Does the term "founding father" apply to any person or group in American history who had some type of influence on the writing of the Constitution? What about those people like George Mason, Edmund Randolph and Elbridge Gerry who helped tremendously in the writing of the Constitution, but then refused to sign it because of philosophical differences? There were 70 individuals chosen to go to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention, 55 who attended most of the meetings and 39 who actually signed the Constitution. Of this last group, only 15 to 20 actually played an instrumental role in either the founding philosophy or the fight for ratification.
The Constitution was a consequence of several documents and the work of several men either directly or indirectly. Those who made significant intellectual contributions to the Constitution are considered to be the "founding fathers" of our country.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are considered two of our founding fathers even though they were not at the Constitutional Convention. They were both serving in diplomatic positions at the time. Jefferson kept abreast of the proceedings in Philadelphia while ambassador to France by carrying on correspondence with James Madison. John Adams, as ambassador to Great Britain, wrote "Defense of the Constitution of the Government of the United States of America." He became the new country's first vice president. Other founding fathers include Thomas Paine, who was in England at the time of the meeting in Philadelphia, but the impact of "Common Sense" on the philosophy behind the writing of the Declaration of Independence is immeasurable. Patrick Henry was opposed to the idea of changing the Articles of Confederation, but once the agreement was made to add a bill of rights to the Constitution he fought hard for ratification in Virginia.
The term "framers" could be used to specify those who helped "craft" the Constitution, and "founding fathers" could be used in a broader sense to characterize those individuals who contributed to the development of independence and nationhood. However, the notion of a framer or a founding father is not something to be narrowly defined in a technical or legal sense, but may be a large mythic and philosophical idea. It sustains our vision of ourselves, inspiring our ongoing inquiries into our national self-identity. -"America's Legacy, The Foundation of Freedom" pg. 11