What is the meaning of the term “Founding Fathers”?

July 2, 2018 § Leave a comment

Dear Colleagues:

This Fourth of July the United States celebrates its 241st birthday. The founding of our country motivated me to write about a term frequently used but seldom understood: “The Founding Fathers”.

Many interpreters, U.S. and foreign born, including some who use the term at work, have told me they believe they know who we are referring to when we speak of the “Founding Fathers”, but they ignore the meaning of such a phrase. They do not understand what it means. The fact is they are not alone.  Let me explain:

Since the foundation of the United States, there has been a great deal of respect for those who made it possible to have a new nation free of tyranny and monarchy, where people would be recognized as equal and govern themselves according to their own collective will.  These remarkable individuals contributed to the nation and were originally called the “fathers” of the country.

These American heroes included those who participated in the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, those who signed the Articles of Confederation of 1781, and the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.

Another equally recognized and honored group of American heroes are the “framers”. They include all delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the authors of The Federalist Papers. Of the 55 framers, only 39 were also signers of the Constitution.

The “Fathers” are called “Founding Fathers” for the first time by President Warren G. Harding in 1916. The phrase was catchy and stayed.

After 1916 the term “Founding Fathers” has been applied to all those who contributed to the birth of the nation. The original “Fathers”, the “Framers”, and many others who fought for independence on the battle field or at Independence Hall are now called America’s “Founding Fathers”; and the list of “Founding Fathers” is constantly expanding to include all individuals, regardless of race, gender, or national origin, who contributed to the success of the Revolutionary War.

Many authors set some of the “Founding Fathers” aside from the rest and are sometimes called the “Key Founding Fathers”. It is usually these individuals that historians, speech writers, journalists, and lay people have in mind when they speak of the “Founding Fathers”. Columbia University professor, and renowned historian, Richard Morris, identified this American heroes as the “Key Founding Fathers”: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Washington were Presidents of the United States. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were part of the 5-member Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay authored The Federalist Papers.  Jay, Adams, and Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the War of Independence; and George Washington was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and presided over the Constitutional Convention.  Washington, just like Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, did not sign the Declaration of Independence.

Now you know who the “Founding Fathers” are and what the term means.  Just like everything else in the United States of America, it is a group of men and women, some foreign born, with diverse ethnicity, who contributed their life’s work, and occasionally their own life, to create the country we honor today. We welcome your comments. Happy Fourth of July!

The confusing list of holidays in the United States.

February 15, 2018 § 7 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Many colleagues who live abroad, and others who live in the United States but grew up somewhere else, have asked me about the holidays in the United States.  Many visitors to the U.S. are often confused when they see holidays where everything is closed, holidays where some things are closed, and holidays where everything is closed in one place and open somewhere else. I thought this was a good time to explain our unique holiday schedule because on the third Monday in February, we observe Presidents’ Day, our third federal holiday of the year.  This apparent chaos is really a manifestation of the fifty states’ sovereign powers, and the result of the different history, culture, origins, interests, and values of each one.

The United States is a federation of fifty states and each state has its own legislation and decision-making process.  Because of this system Americans have two types of holidays: Those determined by the United States Congress, and observed in all fifty states, are called federal holidays; and those that have been declared by state and local governments, and are only observed in a specific state, county, or city.  The latter ones are state or local holidays.  By comparison with other countries the United States has very few federal holidays, but the states are a different story.

All federal government offices close on federal holidays but the state and local governments remain open unless the federal holiday is also a state holiday.  Federal government offices continue to work on state holidays, and sometimes, only city or county offices may close for the day in observance of a local holiday to honor a local hero or commemorate an event of great importance at the city level. Unless they are government workers, Americans go to work on many holidays. To the foreign observer, a good rule to remember is that on federal holidays, all federal government offices, banks, and the post office will be closed. On state holidays, all state government offices and public schools will be closed. The rest of the American people will have the day off during major federal holidays, and the citizens of a particular state will not have to work on a local holiday, even if the rest of the country does. It is only on major holidays, which are observed at the state and federal level, that everybody enjoys a day away from the workplace.

