3 Founders With A Worse Reputation Than They Deserve

3 Founders With A Worse Reputation Than They Deserve

Sometimes people deserve the reputation they have. Other times, we make one little mistake and it haunts our legacy.

This is true with the Founders of the United States just as much as with people today.

In this article, we look at three Founders who might deserve being seen in just a little more favorable a light.

horatio gates.jpg

Horatio Gates

Horatio Gates was one of the first Major Generals appointed during the American Revolution.

Gates began his poor historical reputation at the Battle of Saratoga. Though this fight was won, Horatio made several poor decisions, most notably his treatment of Benedict Arnold. Luckily, Arnold disobeyed orders, took the field, and saved the day (more on Arnold later).

Gates took credit as the Hero of Saratoga, though the truth is Arnold and several other leaders were responsible for the victory. Many of his contemporaries began to sour on him at this point.

Horatio later took charge of the Southern Department where he suffered defeat in the Battle of Camden. This was one of the worst losses for the Continental Army and destroyed his reputation.

Although Gates was questionable as a General (and seemingly a bit of a glory hound), he fought for America and assisted in Founding the United States to the best of his ability.


Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold was an American Hero.

Sounds crazy, I know, but you can check out my argument for that here.

In brief, he was responsible for winning several significant battles for the Continental Army. Without him, the United States simply does not win the War of Independence.

Then, he was treated like garbage by many of his comrades. Is that an excuse for his treason? Well, in his mind it was.

Then (say it with me) Arnold bailed on the Revolution.

But in doing so he gave the United States something else. He gave us a synonym for traitor. He gave us a folk enemy.

He gave us a tradition.

Sure, he may be the definition of un-American. But he gave us that definition. One united people generally band together against a common enemy and Arnold was that villain.

It’s an extremely important contribution to the Founding of the United States and for that, in my opinion, he needs to be given a bit more respect from us modern-day history nerds.


Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr really got the screws in our modern collective feelings regarding the Founders.

Burr fought with the Continental Army and, afterward, worked his way up the political ladder.

It’s easy to forget that this man was the third Vice-President of the United States. The only two men who held this position before him were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Think about that!

Actually, Burr was almost the third PRESIDENT.

He tied Jefferson in voting and, though he was expected to be Vice-President, ran with the opportunity. This made the Democratic-Republican Party upset with him.

Then he shot Alexander Hamilton.

Although this was a duel among gentleman, it made the Federalist Party unhappy. Suddenly, Aaron was left him without a political party.

Burr’s reputation was hurt enough when he went on an expedition to Louisiana. He was accused of treason (mostly due to the machinations of James Wilkinson) but was acquitted.

Aaron’s career and reputation had been ruined, despite never having been convicted of a crime.

One additional note on Burr: he was an early feminist. No so much in the modern sense, but in general. Burr’s daughter Theodosia was taught how to read and write beginning at the age of 3 and he established a small school at his home for her and a friend.

Burr was ahead of his time among the Founders in the belief that women’s minds had the same capacity to develop as a man’s.

So what do you think?

Do these Founders deserve better or am I grasping at straws? Is there another Founder you think has a worse reputation than they deserve? Let me know in the comments.

I don’t have many opportunities to recommend ‘Fallen Founder’ so I am doing so now. This biography of Aaron Burr takes a wonderful look at his life, placing him in his rightful spot among the Founding Generation. It also discusses his relationship with his daughter Theodosia. I urge you to pick up a copy at the library or through the Amazon affiliate link below.

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