Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers

Steve - August 3, 2019

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
A famous depiction of the event as engraved by Paul Revere (copied from an engraving by Henry Pelham), colored by Christian Remick, and printed by Benjamin Edes (c. 1770). Wikimedia Commons.

10. Some alleged the 1770 Boston Massacre was deliberately arranged by Patriots to incite civil unrest and aid their cause against the British

A confrontation on March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre – also known as the Incident on King Street – served as a rallying cry for Patriots throughout the Thirteen Colonies and spurred nationalist support against British rule. Following a period of tense relations between civilians and quartered British soldiers, an angry mob surrounded a sentry and began verbally abusing him. Reinforced by eight colleagues, the situation escalated rapidly, with stones, clubs, and snowballs thrown at the soldiers. Responding suddenly without orders, the nine soldiers opened fire upon the hostile crowd, killing five and wounding six more.

Although later arrested, only two were convicted of manslaughter, receiving reduced sentences, whilst the rest were acquitted under the dutiful representation at trial by John Adams. Becoming a symbol of the oppression imposed upon the colonies by the British, exploited by Patriot propagandists like Paul Revere, the Boston Massacre would inspire a generation to rise up in rebellion just five years later. However, despite seemingly an action born of circumstance, fear, and human error, it has been suggested the incident was an early example of a false-flag attack. Either deliberately provoked or covertly arranged, this conspiracy theory alleges the massacre was orchestrated by Patriots to generate outrage and discontent against the British, providing popular support for their cause.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
Portraits of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, by Gilbert Stuart and Rembrandt Peale respectively (c. the 1800s). Wikimedia Commons.

9. Jefferson and Adams both died on the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence

Both reaching an advanced age, even by modern standards, in 1826 John Adams turned ninety whilst Thomas Jefferson a respectable eighty-three-years-old. Although invited to Washington to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – a document Jefferson had served as the principal author of – both men were enduring significant illnesses and unable to make the respective journeys. Succumbing within hours of each other on July 4, at 12:50 pm Jefferson passed away due to a fever whilst his friend and rival Adams followed suit at 6:20 pm. The latter’s last words, ignorant of his colleague’s departure, were to offer comfort to his family with the thought that “Thomas Jefferson survives”.

Immediately sparking public debate due to the incredible timing, the bizarre circumstance was taken by some, including Adams’ son, the sitting President John Quincy Adams, to be “visible and palpable remarks of Divine Favor”, interpreting the simultaneous deaths of the national heroes as proof of divine intervention and care for the fledgling country. However, others reached an equally far-fetched conclusion: that the long-time friends-turned-rivals-turned-friends elected to depart this world together and in style. Lacking credibility, with the duo living hundreds of miles apart, this conspiracy theory alleges the pair committed suicide together on that specific day rather than endure prolonged illness and unnoticed deaths.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
The reverse side of the United States One-Dollar Bill, illustrating the great seal of the United States of America (c. 1935). Wikimedia Commons.

8. The design of the one-dollar bill actually carries Christian motifs and Freemason symbolism

First issued in 1862, carrying a portrait of then-Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, the present format of the reverse side of the one-dollar bill stems from a redesign dating to 1935, making the bill the oldest overall design still in use by the United States. The highest production bill, accounting for forty-two percent as of 2009 and with more than twelve billion such bills in distribution as of 2017, the one-dollar note is one of most iconic symbols of the United States. Although carrying a portrait of George Washington on the obverse, the reverse side displays the Great Seal of the United States, as originally designed in 1782.

Provoking sustained conspiracy theories surrounding the placement of the Eye of Providence above a pyramid and the involvement of secret societies in American government, the one-dollar bill has served as a focal point of Freemasonry hypotheses for decades. However, whilst entertaining, the Eye – although today a common Masonic motif – was not during the late-18th century, but was instead a prominent Christian symbol during the Renaissance. Similarly, none of the four individuals responsible for contributing to the designs were affiliated at all with the order. Furthermore, logical reasoning dictates a secret organization would never so blatantly advertise their covert control over the American nation.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
“Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown”, depicting the British (center) surrendering to French (left) and American (right) troops, by John Trumbull (c. 1797). Wikimedia Commons.

7. Supposedly, France covertly fermented rebellion in the Thirteen Colonies to weaken their British rivals

Starting with the secret shipping of supplies to the Continental Army in 1775, three years later the Franco-American Treaty – also known as the Treaty of Alliance – formally committed France to the American cause against the British. Contributing money, equipment, as well as later soldiers and ships, the support of the French cannot be overstated in the impact had upon the Revolutionary War. Of particular note, the Battle of the Chesapeake and Siege of Yorktown were decisive victories against the British and were only possible with the overwhelming assistance provided by the forces of Marshal Rochambeau.