On January 1, 1971 Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” which shifted most holidays to a Monday in the month where the original holiday was observed.  The states followed the same system shortly after.  There are 11 federal holidays in the United States:

New Year’s Day. January 1*

Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Third Monday in January

Presidents’ Day. Third Monday in February

Memorial Day. Last Monday in May*

Juneteenth. June 19 (Starting in 2021)

Independence Day. July 4*

Labor Day. First Monday in September*

Columbus Day. Second Monday in October

Veterans Day. November 11

Thanksgiving Day. Fourth Thursday in November*

Christmas Day. December 25*

*Major federal holidays.

All government offices are closed on them all.

Except for Presidents Day, Veterans Day, and Juneteenth National Independence Day, all 50 states observe the rest of the federal holidays as state holidays. The states that do not observe Presidents Day as a state holiday are:

Delaware

Georgia

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

North Carolina

Rhode Island

Wisconsin

Some states opted out of this holiday because they honor Washington and Lincoln on a different date.

The only state not to observe Veterans Day is Wisconsin. At the inception of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some counties in Arizona considered not observing the holiday.

As of June 2021, Juneteenth is not observed in Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

There are many reasons for the states’ holidays, some are historical, like Mississippi’s Robert E. Lee’s Birthday in January, Hawaii’s King Kamehameha Day in June, or Massachusetts’ Patriots Day in April. Other are cultural, like California’s Cesar Chavez Day in May, or Maryland’s American Indian Heritage Day in November. Other holidays have a practical reason to exist, like Indiana’s Primary Election Day in May, and General Election Day in November; some are for convenience like designating the fourth Friday in November as a holiday, under different names, in many states, and some are religious, like Kansas’ Christmas Eve in December, or Delaware’s Good Friday. There are also local holidays observed in a particular city or county, not the rest of the state. To honor Casimir Pulaski (Kazimierz Pulaski), a War of Independence hero born in Poland, the City of Chicago, and Cook County, Illinois, observe Pulaski Day on the first Monday of every March. On that day, Chicago and Cook County government offices are closed, and children leaving in Chicago do not go to school.

Some states have no state holidays. The following States have no State holidays, only federal:

Arizona

Colorado

Florida

Idaho

Oregon

Wyoming

Also keep in mind there are certain “celebrations in the United States” that are treated like holidays even though they are not: Super Bowl Sunday in February, Cinco de Mayo in May, and St. Patrick’s Day in March are not official holidays and everybody works on those dates.

This is the complete list of all state holidays in the United States by state:

Alabama

Mon Jan 15 Robert E. Lee’s Birthday

Tue Feb 13 Mardi Grass Day

Mon Apr 23 Confederate Memorial Day

Mon Jun 4 Jefferson Davis Birthday

Alaska

Mon Mar 26 Seward’s Day

Thu Oct 18 Alaska Day

Arkansas

Mon Jan 15 Robert E. Lee’s Birthday

Mon Feb 19 Daisy Gatson Bates Day

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

California

Sun Feb 4 Rosa Parks Day

Sat Mar 31 Cesar Chavez Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Connecticut

Mon Feb 12 Lincoln’s Birthday

Fri Mar 31 Good Friday

Delaware

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Thu Nov 8 Return Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

District of Columbia

Mon Apr 16 DC Emancipation Day

Georgia

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Mon Apr 23 Confederate Memorial Day

Fri Nov 23 Georgia State Holiday

Mon Dec 24 Washington’s Birthday Holiday (Following year on Dec 26)

Hawaii

Mon Mar 26 Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Mon June 11 King Kamehameha Day

Fri Aug 17 Statehood Day

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Illinois

Mon Feb 12 Lincoln’s Birthday

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Indiana

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Tue May 8 Primary Election Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Fri Nov 23 Lincoln’s Birthday Holiday

Mon Dec 24 Washington’s Birthday Holiday (Following year on Dec 26)

Iowa

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Kansas

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

Kentucky

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

Mon Dec 31 New Year’s Eve

Louisiana

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Tue Feb 13 Mardi Gras Day

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Maine

Mon Apr 16 Patriots Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Maryland

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Fri Nov 23 American Indian Heritage Day

Massachusetts

Mon Apr 16 Patriots Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Michigan

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

Mon Dec 31 New Year’s Eve

Minnesota

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Mississippi

Mon Jan 15 Robert E. Lee’s Birthday

Mon Apr 30 Confederate Memorial Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Missouri

