John Hancock

John Hancock

Overview
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...

 of the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. He served as president
President of the Continental Congress
The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first national government of the United States during the American Revolution...

 of the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 and was the first and third Governor
Governor of Massachusetts
The Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the executive magistrate of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United States. The current governor is Democrat Deval Patrick.-Constitutional role:...

 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

. He is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, so much so that the term "John Hancock" has become, in the United States, a synonym for signature
Signature
A signature is a handwritten depiction of someone's name, nickname, or even a simple "X" that a person writes on documents as a proof of identity and intent. The writer of a signature is a signatory. Similar to a handwritten signature, a signature work describes the work as readily identifying...

.

Before the American Revolution, Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the Thirteen Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

, having inherited a profitable shipping business from his uncle.
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Encyclopedia
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...

 of the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. He served as president
President of the Continental Congress
The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first national government of the United States during the American Revolution...

 of the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 and was the first and third Governor
Governor of Massachusetts
The Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the executive magistrate of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United States. The current governor is Democrat Deval Patrick.-Constitutional role:...

 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

. He is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, so much so that the term "John Hancock" has become, in the United States, a synonym for signature
Signature
A signature is a handwritten depiction of someone's name, nickname, or even a simple "X" that a person writes on documents as a proof of identity and intent. The writer of a signature is a signatory. Similar to a handwritten signature, a signature work describes the work as readily identifying...

.

Before the American Revolution, Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the Thirteen Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

, having inherited a profitable shipping business from his uncle. Hancock began his political career in Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 as a protégé of Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

, an influential local politician, though the two men later became estranged. As tensions between colonists and Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 increased in the 1760s, Hancock used his wealth to support the colonial cause. He became very popular in Massachusetts, especially after British officials seized his sloop Liberty
HMS Liberty (1768)
HMS Liberty was a British ship that was burned in 1769 by American colonists in Newport, Rhode Island as one of the first acts of open defiance against the British crown.-History:The ship was originally owned by John Hancock...

in 1768 and charged him with smuggling
Smuggling
Smuggling is the clandestine transportation of goods or persons, such as out of a building, into a prison, or across an international border, in violation of applicable laws or other regulations.There are various motivations to smuggle...

. Although the charges against Hancock were eventually dropped, he has often been described as a smuggler in historical accounts, but the accuracy of this characterization has been questioned.

Hancock was one of Boston's leaders during the crisis that led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 in 1775. He served more than two years in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and as president of Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. Hancock returned to Massachusetts and was elected governor of the Commonwealth, serving in that role for most of his remaining years. He used his influence to ensure that Massachusetts ratified the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 in 1788.

Early life


John Hancock was born on January 23, 1737; according to the Old Style
Old Style and New Style dates
Old Style and New Style are used in English language historical studies either to indicate that the start of the Julian year has been adjusted to start on 1 January even though documents written at the time use a different start of year ; or to indicate that a date conforms to the Julian...

 calendar then in use, the date was January 12, 1736. His birthplace was Braintree, Massachusetts
Braintree, Massachusetts
The Town of Braintree is a suburban city in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States. Although officially known as a town, Braintree adopted a municipal charter, effective 2008, with a mayor-council form of government and is considered a city under Massachusetts law. The population was 35,744...

, in a part of town which eventually became the separate city of Quincy
Quincy, Massachusetts
Quincy is a city in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States. Its nicknames are "City of Presidents", "City of Legends", and "Birthplace of the American Dream". As a major part of Metropolitan Boston, Quincy is a member of Boston's Inner Core Committee for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council...

. He was the son of the Reverend John Hancock
John Hancock, Jr.
John Hancock, Jr. was a colonial American clergyman and father of politician John Hancock. Hancock was born in Lexington, Massachusetts to Reverend John Hancock, Sr. He graduated from Harvard College in 1719, and served as a librarian there from 1723 to 1726...

 of Braintree and Mary Hawke Thaxter, who was from nearby Hingham
Hingham, Massachusetts
Hingham is a town in northern Plymouth County on the South Shore of the U.S. state of Massachusetts and suburb in Greater Boston. The United States Census Bureau 2008 estimated population was 22,561...

. As a child, Hancock became a casual acquaintance of young John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, whom the Reverend Hancock had baptized in 1734. The Hancocks lived a comfortable life, and owned one slave to help with household work.

After Hancock's father died in 1744, John was sent to live with his uncle and aunt, Thomas Hancock
Thomas Hancock (merchant)
Thomas Hancock was a merchant in colonial Boston. He got his start in the book trade, and expanded into importing and exporting throughout the British Empire. He was also a smuggler, evading the British Navigation Acts by trading with Holland, which was forbidden...

 and Lydia (Henchman) Hancock. Thomas Hancock was the proprietor of a firm known as the House of Hancock, which imported manufactured goods from Britain and exported rum, whale oil, and fish. Thomas Hancock's highly successful business made him one of Boston's richest and best-known residents. He and Lydia, along with several servants and slaves, lived in Hancock Manor
Hancock Manor
The Hancock Manor was a house located at 30 Beacon Street on Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts. It stood near the southwest corner of what are today the grounds of the Massachusetts State House.-Description:...

 on Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
Beacon Hill is a historic neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, that along with the neighboring Back Bay is home to about 26,000 people. It is a neighborhood of Federal-style rowhouses and is known for its narrow, gas-lit streets and brick sidewalks...

. The couple, who did not have any children of their own, became the dominant influence on John's life.

After graduating from the Boston Latin School
Boston Latin School
The Boston Latin School is a public exam school founded on April 23, 1635, in Boston, Massachusetts. It is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States....

 in 1750, Hancock enrolled in Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 and received a bachelors degree in 1754. Upon graduation, he began to work for his uncle, just as the French and Indian War
French and Indian War
The French and Indian War is the common American name for the war between Great Britain and France in North America from 1754 to 1763. In 1756, the war erupted into the world-wide conflict known as the Seven Years' War and thus came to be regarded as the North American theater of that war...

