Aired: December 6, 2014

Reading the Founding Fathers’ Mail

More than 30 people who spent the last three years immersed in thousands of letters written by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Abigail Adams, and James Madison, are experiencing a sense of loss and sorrow now that the massive project to proofread the letters and make them available online has come to a close. Join us as Bill Kissell, Donna Carty, and Dena Radley share favorite letters that reveal the fascinating inner lives of the founders. Also: Project Director Sue Perdue (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities) and Kathleen Williams (National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives) describe the scope of this remarkable project of the National Archives called Founders Online (produced in collaboration with the University of Virginia Press).

Later in the show: In the age of Facebook, “friend” is now a verb. Dylan Wittkower (Old Dominion University) says the concept of friendship has changed with the advent of social media, but sites like Facebook can expand the ties between people. Also featured: From Al Qaida to Timothy McVeigh, many terrorists are influenced by the radical apocalyptic idea of bringing on “the end of days.” Frances Flannery (James Madison University) argues that we need to think about long-term solutions which involve a kind of “cultural counter-terrorism.”

  • Founders Online

    Check out Founders Online to read letters from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Over 165,000 searchable documents, fully annotated, from the authoritative Founding Fathers Papers projects.

  • Founders Online Feature

    A team of proofreaders in Virginia has just wrapped up the three-year job of digitizing the papers of the Founding Fathers.  They say ending the project is like saying goodbye to a dear friend.  Lilia Fuquen has more.


1 Comment on “Reading the Founding Fathers’ Mail”

  1. Michael D. Hattem

    Point of fact regarding something said at the 13:30 mark of the podcast: Franklin did not have 12 children with whom he left for Deborah to care for when he went to France. He had 3 children, one of whom died at the age of 4. And Deborah had died in 1774. Franklin did spend many years in England before the Revolution, from 1757 to 1762 and then again from 1764 to 1776, but William, his illegitimate son, was already grown by the first visit and Sally, his daughter, was into her teen years and soon to be married at that point also. He did leave Deborah to take care of the family’s business at home, because he thought she was capable of doing so and because he trusted her. They corresponded regularly throughout his two stints in England about both business and family affairs. Also, when Franklin learned that William had an illegitimate son in England, he took him into his home in France, educated him, and made him his aide.

    Getting details wrong is one thing (and certainly forgivable as we all do it from time to time). But Franklin was a complicated man and portraying him as some kind of derelict in regard to his family responsibilities to contrast him with Adams (who, one could argue, may have been physically closer but more emotionally distant to his children than Franklin) does neither Franklin nor Adams (or history itself, for that matter) any favors.

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