Mon Feb 12 Lincoln’s Birthday

Tue May 8 Truman Day

Montana

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

Nebraska

Fri Apr 27 Arbor Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Nevada

Fri Oct 26 Nevada Day

Fri Nov 23 Family Day

New Hampshire

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

New Jersey

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

New Mexico

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Fri Nov 23 Presidents Day Holiday

New York

Mon Feb 12 Lincoln’s Birthday

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

North Carolina

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

Wed Dec 26 Christmas Holiday

North Dakota

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Ohio

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Sat Dec 1 Rosa Parks Day

Oklahoma

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Wed Dec 26 Christmas Holiday

Pennsylvania

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Rhode Island

*Does not observe Presidents Day

Mon Aug 13 Victory Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Tue Nov 6 General Election Day

South Carolina

Thu May 10 Confederate Memorial Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

Wed Dec 26 Christmas Holiday

South Dakota

Mon Oct 8 Native American Day

Tennessee

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Wed Dec 26 Christmas Holiday

Texas

Fri Jan 19 Confederate Heroes Day

Fri Mar 2 Texas Independence Day

Fri Mar 30 Good Friday

Sat Mar 31 Cesar Chávez Day

Sat Apr 21 San Jacinto Day

Tue Jun 19 Juneteenth

Mon Aug 27 Lyndon B Johnson Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

Wed Dec 26 Christmas Holiday

Utah

Tue Jul 24 Pioneer Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Vermont

Tue Mar 6 Town Meeting Day

Thu Aug 16 Bennington Battle Day

Virginia

Fri Jan 12 Lee-Jackson Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

WashingtonFri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

West VirginiaWed Jun 20 West Virginia Day

Mon Oct 8 Columbus Day

Fri Nov 23 Thanksgiving Friday

Wisconsin*Does not observe Presidents Day

*Does not observe Veterans Day

Mon Dec 24 Christmas Eve

Mon Dec 31 New Year’s Eve

I hope this brief explanation, and comprehensive holiday list, help you to understand better the holiday calendar of the United States. I now invite you to comment on this subject.

Is it the American Revolution or the War of Independence?

July 4, 2014 § 11 Comments

Dear colleagues:

It seems to me that every year around the 4th of July I get the same question from friends and colleagues: What do you say when you are interpreting an event and the speaker brings up the 4th of July? Sometimes they refer to this event as the revolutionary war; sometimes they call it the war of independence, and to some it is just the American revolution. Which one is the correct term to describe what happened in the United States of America at the end of the 18th century?

Those of you who know me personally have seen how much I like history, so this is an issue that I have studied and researched in the past. We should start by going to the dictionary to see what the difference between the terms revolution and independence is. According to the Oxford dictionary, a revolution is: “A forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system.” It also defines it as: “A dramatic and wide reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.” Webster calls it: “A total or radical change,” and “A fundamental change in political organization, or in a government or constitution; the overthrow or renunciation of one government, and the substitution of another, by the governed.” Oxford defines independence as: “The fact or state of being independent,” and independent as: “Free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.” Webster tells us that independence is: (the) freedom from outside control or support,” and also as: “The time when a country or region gains political freedom from outside control.”

The American revolution (or war of independence) was the very first of its kind. It emerged at a time when most of the world was ruled by monarchs, and most of the people were confined to a place in society they had inherited and could not leave. It was also a movement led by wealthy intellectuals who organized, debated, compromised, and reached decisions by majority of votes.

The American movement was triggered by resentment of the economic policies of Britain, particularly the right of Parliament to tax the colonies, and by the exclusion of the colonists from participation in political decisions affecting their interests. This has come to be known as “taxation without representation.” After the end of the costly French and Indian War of 1763 the British Crown needed money, so it imposed new unpopular taxes such as the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act, as well as trade restrictions on the colonies. For over a century the colonies had been fairly unattached to the Monarchy because of geography and religion. The people of the 13 colonies had made a life with very little help from the British monarch who now wanted even more of the colonists’ hard earned money, fueling growing resentment and strengthening the colonists’ objection to their lack of representation in the British Parliament.