 (1754–1763) began. Thomas Hancock had close relations with the royal governors of Massachusetts, and secured profitable government contracts during the war. John Hancock learned much about his uncle's shipping business during these years, and was trained for eventual partnership in the firm. Hancock worked hard, but he also enjoyed playing the role of a wealthy aristocrat, and developed a fondness for expensive clothes.

From 1760 to 1761, Hancock lived in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 while building relationships with customers and suppliers. Back in Boston, Hancock gradually took over the House of Hancock as his uncle's health failed, becoming a full partner in January 1763. He became a member of the Masonic
Freemasonry
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge...

 Lodge of St. Andrew in October 1762, which connected him with many of Boston's most influential citizens. When Thomas Hancock died in August 1764, John inherited the business, Hancock Manor, two or three household slaves, and thousands of acres of land, becoming one of the wealthiest men in the colonies. The household slaves continued to work for John and his aunt, but were eventually freed through the terms of Thomas Hancock's will; there is no evidence that John Hancock ever bought or sold slaves.

Growing imperial tensions


After its victory in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 was deep in debt. Looking for new sources of revenue, the British Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...

 sought, for the first time, to directly tax the colonies, beginning with the Sugar Act
Sugar Act
The Sugar Act, also known as the American Revenue Act or the American Duties Act, was a revenue-raising act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on April 5, 1764. The preamble to the act stated: "it is expedient that new provisions and regulations should be established for improving the...

 of 1764. The act provoked outrage in Boston, where it was widely viewed as a violation of colonial rights. Men such as James Otis
James Otis, Jr.
James Otis, Jr. was a lawyer in colonial Massachusetts, a member of the Massachusetts provincial assembly, and an early advocate of the political views that led to the American Revolution. The phrase "Taxation without Representation is Tyranny" is usually attributed to him...

 and Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

 argued that because the colonists were not represented in Parliament, they could not be taxed
No taxation without representation
"No taxation without representation" is a slogan originating during the 1750s and 1760s that summarized a primary grievance of the British colonists in the Thirteen Colonies, which was one of the major causes of the American Revolution...

 by that body; only the colonial assemblies, where the colonists were represented, could levy taxes upon the colonies. Hancock was not yet a political activist; however, he criticized the tax for economic, rather than constitutional, reasons.

Hancock emerged as a leading political figure in Boston just as tensions with Great Britain were increasing. In March 1765, he was elected as one of Boston's five selectmen, an office previously held by his uncle for many years. Soon after, Parliament passed the 1765 Stamp Act
Stamp Act 1765
The Stamp Act 1765 was a direct tax imposed by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America. The act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp...

, a wildly unpopular measure in the colonies that produced riots and organized resistance. Hancock initially took a moderate position: as a loyal British subject
British subject
In British nationality law, the term British subject has at different times had different meanings. The current definition of the term British subject is contained in the British Nationality Act 1981.- Prior to 1949 :...

, he thought that the colonists should submit to the act, even though he believed that Parliament was misguided. Within a few months, Hancock had changed his mind, although he continued to disapprove of violence and the intimidation of royal officials by mobs. Hancock joined the resistance to the Stamp Act by participating in a boycott of British goods, which made him popular in Boston. After Bostonians learned of the impending repeal of the Stamp Act, Hancock was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives
Massachusetts House of Representatives
The Massachusetts House of Representatives is the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court, the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is composed of 160 members elected from single-member electoral districts across the Commonwealth. Representatives serve two-year terms...

 in May 1766.

Hancock's political success benefited from the support of Samuel Adams, the clerk of the House of Representatives and a leader of Boston's "popular party", also known as "Whigs" and later as "Patriots
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...

". The two men made an unlikely pair. Fifteen years older than Hancock, Adams had a somber, Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 outlook that stood in marked contrast to Hancock's taste for luxury and extravagance. Some traditional stories suggest that Adams masterminded Hancock's political ascendancy so that the merchant's great wealth could be used to further Adams's agenda. In some of these tales, Hancock is portrayed as shallow and vain, easily manipulated by Adams. In other versions, Hancock is moderate and reasonable, while Adams is radical and dangerous. Historian William M. Fowler
William M. Fowler
William Morgan Fowler, Jr. is a professor of history at Northeastern University, Boston and an author. He served as Director of the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1998 through 2005.-Early life and education:...

, who wrote biographies of both men, argued that these stories contain a grain of truth, but are mostly folklore. Fowler characterized the relationship between the two as symbiotic, with Adams as the mentor and Hancock the protégé.

Townshend Acts crisis


After the repeal of the Stamp Act, Parliament took a different approach to raising revenue, passing the 1767 Townshend Acts
Townshend Acts
The Townshend Acts were a series of laws passed beginning in 1767 by the Parliament of Great Britain relating to the British colonies in North America. The acts are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed the program...

, which established new duties
Duty (economics)
In economics, a duty is a kind of tax, often associated with customs, a payment due to the revenue of a state, levied by force of law. It is a tax on certain items purchased abroad...

 on various imports and strengthened the customs
Customs
Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, transports, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country...

 agency by creating the American Customs Board. The British government believed that a more efficient customs system was necessary because many colonial American merchants had been smuggling
Smuggling
Smuggling is the clandestine transportation of goods or persons, such as out of a building, into a prison, or across an international border, in violation of applicable laws or other regulations.There are various motivations to smuggle...

. Smugglers violated the Navigation Acts
Navigation Acts
The English Navigation Acts were a series of laws that restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between England and its colonies, a process which had started in 1651. Their goal was to force colonial development into lines favorable to England, and stop direct colonial trade with the...

 by trading with ports outside of the British Empire and avoiding import taxes. Parliament hoped that the new system would reduce smuggling and generate revenue for the government.

Colonial merchants, even those not involved in smuggling, found the new regulations oppressive. Other colonists protested that new duties were another attempt by Parliament to tax the colonies without their consent. Hancock joined other Bostonians in calling for a boycott of British imports until the Townshend duties were repealed. In their enforcement of the customs regulations, the Customs Board targeted Hancock, Boston's wealthiest Whig. They may have suspected that he was a smuggler, or they may have wanted to harass him because of his politics, especially after Hancock snubbed Governor Francis Bernard by refusing to attend public functions when the customs officials were present.

