A printer by vocation, inventor, philosopher and author by hobby, Benjamin Franklin played many vital roles in establishing both the independence of the United States and in ensuring the success of the young nation. Elected as a delegate to the Albany Congress of 1754, his Albany Plan outlined the balance of power between local independence and colonial union, and has been said to be prophetic of the U.S. Constitution. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, was chosen for the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, was sent as a diplomat to France to procure military assistance during the Revolution, and was appointed as one of three to negotiate the Treaty of Paris. Franklin also served as a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.
Known mostly as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson also served as an influential statesman of Virginia and as a diplomat to France. He contributed important legislation and ideology during the early years of the new nation. He strongly believed in the importance of legislation that limited the power of government and strengthened the rights of the people. Jefferson proposed and passed important legislation dictating the separation of church and state and was integral in both Virginia's decision to cede its northwestern territory to Congress and in drafting the land ordinances that would serve to manage the land equitably.
Serving as a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Second Continental Congress, John Dickinson became part of the committee assigned to author the first draft of the Articles of Confederation. Dickinson, who had extensive writing experience, was chosen as the chairman and the primary author of this document, although he had been one of the delegates who did not sign the Declaration of Independence. Favoring a strong central government similar to that of Great Britain, much of Dickinson's draft was changed before ratification, although his insistence on a strong central government resurfaced later in his support of the U.S. Constitution.
An influential planter and statesman from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee proposed the resolution that led both to the formulation of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, once serving as its president, and was one of a committee of three to review the Articles of Confederation for completeness before it was sent to the states for ratification. He later served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and received credit for drafting the 10th Amendment, which guaranteed states' rights.
A farmer from western Massachusetts and a former captain in the Continental Army, Daniel Shays staged a protest and led a rebellion against what he perceived to be unfair taxation and debt repayment legislation.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, this Virginia-born planter served a great symbolic role in early American history. He was keenly in favor of a strong national government, and exerted his influence toward that end when possible. He hosted the first successful interstate commerce meeting at his plantation home, Mount Vernon, and contributed tremendous prestige to the Constitutional Convention by agreeing to serve as one of the delegates from Virginia.