Determined to achieve independence, the colonies formed the Continental Army, composed chiefly of minutemen, to challenge Britain’s large, organized militia. Following disturbances such as the Boston Tea Party of 1773, the war began when Britain sent a force to destroy rebel military stores at Concord, Massachusetts. After fighting broke out in 1775 in Lexington and Concord, rebel forces began a siege of Boston that ended when the Americans forced out the British troops in 1776 during the battle of Bunker Hill. The Crown’s offer of pardon in exchange for surrender was refused by the Americans, who declared themselves independent on July 4, 1776. British forces retaliated by driving the Continental Army of George Washington from New York to New Jersey. On December 25, Washington crossed the Delaware River and won the battles of Trenton and Princeton. After winning the battle of Saratoga, Washington quartered his troops through a terrible winter at Valley Forge, where they received the military training that gave them victory in Monmouth in 1778. British forces in the north were concentrated near New York, and France, which had been secretly furnishing aid to the Americans since 1776, finally declared war on Britain in June 1778. French troops assisted American troops in the south, culminating with the British surrender in 1781, bringing an end to the war on land. War between Britain and the U.S.’s European allies continued at sea. The navies of Spain and the Netherlands contained most of Britain’s navy near Europe and away from the fighting in America. The last battle of the war was won by the American navy in March 1783 in the Straits of Florida. With the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783 Britain recognized the independence of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River and ceded Florida to Spain.

This would be the story of a successful war of independence like many others throughout history. However, the military campaign is only part of what happened in America in 1776. Perhaps the most important event of the war of independence happened in a Philadelphia hall, away from the battlefield.

You see, unlike other nations that have obtained their independence from a foreign power, the thirteen original colonies were not a single entity. This was not a country trying to be independent from another. These were thirteen distinctively different peoples; they had different economies, different religious practices, different geographical circumstances, even different ethnicity. Unlike other independence movements, this was a decision made by a population with very little ties to their European monarch. Spanish and Portuguese nobility established in the rest of the Americas, they were governed by a king through a viceroy. The thirteen colonies had none of that. The immigration to what is now the eastern United States consisted of laborers, farmers, people who had been oppressed and persecuted by their European government. ) We can now see a similar situation with some of the 21st century immigration into the United States from Latin America). These people owed nothing to the crown. Ignored by the Crown, they took advantage of that freedom and successfully built a country where hard work and creativity gave them a lifestyle unimaginable for them in Europe. Two kinds of Americans participated in the movement of independence: the common hard-working individual who knew that it was wrong to give his hard-earned money to the British Monarch who had done nothing for him, and the well-educated, wealthy American segment of the population who were able to articulate this general desire shared by all Americans, and produce a blueprint for a government never seen before where all thirteen colonies, now states, would keep their independence while at the same time would unite with the other colonies for two fundamental purposes: to defend themselves from more powerful foreign nations, and to facilitate commerce and free trade among the thirteen states. They designed a system of government as far away from the powers of the monarch, with a very limited role for the government, with a divided power for checks and balances, and with an inverted pyramid structure where the government closes to the people would have more power than the government more removed from the American citizens. They elaborated this master plan in order to achieve three goals: the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and they made it clear that the government would never be able to take any of that away from the people because the people created the government to serve it, because no authority or power, or rights ever came from the government; they made it clear that all this inalienable rights came from a higher power, by the Creator. In doing so, they doomed all potential tyrants for eternity, because in the United States the government gave nothing to the people and therefore, it cannot ever take it back. It is true that in 1776 blacks were considered property, and women and also men who did not hold land could not vote. It is true that it took an even bloodier war to eliminate slavery, and another century to begin a process of true equality; it is a work in progress; but the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the true American revolution.

Therefore, my friends and colleagues, when asked the question is it the American Revolution or the War of Independence, you should pause and remember that it was a military war of independence because it severed the ties between the United States and the British crown, but it was also a revolution because it went far beyond breaking away from the monarch, it created a brand new system with a limited role by the government, with checks and balances, and with the triple goal of protecting life, liberty, and guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness to all those in the United States. Therefore, as you answer the question, remember John Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, signing his name at the bottom of Jefferson’s master piece, with huge letters so that King George III “could see it all the way across the ocean” and answer that it depends on what you are addressing: the military movement or de fundamental change in government; and if they ask you for a term to describe it all, then in my opinion you should say: The revolutionary war. Now I ask you all, limited to the question posed in this post, to share your opinion and comments about this issue.

