which has the world’s largest national economy with a GDP of approximately $16.1 trillion. Now that’s something to celebrate.
Happy 4th of July!