On April 9, 1768, two customs employees (called tidesmen) boarded Hancock's brig Lydia in Boston Harbor
Boston Harbor
Boston Harbor is a natural harbor and estuary of Massachusetts Bay, and is located adjacent to the city of Boston, Massachusetts. It is home to the Port of Boston, a major shipping facility in the northeast.-History:...

. Hancock was summoned, and finding that the agents lacked a writ of assistance
Writ of Assistance
A writ of assistance is a written order issued by a court instructing a law enforcement official, such as a sheriff, to perform a certain task. Historically, several types of writs have been called "writs of assistance". Most often, a writ of assistance is "used to enforce an order for the...

 (a general search warrant), he did not allow them to go below deck. When one of them later managed to get into the hold, Hancock's men forced the tidesman back on deck. Customs officials wanted to file charges, but the case was dropped when Massachusetts Attorney General
Massachusetts Attorney General
The Massachusetts Attorney General is an elected executive officer of the Massachusetts Government. The office of Attorney-General was abolished in 1843 and re-established in 1849. The current Attorney General is Martha Coakley....

 Jonathan Sewell
Jonathan Sewell
Jonathan Sewell was a lawyer, judge and political figure in Lower Canada.-Early life:He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of the last British attorney general of Massachusetts...

 ruled that Hancock had broken no laws. Later, some of Hancock's most ardent admirers would call this incident the first act of physical resistance to British authority in the colonies and credit Hancock with initiating the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

.

Liberty affair


On the evening of May 9, 1768, Hancock's sloop Liberty
HMS Liberty (1768)
HMS Liberty was a British ship that was burned in 1769 by American colonists in Newport, Rhode Island as one of the first acts of open defiance against the British crown.-History:The ship was originally owned by John Hancock...

 arrived in Boston Harbor, carrying a shipment of Madeira wine
Madeira wine
Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands. Some wines produced in small quantities in California and Texas are also referred to as "Madeira", or "Madera", although those wines do not conform to the EU PDO regulations...

. When custom officers inspected the ship the next morning, they found that it contained 25 pipes
Butt (unit)
The butt or pipe is an old English unit of wine casks, holding two hogsheads ....

 of wine, just one fourth of the ship's carrying capacity. Hancock paid the duties on the 25 pipes of wine, but officials suspected that he had arranged to have additional pipes of wine unloaded during the night to avoid paying the duties for the entire cargo. They did not have any evidence to prove this, however, since the two tidesmen who had stayed on the ship overnight gave a sworn statement that nothing had been unloaded.

One month later, while the British warship HMS Romney
HMS Romney (1762)
HMS Romney was a 50-gun fourth rate of the Royal Navy. She served during the American War of Independence, and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in a career that spanned forty years....

 was in port, one of the tidesmen changed his story: he now claimed that he had been forcibly held on the Liberty while it had been illegally unloaded. On June 10, customs officials seized the Liberty, which had since been loaded with new cargo, and towed it out to the Romney. Bostonians, already angry because the captain of the Romney had been impressing
Impressment
Impressment, colloquially, "the Press", was the act of taking men into a navy by force and without notice. It was used by the Royal Navy, beginning in 1664 and during the 18th and early 19th centuries, in wartime, as a means of crewing warships, although legal sanction for the practice goes back to...

 sailors in Boston Harbor, began to riot. The next day, customs officials, claiming that they were unsafe in town, relocated to the Romney, and then to Castle William
Fort Independence (Massachusetts)
Fort Independence is a granite star fort that provided harbor defenses for Boston, Massachusetts. Located on Castle Island, Fort Independence is the oldest continuously fortified site of English origin in the United States. The first primitive fortification was placed on the site in 1634 and...

, an island fort in the harbor.

Two lawsuits stemming from the Liberty incident were brought up against Hancock: an in rem
In rem
In rem is Latin for "against a thing." In a lawsuit, an action in rem is directed towards a piece of property rather than against a person . The action disputes or seeks to transfer title to property. When title to real estate In rem is Latin for "against a thing." In a lawsuit, an action in rem...

suit against the ship, and an in personam
In personam
In personam is a Latin phrase meaning "directed toward a particular person". In a lawsuit in which the case is against a specific individual, that person must be served with a summons and complaint to give the court jurisdiction to try the case, and the judgment applies to that person and is called...

suit against him. As was the custom, any penalties assessed by the court would be awarded to the governor, the informer, and the Crown, each getting a third. The first suit, filed on June 22, 1768, resulted in the confiscation of the Liberty in August. Customs officials then used the ship to enforce trade regulations until it was burned by angry colonists in Rhode Island
Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was one of the original English Thirteen Colonies established on the east coast of North America that, after the American Revolution, became the modern U.S...

 the following year.

The second trial began in October 1768, when charges were filed against Hancock and five others for allegedly unloading 100 pipes of wine from the Liberty without paying the duties. If convicted, the defendants would have had to pay a penalty of triple the value of the wine, which came to £
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

9,000. With John Adams serving as his lawyer, Hancock was prosecuted in a highly publicized trial by a vice admiralty court
Vice admiralty court
Vice admiralty courts were juryless courts located in British colonies that were granted jurisdiction over local legal matters related to maritime activities, such as disputes between merchants and seamen. Judges were given 5% of confiscated cargo, if they found a smuggling defendant guilty...

, which had no jury and did not always allow the defense to cross-examine the witnesses. After dragging out for nearly five months, the proceedings against Hancock were dropped without explanation.