The American Founding Fathers and their Foreign Languages.

July 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

On this Fourth of July all Americans celebrate our independence.  We know that on this day we recognize the immense wisdom and unlimited courage of a group of men who lived in the same right place at the same right time.  Although most of us will spend the better part of the day watching baseball, having a hot dog, and attending some local fireworks tonight, I thought that this year it would be interesting to once again talk about a little known aspect of the founding fathers’ lives: Their knowledge of foreign languages.

It is undisputable that they were all bright, well-educated, and visionary heroes who crafted an idea and implemented a concept never attempted before: a country with no monarch where the people were in charge.  We have read about their political, diplomatic, scientific, and military qualities, about how gifted they were. It is time to review their knowledge of foreign languages.  George Washington did not speak any other language. No doubt because of his very little formal education and humble beginnings he just spoke English.  Abraham Lincoln would fit the same bill. The emancipator was a self-educated attorney with a very modest upbringing and he never learned any foreign languages either. These two American heroes did not travel abroad in their lifetime.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State under Washington, and our third President spoke English, French, Italian, Latin, and he could read Greek, and Spanish. Benjamin Franklin, America’s first diplomat and well-known genius spoke English, French and Italian.   Our second President: John Adams spoke English, French and Latin. President James Madison spoke English, Greek, Latin and Hebrew.  James Monroe spoke English and French.

Although Samuel Adams and John Hancock did not speak any foreign languages, Hancock, the wealthiest of our founding fathers, and perhaps the most generous, founded a Professorship of Oriental Languages and Hebrew in Massachusetts.  All in all, 21 of America’s 44 Presidents have known at least a second language, and if you consider that America’s first Nobel Peace Prize recipient: President Teddy Roosevelt spoke French and German,  then we can say that two out of four Presidents sculpted on Mount Rushmore spoke a foreign language.

This may not be the most relevant aspect of a hero’s life, but it is a good way for a linguist to wish all of my friends and colleagues, together with their families, a happy Fourth of July!

The American Founding Fathers and their Foreign Languages.

July 4, 2012 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

On this Fourth of July all Americans celebrate our independence.  We know that on this day we recognize the immense wisdom and unlimited courage of a group of men who lived in the same right place at the same right time.  Although most of us will spend the better part of the day watching baseball, having a hot dog, and attending some local fireworks tonight, I thought it would be interesting to talk about a little known aspect of the founding fathers’ lives: Their knowledge of foreign languages.

It is undisputable that they were all bright, well-educated, and visionary heroes who crafted an idea and implemented a concept never attempted before: a country with no monarch where the people were in charge.  We have read about their political, diplomatic, scientific, and military qualities, about how gifted they were. It is time to review their knowledge of foreign languages.  George Washington did not speak any other language. No doubt because of his very little formal education and humble beginnings he just spoke English.  Abraham Lincoln would fit the same bill. The emancipator was a self-educated attorney with a very modest upbringing and he never learned any foreign languages either. These two American heroes did not travel abroad in their lifetime.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State under Washington, and our third President spoke English, French, Italian, Latin, and he could read Greek, and Spanish. Benjamin Franklin, America’s first diplomat and well-known genius spoke English, French and Italian.   Our second President: John Adams spoke English, French and Latin. President James Madison spoke English, Greek, Latin and Hebrew.  James Monroe spoke English and French.

Although Samuel Adams and John Hancock did not speak any foreign languages, Hancock, the wealthiest of our founding fathers, and perhaps the most generous, founded a Professorship of Oriental Languages and Hebrew in Massachusetts.  All in all, 21 of America’s 44 Presidents have known at least a second language, and if you consider that America’s first Nobel Peace Prize recipient: President Teddy Roosevelt spoke French and German,  then we can say that two out of four Presidents sculpted on Mount Rushmore spoke a foreign language.

This may not be the most relevant aspect of a hero’s life, but it is a good way for a linguist to wish all of my friends and colleagues, together with their families, a happy Fourth of July!

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