Whilst most Americans who remember the vital role the French played during the revolution merely appreciate the partnership provided, some entrepreneurial and imaginative individuals have since concocted a more sinister plan. Claiming the French had designs upon the British Isles but were unable to launch a viable invasion, it has been alleged the French deliberately fermented rebellion in the Thirteen Colonies during the 1760s and early-1770s to distract and weaken the British enough to emerge victorious from a subsequent conflict. Although highly spurious, if true then it was an abject failure, as France accrued more than one billion livres of debt, collapsed their own economy aiding the Americans, and ultimately lost in the Napoleonic Wars.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
“Declaration of Independence”, by John Trumbull (c. 1819). Wikimedia Commons.

6. It has been claimed a time traveler was responsible for convincing our Founding Fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence

Formally adopted on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed the United States of America as a sovereign nation. Although Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams all wrote the document was signed on the same day it was promulgated, as recorded similarly by the date listed on surviving signed copies, historical evidence strongly questions this assertion. As early as 1796 doubts were raised concerning the actual date of the signing, with Thomas McKean – one of the said signers – contending it could not have been July 4 as not all the individuals were actually present that day.

Becoming increasingly apparent during the 19th century the formal signing only took place sometime after July 19, it is today recognized the delegates put their name to parchment on August 2 – more than a month after promulgation. Whilst the historical record provides ample evidence justifying the delay – namely New York’s initial abstention and a desire for a unanimous declaration – an alternative conspiracy theory has been proposed. Alleging delegates were getting cold feet, this theory contends an unknown individual shouted out “God has given America to be free”, after which there was a rush to sign. Unable to find the individual responsible afterward, it is dubiously claimed the anonymous person must have been a time traveler resolved to save the country.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
The Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy (c. 1940). Wikimedia Commons.

5. The Founding Fathers were not all fervent Christians but were rather predominantly Deists

One of the fundamental principles of American political society is the central role of Christianity, becoming almost a disqualifying issue to not follow the religion, with no individual elected to the White House without claiming to be an adherent. A position held particularly among the traditional conservative wing of the nation, in spite of the First Amendment’s unequivocal separation of church and state, it is widely held the nation was founded by devout believers and was intended to be a Christian country. This, however, is very far from the truth, with many of the Founding Fathers retaining contradictory or differing religious beliefs.

Explored in detail by David L. Holmes in The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, it is clear the religions of the Founding Fathers were diverse in both conviction and scope. Whilst some indeed were followers of Christianity, notably, Patrick Henry and John Jay, a preponderance of the grouping were, in fact, Deists. Including Thomas Paine, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, these individuals, whilst not totally abandoning their Judeo-Christian heritage, categorically fell short of the standards of theism. This diversity and skepticism perhaps help to explain the Constitution itself, with the First Amendment ahead of its time concerning the exclusion of religion from public life.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (c. early 20th century). Wikimedia Commons.

4. Some believe the authors of the Declaration of Independence deliberately crafted a sinister document espousing freedoms

In contrast to public memory of the document, the bulk of the Declaration of Independence deals not with the rights and liberties of the people residing within the American Colonies but instead with the charges and indictments leveled against King George III. Whilst schoolchildren across the United States are persistently taught about the flowery language of the brief preamble – most famously the sentence on self-evident truths and equality – this tiny section is dwarfed by the twenty-seven charges brought against the British Crown, suggesting, in the minds of scholars, where the true meaning and import of the document rests.

As recognized by modern historians, the purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to provide a legal pretext for rebellion, not a discourse on rights. However, some conspiracy theorists go even further, suggesting the deliberate placement and over-exaggeration on the subject of freedoms and liberties – far exceeding the common opinion of the day and never truly enforced by the United States – was instead a sinister cover. Placing sufficient emphasis on lofty ideals, these arguments claim the Founding Fathers instead sought to concentrate as much power possible in the hands of a few but could not openly say so.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
Portrait of Queen Anne (1665-1714), the last Stuart monarch, by the Workshop of John Closterman (c. 1702). Wikimedia Commons.

3. It has been argued the entire American Rebellion in the Colonies was designed by Jacobites to permit a return of the Stuarts to the British throne

Following the installation of George I as King of Great Britain and Ireland in 1714, over the better claims of more than fifty of his relatives who were disqualified for being Catholic, the reign of the House of Stuart was ended in favor of the House of Hanover. Terminating also the Jacobite belief in the divine right of kings, with Parliament instead selecting who would fill the vacant throne and not God, the political movement repeatedly sought to restore what they perceived to be the rightful Stuarts to their proper place. Culminating in failed uprisings in 1715, 1719, and 1745, as well as several more minor instances, the Jacobite cause has been connected to the American Revolution.

Failing to successfully provoke rebellion in Britain, repeatedly crushed in decisive fashion, following the disastrous defeat in 1746 and the end of Jacobitism in Great Britain it has been alleged adherents entered into a protracted conspiracy designed to weaken the British Crown prior to a renewed effort. Supposedly responsible for provoking the seismic unrest throughout the American Colonies in the years preceding the revolution, in a manner similar to conspiracy theories involving ulterior French designs, it has been argued that Jacobites orchestrated the American Revolution in order to provide more fertile grounds in Europe for their seditious activities.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
Official Presidential portrait of John Adams, by John Trumbull (c. 1792-1793). Wikimedia Commons.

