Throughout United States history, the group of men who assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to write the nation’s Constitution had been known as the “Founding Fathers,” a moniker used even on official government websites.
But the use of the “fathers” may have been a step too far for the Obama administration. In a Thursday post on the White House’s blog, Keith Donohue, the communications director for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives, announced that the papers of the “Founding Founders,” otherwise known as the Founding Fathers, are available online.
Charles C.W. Cooke, writing for National Review Online, pointed out the strange phrase, and sometime after 10 p.m. ET, the site was revised with the headline reading “Founding Fathers.”
It’s not clear whether the original headline was a typo or a brief effort to retcon some gender neutrality into early American history. Donohue did not reply to an inquiry on Twitter.
“What was the original intent behind the Constitution and other documents that helped shape the nation?” Donohue wrote in his blog post. “What did the Founders of our country have to say? Those questions persist in the political debates and discussions to this day, and fortunately, we have a tremendous archive left behind by those statesmen who built the government over 200 years ago.”
National Review’s Cooke pointed out some peculiar ways Donohue suggested the new “Founders Online” collection could be put to use:
- Assemble the Founders’ views on slavery into a single set of search results in which many of the original documents do not use the word at all.
- Collect all the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson along with their contemporaries’ views on each man to create a richer portrait on their fraught relationship and lasting friendship.
- Trace the Founders’ letters and diaries and debates leading up to the Constitutional Convention, their thoughts during the meetings in Philadelphia, the ratification of the Constitution by the states, and how the Washington administration, first Congress, and first Supreme Court implemented the grand experiment.
- Find insights into their private lives: the devotion expressed in the letters between John and Abigail Adams; Madison’s views on slavery; Hamilton’s feud that led to the fatal duel with Burr; the stuffed moose sent to Jefferson in Paris; Ben Franklin’s turkey; and yes, Washington’s decades-long problems with his teeth.