The Liberty incident created two popular images of Hancock: supporters celebrated him as a martyr to the Patriot cause, while critics portrayed him as a scheming smuggler. Historians have been similarly divided. "Hancock's guilt or innocence and the exact charges against him", wrote historian John W. Tyler in 1986, "are still fiercely debated." Historian Oliver Dickerson argued that Hancock was the victim of an essentially criminal racketeering scheme perpetrated by Governor Bernard and the customs officials. Dickerson believed that there is no reliable evidence that Hancock was guilty in the Liberty case, and that the purpose of the trials was to punish Hancock for political reasons and to plunder his property. Opposed to Dickerson's interpretation were Kinvin Wroth and Hiller Zobel, the editors of John Adams's legal papers, who argued that "Hancock's innocence is open to question", and that the British officials acted legally, if unwisely.

Aside from the Liberty affair, the degree to which Hancock was engaged in smuggling, which was widespread in the colonies, has been questioned. Given the clandestine nature of smuggling, records are of course scarce. If Hancock was a smuggler, no documentation of this has been found. John W. Tyler identified 23 smugglers in his study of more than 400 merchants in revolutionary Boston, but found no written evidence that Hancock was one of them. Biographer William Fowler concluded that while Hancock was probably engaged in some smuggling, most of his business was legitimate, and his reputation as the "king of the colonial smugglers" is a myth without foundation.

Massacre to Tea Party


The Liberty affair reinforced a previously made British decision to suppress unrest in Boston with a show of military might. The decision had been prompted by Samuel Adams's 1768 Circular Letter
Massachusetts circular letter
The Massachusetts Circular Letter was a statement written by Samuel Adams and passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in February 1768 in response to the Townshend Acts...

, which was sent to other British America
British America
For American people of British descent, see British American.British America is the anachronistic term used to refer to the territories under the control of the Crown or Parliament in present day North America , Central America, the Caribbean, and Guyana...

n colonies in hopes of coordinating resistance to the Townshend Acts. Lord Hillsborough
Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire
Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire PC , known as the Viscount Hillsborough from 1742 to 1751 and as the Earl of Hillsborough from 1751 to 1789, was a British politician of the Georgian era...

, secretary of state for the colonies, sent four regiments of the British Army to Boston to support embattled royal officials, and instructed Governor Bernard to order the Massachusetts legislature to revoke the Circular Letter. Hancock and the Massachusetts House voted against rescinding the letter, and instead drew up a petition demanding Governor Bernard's recall. When Bernard returned to England in 1769, Bostonians celebrated.

The British troops remained, however, and tensions between soldiers and civilians eventually resulted in the killing of five civilians in the Boston Massacre
Boston Massacre
The Boston Massacre, called the Boston Riot by the British, was an incident on March 5, 1770, in which British Army soldiers killed five civilian men. British troops had been stationed in Boston, capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, since 1768 in order to protect and support...

 of March 1770. Hancock was not involved in the incident, but afterwards he led a committee to demand the removal of the troops. Meeting with Bernard's successor, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, and the British officer in command, Colonel William Dalrymple, Hancock claimed that there were 10,000 armed colonists ready to march into Boston if the troops did not leave. Hutchinson knew that Hancock was bluffing, but the soldiers were in a precarious position when garrisoned within the town, and so Dalrymple agreed to remove both regiments to Castle William. Hancock was celebrated as a hero for his role in getting the troops withdrawn. His reelection to the Massachusetts House in May was nearly unanimous.

After Parliament partially repealed the Townshend duties in 1770, Boston's boycott of British goods ended. Politics became quieter in Massachusetts, although tensions remained. Hancock tried to improve his relationship with Governor Hutchinson, who in turn sought to woo Hancock away from Adams's influence. In April 1772, Hutchinson approved Hancock's election as colonel of the Boston Cadets, a militia unit whose primary function was to provide a ceremonial escort for the governor and the General Court. In May, Hutchinson even approved of Hancock's election to the Council
Massachusetts Governor's Council
The Massachusetts Governor's Council is a governmental body that provides advice and consent in certain matters such as judicial nominations, pardons, and commutations to the Governor of Massachusetts...

, the upper chamber of the General Court, whose members were elected by the House but subject to veto by the governor. Hancock's previous elections to the Council had been vetoed, but now Hutchinson allowed the election to stand. Hancock declined the office, however, not wanting to appear to have been co-opted by the governor. Nevertheless, Hancock used the improved relationship to resolve an ongoing dispute. To avoid hostile crowds in Boston, Hutchinson had been convening the legislature outside of town; now he agreed to allow the General Court to sit in Boston once again, to the relief of the legislators.

Hutchinson had dared to hope that he could win over Hancock and discredit Adams. To some, it seemed that Adams and Hancock were indeed at odds: when Adams formed the Boston Committee of Correspondence
Committee of correspondence
The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies on the eve of American Revolution. They coordinated responses to Britain and shared their plans; by 1773 they had emerged as shadow governments, superseding the colonial legislature...

 in November 1772 to advocate colonial rights, Hancock declined to join, creating the impression that there was a split in the Whig ranks. But whatever their differences, Hancock and Adams came together again in 1773 with the renewal of major political turmoil. They cooperated in the revelation of private letters
Hutchinson Letters Affair
The Hutchinson Letters Affair was an incident that increased tensions between the American colonies and the British government prior to the American Revolution...

 of Thomas Hutchinson, in which the governor seemed to recommend "an abridgement of what are called English liberties" to bring order to the colony. The Massachusetts House, blaming Hutchinson for the military occupation of Boston, called for his removal as governor.

Even more trouble followed Parliament's passage of the 1773 Tea Act
Tea Act
The Tea Act was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. Its principal overt objective was to reduce the massive surplus of tea held by the financially troubled British East India Company in its London warehouses. A related objective was to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain's...

. On November 5, Hancock was elected as moderator at a Boston town meeting that resolved that anyone who supported the Tea Act was an "Enemy to America". Hancock and others tried to force the resignation of the agents who had been appointed to receive the tea shipments. Unsuccessful in this, they attempted to prevent the tea from being unloaded after three tea ships had arrived in Boston Harbor. Hancock was at the fateful meeting on December 16, where he reportedly told the crowd, "Let every man do what is right in his own eyes." Hancock did not take part in the Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies...

 that night, but he approved of the action, although he was careful not to publicly praise the destruction of private property.