2. It has been claimed the Alien and Sedition Acts were introduced to combat the Illuminati and prevent a hostile takeover

As previously mentioned, the Alien and Sedition Acts – signed into law in 1798 under President John Adams and supported by the Federalist Party – were among the most controversial elements of early American history. Granting the government sweeping and authoritarian powers to prosecute political dissenters, as well as foreigners, the acts were widely unpopular and denounced as tyrannical. Although mostly repealed following the Democratic-Republican victory in 1800, albeit with the Alien Enemies Act surviving to this day, some conspiracy theorists have argued this endurance exhibits the true intended purpose of the legislation.

Extending the residency requirements from five to fourteen years to acquire naturalization, both the Alien Friends and Alien Enemies Acts afforded the government broad powers over non-citizens and new arrivals to the United States. Tapping into (spurious) allegations concerning the Illuminati, it has been alleged the intended purpose of these bills were to deny the secret society the capacity to become entrenched in North America. Through these harsh anti-immigrant powers, it is reasoned the federal government carefully pruned incoming migrants to weed out subversives and deport members of the Illuminati before they could become a danger to the fledgling republic.

Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, by Charles Wilson Peale (c. 1791). Wikimedia Commons.

1. Thomas Jefferson was almost certainly not a leading member of the already discontinued Illuminati

One of the most prominent and acclaimed faces of the American Revolution, the achievements of Thomas Jefferson are almost beyond measure. Minister to France, the inaugural Secretary of State, both Vice President and President of the United States, as well as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and savior of the Library of Congress, Jefferson unquestionably deserves his position on Mount Rushmore. In spite of, and perhaps precisely because of this visibility, Jefferson has equally become the subject of more conspiracy theories than virtually any other American politician in history.

Supportive (and least initially) of the French Revolution, spending also several years in Europe in his capacity as one of America’s first overseas ambassadors, one of the more common conspiratorial rumors regarding Jefferson is that he was himself a leading member of the Illuminati. Allegedly joining the group during this time abroad, these uncorroborated and nonsensical arguments seek to connect his subsequent rise to prominence to sinister and shadowy influences. It should be noted, however, that one conspiracy theory – that Jefferson fathered children with one of his slaves – has since been proven to be true, although his involvement with the defunct Illuminati remains less likely to follow suit.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati”, Terry Melanson, Trine Day Publishing (2009)

“The Fate of Reason”, Frederick C. Beiser, Harvard University Press (1987)

“The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson”, Adrienne Koch, Columbia University Press (1943)

“Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson”, Edwin S. Gaustad, Eerdmans Publishing (2001)

“The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton: The Life and Legacy of America’s Most Elusive Founding Father”, Douglas Ambrose and Robert W.T. Martin, New York University Press (2006)

“Alexander Hamilton America’s Forgotten Founder”, Michael P. Federici, Johns Hopkins University Press (2012)

“Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America”, Benjamin L. Carp, Yale University Press (2010)

“The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin”, H.W. Brands, Anchor Books (2002)

“Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”, Walter Isaacson, Simon and Schuster (2003)

“The Character of John Adams”, Peter Shaw, Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press (1976)

“John Adams”, David McCullough, Simon and Schuster (2001)

“Rival Truths, Political Accommodation, and the Boston ‘Massacre'”, Neil Longley York, Massachusetts Historical Review (2009)

“The Boston Massacre”, Robert J. Allison, Commonwealth Editions (2006)

“Two Presidents Died on the Same July 4: Coincidence or Something More?”, Natasha Frost, History Magazine (July 3, 2018)

“Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”, Jon Meacham, Random House (2012)

“The Eagle and the Shield: A History of the Great Seal of the United States”, Richard Shape Patterson and Richardson Dougall, United States Government Printing Office (1978)

“Is U.S. Ready to See the Dollar Bill Pass?”, Los Angeles Times (June 12, 1995)

“French Policy and the American Alliance of 1778”, Edward S. Corwin, Wentworth Press (1962)

“The French Forces in America, 1780-1783”, Lee Kennett, Greenwood Publishing (1977)

“The Declaration of Independence: Its History”, John H. Hazelton, Da Capo Press (1970)

“The Story of the Declaration of Independence”, Dumas Malone, Oxford University Press (1975)

“The Faiths of the Founding Fathers”, David L. Holmes, Oxford University Press (2006)

“The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text”, Julian P. Boyd, University Press of New England (1999)

“The Declaration of Independence: An Interpretation and an Analysis”, Herbert Friedenwald, Wentworth Press.

“The Jacobites, Britain, and Europe 1688-178”, Daniel Szechi, Manchester University Press (1994)

“Jacobitism and Anti-Jacobitism in the British Atlantic World, 1688-1727”, David Parrish, Studies in History (2017)

“Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties”, James Morton Smith, Cornell University Press (1966)

“Crisis in Freedom: The Alien and Sedition Acts”, John Chester Miller, Little, Brown, and Company (1951)

“Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”, Jon Meacham, Random House (2012)

“The Mind of Thomas Jefferson”, Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia Press (2007)