Founding Fathers
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Doctors, lawyers, merchants (and a few ne’er do well heirs) — meet the self-made men behind the Declaration of Independence.

By Bill Murphy Jr. | | July 3, 2014

We all know about Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, true entrepreneurs before the word was even in use. But what about the other Founding Fathers?

Curious about the paths the signatories followed, I found an 1829 book, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich. As it turns out, most of those who signed the Declaration of Independence started or ran their own businesses.

There are some inspiring tales of self-made men within their midst. So as we celebrate the 237th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, here are some of their stories.

The Lawyers and Doctors

Walk into just about any legislature now, and you’ll see plenty of law degrees on the walls. The politicians of the earliest days of the United States were no different.

Honestly, there are too many lawyers among those who signed the Declaration of Independence to list, but they had to hustle for clients, argue and advise, and work hard to collect fees just like the rest of us entrepreneurs. Among the most prominent was a future president, John Adams of Massachusetts.

My favorite among Goodrich’s stories, however, is that of Maryland’s Thomas Stone, who practiced law until he was able to “discharge the obligations under which he had laid himself for his education,” and then go into farming. (In other words, he practiced law until he paid off his student loans and then found something he was more passionate about.)

Another big profession of the time — medicine — was also well represented. (I’m lumping doctors and lawyers together, because this was a time when law and medicine meant arranging for your education and running a business on your own.)

Among the doctors were Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania and Matthew Thornton and Joshua Bartlett of New Hampshire. (Bartlett is better known today as the fictional forefather of Martin Sheen’s character in the television show The West Wing.”)

Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut studied to be a doctor as well, but never practiced, Goodrich wrote, as he’d already inherited a fortune and didn’t need the money.

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