Over the next few months, Hancock was disabled by gout
Gout
Gout is a medical condition usually characterized by recurrent attacks of acute inflammatory arthritis—a red, tender, hot, swollen joint. The metatarsal-phalangeal joint at the base of the big toe is the most commonly affected . However, it may also present as tophi, kidney stones, or urate...

, which would trouble him with increasing frequency in the coming years. By March 5, 1774, he had recovered enough to deliver the fourth annual Massacre Day oration, a commemoration of the Boston Massacre. Hancock's speech denounced the presence of British troops in Boston, who he said had been sent there "to enforce obedience to acts of Parliament, which neither God nor man ever empowered them to make". The speech, probably written by Hancock in collaboration with Adams, Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren
Dr. Joseph Warren was an American doctor who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress...

, and others, was published and widely reprinted, enhancing Hancock's stature as a leading Patriot.

Revolution begins


Parliament responded to the Tea Party with the Boston Port Act
Boston Port Act
The Boston Port Act is an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which became law on March 30, 1774, and is one of the measures that were designed to secure Great Britain's jurisdictions over her American dominions.A response to the Boston Tea Party, it outlawed the use...

, one of the so-called Intolerable Acts
Intolerable Acts
The Intolerable Acts or the Coercive Acts are names used to describe a series of laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 relating to Britain's colonies in North America...

 intended to strengthen British control of the colonies. Hutchinson was replaced as governor by General Thomas Gage
Thomas Gage
Thomas Gage was a British general, best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as military commander in the early days of the American War of Independence....

, who arrived in May 1774. On June 17, the Massachusetts House elected five delegates to send to the First Continental Congress
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

 in Philadelphia, which was being organized to coordinate colonial response to the Intolerable Acts. Hancock did not serve in the first Congress, possibly for health reasons, or possibly to remain in charge while the other Patriot leaders were away.

Gage soon dismissed Hancock from his post as colonel of the Boston Cadets. In October 1774, Gage canceled the scheduled meeting of the General Court. In response, the House resolved itself into the Massachusetts Provincial Congress
Massachusetts Provincial Congress
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was a provisional government created in the Province of Massachusetts Bay early in the American Revolution....

, a body independent of British control. Hancock was elected as president of the Provincial Congress and was a key member of the Committee of Safety
Committee of Safety (American Revolution)
Many Committees of Safety were established throughout Colonial America at the start of the American Revolution. These committees started to appear in the 1760s as means to discuss the concerns of the time, and often consisted of every male adult in the community...

. The Provincial Congress created the first minutemen
Minutemen
Minutemen were members of teams of select men from the American colonial partisan militia during the American Revolutionary War. They provided a highly mobile, rapidly deployed force that allowed the colonies to respond immediately to war threats, hence the name.The minutemen were among the first...

 companies, consisting of militiamen who were to be ready for action on a moment's notice.
On December 1, 1774, the Provincial Congress elected Hancock as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 to replace James Bowdoin
James Bowdoin
James Bowdoin II was an American political and intellectual leader from Boston, Massachusetts during the American Revolution. He served in both branches of the Massachusetts General Court in the colonial era and was president of the state's constitutional convention...

, who had been unable to attend the first Congress because of illness. Before Hancock reported to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, the Provincial Congress unanimously reelected him as their president in February 1775. Hancock's multiple roles gave him enormous influence in Massachusetts, and as early as January 1774 British officials had considered arresting him. After attending the Provincial Congress in Concord
Concord, Massachusetts
Concord is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the town population was 17,668. Although a small town, Concord is noted for its leading roles in American history and literature.-History:...

 in April 1775, Hancock and Samuel Adams decided that it was not safe to return to Boston before leaving for Philadelphia. They stayed instead at Hancock's childhood home
Hancock-Clarke House
The Hancock-Clarke House is a historic American Revolutionary War site on Hancock Street in Lexington, Massachusetts. It played a prominent role in the Battle of Lexington and Concord as both John Hancock and Samuel Adams, leaders of the colonials, were staying in the house before the battle. The...

 in Lexington
Lexington, Massachusetts
Lexington is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 31,399 at the 2010 census. This town is famous for being the site of the first shot of the American Revolution, in the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775.- History :...

.

Gage received a letter from Lord Dartmouth
William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth
William Legge 2nd Earl of Dartmouth PC, FRS , styled as Viscount Lewisham from 1732 to 1750, was a British statesman who is most remembered for his part in the government before and during the American Revolution....

 on April 14, 1775 advising him "to arrest the principal actors and abettors in the Provincial Congress whose proceedings appear in every light to be acts of treason and rebellion". On the night of April 18, Gage sent out a detachment of soldiers on the fateful mission that would spark the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

. The purpose of the British expedition was to seize and destroy military supplies that the colonists had stored in Concord. According to many historical accounts, Gage also instructed his men to arrest Hancock and Adams, but, as historian John Alden pointed out in 1944, the written orders issued by Gage made no mention of arresting the Patriot leaders. Gage apparently decided that he had nothing to gain by arresting Hancock and Adams, since other leaders would simply take their place, and the British would be portrayed as the aggressors.

Although Gage had evidently decided against seizing Hancock and Adams, Patriots initially believed otherwise. From Boston, Joseph Warren dispatched messenger Paul Revere
Paul Revere
Paul Revere was an American silversmith and a patriot in the American Revolution. He is most famous for alerting Colonial militia of approaching British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord, as dramatized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride...

 to warn Hancock and Adams that British troops were on the move and might attempt to arrest them. Revere reached Lexington around midnight and gave the warning. Hancock, still considering himself a militia colonel, wanted to take the field with the Patriot militia at Lexington, but Adams and others convinced him to avoid battle, arguing that he was more valuable as a political leader than as a soldier. As Hancock and Adams made their escape, the first shots of the war were fired at Lexington and Concord
Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. They were fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy , and Cambridge, near Boston...

