The public sentiments awakened by America’s centennial celebrations of 1876 took many forms, from a renewed interest in our remote history to a new fascination with our political institutions. Nowhere else do we see Lincoln’s “mystic chords of memory” played with greater enthusiasm than in the spontaneous emergence of lineage and patriotic societies toward the end of the century.
It is against this backdrop that the significance of the Order of the Founders and Patriots of America comes into sharp focus.
Over the course of half a dozen meetings during the early months of 1896, prominent men from all walks of life assembled in Manhattan to carve out a unique and distinctive organization, one that — in the words of its first expositor — “stands as preeminently American.”
They saw a gap between lineage societies dedicated to our colonial-era ancestors and societies oriented around descendants of those who fought in the American Revolution—the former may have been composed of Tories who fought against our independence while the latter may have harbored no ancestral commitment to the cause of liberty.
The men who established this Order endeavored to capture the vivid moral continuity between those who had been pioneers, men who “subdued the primeval wilderness and first planted within the limits of the original colonies the civilization which now leads the world” and their descendants who, “in patriotism and devotion and love of liberty, founded the first republic in the western hemisphere” (OFPA Register, 1902). What they held up was “a badge of double honor.”
John Quincy Adams (1848-1911), namesake and cousin of the sixth President of the United States, was a prime mover, charter member, and Chairman pro tem of the Order. In his 1896 inaugural address to the newly formed Order he noted, “the pioneer is one who has in his soul a spark of fire that impels him to look beyond the narrow streets of his native town, the confines of his paternal farm that he may find for this spark fresh and unsullied atmosphere… [and who] awakens in the morning with a feeling that he is being drawn toward the setting sun by an irresistible impulse; and yielding to this impulse, he opens to mankind new fields. He shows his brothers the wonders of the world lie beyond; he solves for man the most important questions in science by his discoveries.”
Descent from a Founding line from the first half-century after the landing at Jamestowne that produced an heir who fought in the American Revolution constitutes an unimpeachable heritage of commitment to American ideals. Adams further noted at the same meeting, “Men come and go and parties may change, but the principles of the American people are constant.”
In roughly sixty days, the Order went from an unnamed concept to being a certified corporation in the State of New York with 78 members. Within a year of its establishment, OFPA issued charters to societies in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut with Massachusetts following 36 months later.
The Order as it stands today embodies and extends the values and objectives of its origins, and exists to continue the mission of education, preservation, and fellowship.