Strange Figures: Absentee Founding Fathers

### Strange Figures: Absentee Founding Fathers

In the annals of history, the Founding Fathers of nations often stand as towering figures, their deeds and words meticulously recorded and celebrated. Yet, there exists a peculiar subset of these nation-builders who, despite their significant contributions, remained largely absent from the very lands they helped to shape. These “Absentee Founding Fathers” left indelible marks on their countries, though their physical presence was often minimal or fleeting. This is their story.

#### The Visionary from Afar: José Rizal and the Philippines

José Rizal, a polymath and nationalist, is heralded as a pivotal figure in the Philippine struggle for independence from Spanish colonial rule. Born in 1861 in the Philippines, Rizal spent much of his life in Europe, where he became a leading voice for reform through his writings. His novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” exposed the injustices of Spanish rule and inspired a generation of Filipinos to seek change.

Despite his profound influence, Rizal’s time in the Philippines was limited. He studied in Madrid, Paris, and Heidelberg, where he honed his ideas about nationalism and reform. His return to the Philippines was brief, and he was soon exiled to Dapitan. Even as he faced execution, his presence in the Philippines was more symbolic than physical. Rizal’s martyrdom in 1896 galvanized the revolution, but his direct involvement in the country’s day-to-day struggles was minimal.

#### The Exiled Architect: Thomas Paine and the United States

Thomas Paine is another absentee founding father whose ideas transcended borders. Born in England, Paine moved to the American colonies in 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence. His pamphlet “Common Sense” was a fiery call for independence, and its widespread popularity helped ignite the revolutionary spirit among the colonists.

However, after the revolution, Paine’s presence in America dwindled. He returned to Europe, participating in the French Revolution and spending time in prison. When he finally returned to the United States in 1802, his influence had waned, and he spent his final years in relative obscurity. Despite his brief stay, Paine’s writings laid the ideological foundation for American independence and democratic principles.

#### The Absent Revolutionary: Simón Bolívar and Gran Colombia

Simón Bolívar, known as “El Libertador,” was instrumental in the liberation of several South American countries from Spanish rule. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Bolívar’s military and political campaigns spanned much of the continent, leading to the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

However, Bolívar’s time in any one of these countries was often transient. His vision for a united Gran Colombia—a single nation encompassing much of northern South America—never materialized, largely due to regional rivalries and political strife. Bolívar spent his final years in Colombia, but his dream of a united continent crumbled, leaving him disillusioned and largely disconnected from the nations he helped to free.

#### The Distant Pioneer: Theodor Herzl and Israel

Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, envisioned the creation of a Jewish state long before it became a reality. An Austrian journalist and playwright, Herzl was moved by the rampant anti-Semitism in Europe, particularly the Dreyfus Affair in France, to advocate for a Jewish homeland.

Herzl’s efforts were focused on diplomatic and organizational activities in Europe. He convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, which laid the groundwork for the establishment of Israel. Herzl visited Palestine only once, in 1898, and died in 1904, long before the state of Israel was founded in 1948. Despite his limited time in the land he envisioned for his people, Herzl’s ideas and leadership were crucial in the eventual creation of Israel.

#### Conclusion: The Paradox of Absence and Influence

These absentee founding fathers illustrate a paradox: their physical absence did not diminish their influence. Through writings, ideas, and diplomatic efforts, they shaped the destinies of nations from afar. Their stories remind us that the power of ideas can transcend borders and that the impact of visionary leaders can be felt even when they are not physically present. These strange figures, through their absence, underscore the enduring truth that sometimes, the most profound contributions come from those who are not always present to witness the fruits of their labor.

Strange Figures: Absentee Founding Fathers