. Soon after the battle, Gage issued a proclamation granting a general pardon to all who would "lay down their arms, and return to the duties of peaceable subjects"—with the exceptions of Hancock and Samuel Adams. Singling out Hancock and Adams in this manner only added to their renown among Patriots.

President of Congress


With the war underway, Hancock made his way to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia with the other Massachusetts delegates. On May 24, 1775, he was unanimously elected President of the Continental Congress
President of the Continental Congress
The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first national government of the United States during the American Revolution...

, succeeding Peyton Randolph
Peyton Randolph
Peyton Randolph was a planter and public official from the Colony of Virginia. He served as speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, chairman of the Virginia Conventions, and the first President of the Continental Congress.-Early life:Randolph was born in Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia...

 after Henry Middleton
Henry Middleton
Henry Middleton was a plantation owner and public official from South Carolina. He was the second President of the Continental Congress from October 22, 1774, until Peyton Randolph was able to resume his duties briefly beginning on May 10, 1775.-Early life:Henry Middleton was born in 1717 near...

 declined the nomination. Hancock was a good choice for president for several reasons. He was experienced, having often presided over legislative bodies and town meetings in Massachusetts. His wealth and social standing inspired the confidence of moderate delegates, while his association with Boston radicals made him acceptable to other radicals. His position was somewhat ambiguous, because the role of the president was not fully defined, and it was not clear if Randolph had resigned or was on a leave of absence. Like other presidents of Congress, Hancock's authority was limited to that of a presiding officer. He also had to handle a great deal of official correspondence, and he found it necessary to hire clerks at his own expense to help with the paperwork.

In Congress on June 15, 1775, Massachusetts delegate John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 nominated George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 as commander in chief of the army then gathered around Boston. Many years later, Adams wrote that Hancock had shown great disappointment at not getting the command for himself. If true, Hancock did not let his disappointment interfere with his duties, and he always showed admiration and support for General Washington, even though Washington politely declined Hancock's request for a military appointment.

Hancock was criticized for what was considered his lavish lifestyle while President of the Continental Congress. Hancock rode in a highly decorative chariot; accompanied by 50 armed horsemen along with many servants. He associated himself with Philadelphia's elite society having dined and dressed luxuriously. Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

 wrote, "Does it become us to lead the People to such publick diversions as promote Superfluity of Dress & ornament, when it is as much as they can bear to support the Expense of a naked Army."

When Congress recessed on August 1, 1775, Hancock took the opportunity to wed his fiancée, Dorothy "Dolly" Quincy
Dorothy Quincy
Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott was an American hostess, the daughter of Justice Edmund Quincy of Braintree and Boston. Her aunt, also named Dorothy Quincy, was the subject of Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem Dorothy Q....

. The couple was married on August 28 in Fairfield
Fairfield, Connecticut
Fairfield is a town located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States. It is bordered by the towns of Bridgeport, Trumbull, Easton, Redding and Westport along the Gold Coast of Connecticut. As of the 2010 census, the town had a population of 59,404...

, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

. John and Dorothy would have two children, neither of whom survived to adulthood. Their daughter Lydia Henchman Hancock was born in 1776 and died ten months later. Their son John George Washington Hancock was born in 1778 and died in 1787 after suffering a head injury while ice skating.

Hancock served in Congress through some of the darkest days of the Revolutionary War. The British drove Washington from New York and New Jersey
New York and New Jersey campaign
The New York and New Jersey campaign was a series of battles for control of New York City and the state of New Jersey in the American Revolutionary War between British forces under General Sir William Howe and the Continental Army under General George Washington in 1776 and the winter months of 1777...

 in 1776, which prompted Congress to flee to Baltimore, Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

. Hancock and Congress returned to Philadelphia in March 1777, but were compelled to flee six months later when the British occupied Philadelphia
Philadelphia campaign
The Philadelphia campaign was a British initiative in the American Revolutionary War to gain control of Philadelphia, which was then the seat of the Second Continental Congress...

. Hancock wrote innumerable letters to colonial officials, raising money, supplies, and troops for Washington's army. He chaired the Marine Committee, and took pride in helping to create a small fleet of American frigates, including the USS Hancock
USS Hancock (1776)
The second Hancock was one of the first 13 frigates of the Continental Navy. A resolution of the Continental Congress of British North America 13 December 1775 authorized her construction; she was named for John Hancock...

, which was named in his honor.

Signing the Declaration


Hancock was president of Congress when the Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

 was adopted and signed. He is primarily remembered by Americans for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration, so much so that "John Hancock" became, in the United States, an informal synonym for signature. According to legend, Hancock signed his name largely and clearly so that King George
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

 could read it without his spectacles, but this fanciful story did not appear until many years later.

Contrary to popular mythology, there was no ceremonial signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776. After Congress approved the wording of the text on July 4, a copy was sent to be printed. As president, Hancock may have signed the document that was sent to the printer, but this is uncertain because that document is lost, perhaps destroyed in the printing process. The printer produced the first published version of the Declaration, the widely distributed Dunlap broadside. Hancock, as President of Congress, was the only delegate whose name appeared on the broadside, although the name of Charles Thomson
Charles Thomson
Charles Thomson was a Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress throughout its existence.-Biography:...

, secretary of the Continental Congress, but not a delegate, was also on it. This meant that until a second broadside was issued six months later with all of the signers listed, Hancock was the only delegate whose name was publicly attached to the treasonous document. Hancock sent a copy of the Dunlap broadside to George Washington, instructing him to have it read to the troops "in the way you shall think most proper".

