JMU professor looks back at the Founders on Presidents Day
The Framers weren’t entirely focused on the moment as they were setting out the guidelines for the new nation. There was at least some thought to what future generations would think of the work they were doing.
“The Founding Fathers were far more self-conscious about their legacies than they wanted to let on,” said Rebecca Brannon, a history professor at James Madison University. “In their later years, they all worked hard on multiple ways to expand beyond their extensive and notable records of public service in order to assure themselves that their post-death legacies would represent them the way they wanted to be remembered.”
Among the ways they looked ahead: “They founded and financed universities to connect with future generations they would never know. They planned permanent monuments to themselves, such as Thomas Jefferson’s elaborate and expensive buildings for the University of Virginia and George Washington’s beloved brand-new federal city. They sat for endless paintings and statutes. Poor Thomas Jefferson almost suffocated to death under a poorly applied life mask for one such bust.”
Brannon teaches courses in United States history that focus on the colonial, revolutionary, and early national period. Her work has brought her to audiences through NPR shows such as With Good Reason and Backstory, TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” and Bill O’Reilly’s “Legends and Lies: The American Patriots.”
“In many ways the Founding Fathers were like older people today. They wanted to make sure they left a legacy that meant their lives had made the world a better place,” Brannon said.