My own personal take on the question of who the greatest Founding Fathers were. I'm not making any objective statement here, just expressing my own view -- although I do think that my view is right! Anyway, here's the list, in order of importance:
1) George Washington. I know, I know, everybody lists Washington first. But you know what, he should be at the top of everybody's list. And for this reason: he was the indispensable man from the beginning of the Revolution until his death. From commanding the American army, to presiding over the Constitutional Convention, to being the first president under that Constitution, to stepping away from power when he did, Washington was the only man who could have done what he did. As Franklin once commented, Washington was "always the tallest man in the room." True, enough, both physically and in terms of character.
2) John Adams. Why is Adams this high on the list? Is it because of his impassioned defense of American liberty during the run up to the American Revolution? No. Is it because of his efforts to secure recognition and financing for the young republic as a diplomat in Europe? No. It is because of his actions as the second president, showing that he would stand up to those within his own political party who sought to further narrow interests at the expense of the nation? Close, but not quite.
Here's why he is the second most important Founder: he lost his re-election bid for the presidency and (here's the important part) he went home. He didn't try to fix the election. He didn't try to throw it into the House of Representatives to damage his political opponents. He didn't try to hold on to power at the expense of constitutional fidelity.
He went home. Like Washington, his commitment to the republic transcended a desire for power. Adams was a deeply flawed man, and his presidency was problematic in serious ways. But in the end, he got the most important thing right: service to the nation, rather than to himself. For all his vanity and ambition, he got that right. And he went home. For that, he's the second most important Founding Father.
3) Alexander Hamilton. Gordon Wood to the contrary, Hamilton was a great man and it is thanks to him that the United States developed the governmental structures that enabled it to survive and thrive in a world where our future was far from secure. In a world surrounded by old and established empires, far larger than the United States and ready to prey upon the new republic, Hamilton worked to establish the financial and political resources within the country to enable it to grow and prosper as an independent nation in the rapidly industrializing West. Hamilton's life was ended early, but even with Aaron Burr's cowardly shot cutting him down before his time, Hamilton's efforts to stabilize the American republic earns him a spot in the pantheon of Founders.
It is to be hoped that some very talented and famous biographer will come along and do for Hamilton what David McCollough did for John Adams.
4) Thomas Jefferson. I don't like him. I don't like reading things that he wrote. I don't like how he lived his life. I don't like how he treated his slaves. I don't like his hypocrisy involving: slavery, his affair with Sally Hemmings, his fulminations against debt while wallowing in financial insolvency, his devious and snarling animosity to Hamilton, Adams and even Washington. I don't like his Francophilia, his anarchic Jacobinism, his embrace of the French Revolution while simultaneously defending the privileged position of the Southern squirarchy. I don't like his rationalist deism, his cut and paste version of the New Testament, his anti-Catholicism, his impoverished understanding of the religious roots of Western civilization. I. Don't. Like. Him.
So, why is he on my list? Simple. He's the guy that made America a continental and global power. Despite his own political rhetoric, his own animosity to Federalist policy, his own localist dogma, and his personal repulsiveness, he built on the legacies of Washington, Adams and Hamilton to build, in his own words, "an Empire of Liberty."
The Louisiana Purchase took the United States from a regional power, barely able to hold on to the Northwest Territory, and made it a solid continental player. The Lewis and Clark Expedition archored this continental presence even more firmly into place, while at the same time fostering naturalist studies in the American West. His determination to stand up to the Barbary Corsairs showed that the United States had the capacity for global power projection via its naval forces. He shaped our nation in ways that fundamentally changed who we were and are.
But I still don't like him.