Hancock's name was printed, not signed, on the Dunlap broadside; his iconic signature appears on a different document—a sheet of parchment that was carefully handwritten sometime after July 19 and signed on August 2 by Hancock and those delegates present. Known as the engrossed copy, this is the famous document on display at the National Archives
National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 

Return to Massachusetts


In October 1777, after more than two years in Congress, President Hancock requested a leave of absence. He asked George Washington to arrange a military escort for his return to Boston. Although Washington was short on manpower, he nevertheless sent fifteen horsemen to accompany Hancock on his journey home. By this time Hancock had become estranged from Samuel Adams, who disapproved of what he viewed as Hancock's vanity and extravagance, which Adams believed were inappropriate in a republican
Republicanism in the United States
Republicanism is the political value system that has been a major part of American civic thought since the American Revolution. It stresses liberty and inalienable rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, supports activist government to promote the common good, rejects...

 leader. When Congress voted to thank Hancock for his service, Adams and the other Massachusetts delegates voted against the resolution, as did a few delegates from other states.

Back in Boston, Hancock was reelected to the House of Representatives. As in previous years, his philanthropy made him popular. Although his finances had suffered greatly because of the war, he gave to the poor, helped support widows and orphans, and loaned money to friends. According to biographer William Fowler, "John Hancock was a generous man and the people loved him for it. He was their idol." In December 1777, he was reelected as a delegate to the Continental Congress and as moderator of the Boston town meeting.

Hancock rejoined the Continental Congress in Pennsylvania in June 1778, but his brief time there was unhappy. In his absence, Congress had elected Henry Laurens
Henry Laurens
Henry Laurens was an American merchant and rice planter from South Carolina who became a political leader during the Revolutionary War. A delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Laurens succeeded John Hancock as President of the Congress...

 as its new president, which was a disappointment to Hancock, who had hoped to reclaim his chair. Hancock got along poorly with Samuel Adams, and missed his wife and newborn son. On July 9, 1778, Hancock and the other Massachusetts delegates joined the representatives from seven other states in signing the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

; the remaining states were not yet prepared to sign, and the Articles would not be ratified until 1781.

Hancock returned to Boston in July 1778, motivated by the opportunity to finally lead men in combat. Back in 1776, he had been appointed as the senior major general of the Massachusetts militia. Now that the French fleet had come to the aid of the Americans, General Washington instructed General John Sullivan
John Sullivan
John Sullivan was the third son of Irish immigrants, a United States general in the Revolutionary War, a delegate in the Continental Congress and a United States federal judge....

 of the Continental Army to lead an attack on the British garrison
Battle of Rhode Island
The Battle of Rhode Island, also known as the Battle of Quaker Hill and the Siege of Newport, took place on August 29, 1778. Continental Army and militia forces under the command of General John Sullivan were withdrawing to the northern part of Aquidneck Island after abandoning their siege of...

 at Newport
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is a city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States, about south of Providence. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War...

, Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

, in August 1778. Hancock nominally commanded 6,000 militiamen in the campaign, although he let the professional soldiers do the planning and issue the orders. It was a fiasco: French Admiral d'Estaing
Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing
Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, comte d'Estaing was a French general, and admiral. He began his service as a soldier in the War of the Austrian Succession, briefly spending time as a prisoner of war of the British during the Seven Years' War...

 abandoned the operation, after which Hancock's militia mostly deserted Sullivan's Continentals. Hancock suffered some criticism for the debacle but emerged from his brief military career with his popularity intact.

After much delay, the new Massachusetts Constitution
Massachusetts Constitution
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the fundamental governing document of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the 50 individual state governments that make up the United States of America. It was drafted by John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin during the...

 finally went into effect in October 1780. To no one's surprise, Hancock was elected Governor of Massachusetts
Governor of Massachusetts
The Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the executive magistrate of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United States. The current governor is Democrat Deval Patrick.-Constitutional role:...

 in a landslide, garnering over 90% of the vote. He governed Massachusetts through the end of the Revolutionary War and into an economically troubled postwar period. Hancock took a hands-off approach to governing, avoiding controversial issues as much as possible. According to William Fowler, Hancock "never really led" and "never used his strength to deal with the critical issues confronting the commonwealth." It is however recorded that he confronted growing unrest in the countryside toward the end of his first term as Governor, unrest which it is believed that ultimately led to Shays' Rebellion
Shays' Rebellion
Shays' Rebellion was an armed uprising in central and western Massachusetts from 1786 to 1787. The rebellion is named after Daniel Shays, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War....

. Opening salvos of discontent in Central Massachusetts, led Governor Hancock to send the sheriff to suppress riots by rural farmers at Uxbridge
Uxbridge, Massachusetts
Uxbridge is a town in Worcester County, Massachusetts, in the United States. It was first settled in 1662, incorporated in 1727 at Suffolk County, and named for the Earl of Uxbridge. Uxbridge is south-southeast of Worcester, north-northwest of Providence, and southwest of Boston. It is part of...

 in 1783.
Hancock was easily reelected to annual terms as governor, until his surprise resignation on January 29, 1785. Hancock cited his failing health as the reason, but he may have become aware of further unrest in the countryside and wanted to get out of office before the trouble came. Hancock's critics often suspected that he suffered from "political gout", which is when an official allegedly uses an illness to avoid a difficult political situation. The turmoil that Hancock avoided ultimately blossomed as Shays' Rebellion
Shays' Rebellion
Shays' Rebellion was an armed uprising in central and western Massachusetts from 1786 to 1787. The rebellion is named after Daniel Shays, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War....

, which Hancock's successor James Bowdoin
James Bowdoin
James Bowdoin II was an American political and intellectual leader from Boston, Massachusetts during the American Revolution. He served in both branches of the Massachusetts General Court in the colonial era and was president of the state's constitutional convention...

 had to deal with. After the uprising, Hancock was reelected in 1787, and he promptly pardoned all the rebels. Hancock was reelected to annual terms as governor for the remainder of his life.

Final years


When he had resigned as governor in 1785, Hancock was again elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress, known as the Confederation Congress
Congress of the Confederation
The Congress of the Confederation or the United States in Congress Assembled was the governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789. It comprised delegates appointed by the legislatures of the states. It was the immediate successor to the Second...

 after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781. Congress had declined in importance after the Revolutionary War, and was frequently ignored by the states. Congress elected Hancock to serve as its president, but he never attended because of his poor health and because he was not interested. He sent Congress a letter of resignation in 1786.

In 1787, in an effort to remedy the perceived defects of the Articles of Confederation, delegates met at the Philadelphia Convention
Philadelphia Convention
The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from...

 and drafted the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, which was then sent to the states for ratification or rejection. Hancock, who was not present at the Philadelphia Convention, had misgivings about the new Constitution's lack of a bill of rights and its shift of power to a central government. In January 1788, Hancock was elected president of the Massachusetts ratifying convention, although he was ill and not present when the convention began. Hancock mostly remained silent during the contentious debates, but as the convention was drawing to close, he gave a speech in favor of ratification. For the first time in years, Samuel Adams supported Hancock's position. Even with the support of Hancock and Adams, the Massachusetts convention narrowly ratified the Constitution by a vote of 187 to 168. Hancock's support was probably a deciding factor in the ratification.

Hancock was put forth as a candidate in the 1789 U. S. presidential election
United States presidential election, 1789
The United States presidential election of 1789 was the first presidential election in the United States of America and the only election to ever take place in a year that is not a multiple of four. The election took place following the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788...

. As was the custom in an era where political ambition was viewed with suspicion, Hancock did not campaign or even publicly express interest in the office; he instead made his wishes known indirectly. Like everyone else, Hancock knew that George Washington was going to be elected as the first president, but Hancock may have been interested in being vice president, despite his poor health. Hancock received only four electoral votes in the election, however, none of them from his home state; the Massachusetts electors all voted for another native son, John Adams, who became the vice president. Hancock was disappointed with his poor showing, but he remained as popular as ever in Massachusetts.

His health failing, Hancock spent his final few years as essentially a figurehead governor. With his wife at his side, he died in bed on October 8, 1793, at 56 years of age. By order of acting governor Samuel Adams, the day of Hancock's burial was a state holiday; the lavish funeral was perhaps the grandest given to an American up to that time.

Legacy


Many places and things in the United States have been named in honor of John Hancock. The U.S. Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 has named vessels USS Hancock
USS Hancock
Several ships of the United States Navy have been named USS Hancock or USS John Hancock, in honor of patriot and statesman John Hancock. was the former schooner Speedwell, one of a small flotilla hired in October 1775...

 and USS John Hancock
USS John Hancock
USS John Hancock may refer to: was a steamship first commissioned in 1850. She was sold in 1865, was a Spruance-class destroyer, launched in 1977 and decommissioned in 2000...

; a World War II Liberty ship
Liberty ship
Liberty ships were cargo ships built in the United States during World War II. Though British in conception, they were adapted by the U.S. as they were cheap and quick to build, and came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial output. Based on vessels ordered by Britain to replace ships torpedoed by...

 was also named in his honor. Ten states have a Hancock County
Hancock County
Hancock County is the name of ten counties in the United States. All are named for John Hancock who was a leader in the American Revolution. The counties are:*Hancock County, Georgia*Hancock County, Illinois*Hancock County, Indiana*Hancock County, Iowa...

 named for him; other places named after him include Hancock, Massachusetts
Hancock, Massachusetts
Hancock is a town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 717 at the 2010 census.- History :...

; Hancock, Michigan
Hancock, Michigan
Hancock is a city in Houghton County; the northernmost in the U.S. state of Michigan, located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, or, depending on terminology, Copper Island. The population was 4,634 at the 2010 census...

; Hancock, New York
Hancock (town), New York
Hancock is a town in Delaware County, New York, United States. The town contains a village, also named Hancock. The town is in the southwest part of the county...

; and Mount Hancock
Mount Hancock (New Hampshire)
Mount Hancock is a mountain located in Grafton County, New Hampshire, named after John Hancock , one of the Founding Fathers of the United States....

 in New Hampshire. The John Hancock Insurance
John Hancock Insurance
John Hancock Financial is a loose term for a United States insurance company which existed, in various forms, from its founding on April 21, 1862, until its acquisition in 2004 by the Canadian insurance company Manulife Financial. It was named in honor of John Hancock, a prominent patriot...

 company, founded in Boston in 1862, was also named for him; it had no connection to Hancock's own business ventures. The insurance company has passed on the name to famous office buildings such as the John Hancock Tower
John Hancock Tower
The John Hancock Tower, officially named Hancock Place and colloquially known as The Hancock, is a 60-story, 790-foot skyscraper in Boston. The tower was designed by Henry N. Cobb of the firm I. M. Pei & Partners and was completed in 1976...

 in Boston, the John Hancock Center
John Hancock Center
John Hancock Center at 875 North Michigan Avenue in the Streeterville area of Chicago, Illinois, is a 100-story, 1,127-foot tall skyscraper, constructed under the supervision of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, with chief designer Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Khan...

 in Chicago, and the John Hancock Student Village
John Hancock Student Village
The John Hancock Student Village or is a large new residential and recreational complex at Boston University, covering between Buick Street and Nickerson Field, ground formerly occupied by a National Guard Armory, which had been used by the University primarily as a storage facility prior to its...

 at Boston University
Boston University
Boston University is a private research university located in Boston, Massachusetts. With more than 4,000 faculty members and more than 31,000 students, Boston University is one of the largest private universities in the United States and one of Boston's largest employers...

.

Further reading


  • Baxter, William T. The House of Hancock: Business in Boston, 1724–1775. 1945. Reprint, New York: Russell & Russell, 1965. Deals primarily with Thomas Hancock's business career.
  • Brandes, Paul D. John Hancock’s Life and Speeches: A Personalized Vision of the American Revolution, 1763–1793. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1996. ISBN 0810830760. Contains the full text of many speeches.
  • Brown, Abram E. John Hancock, His Book. Boston, 1898. Mostly extracts from Hancock's letters.
  • Sears, Lorenzo. John Hancock, The Picturesque Patriot. 1912. The first full biography of Hancock.
  • Wolkins, George G. "The Seizure of John Hancock's Sloop Liberty". Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 55 (1923), 239–84. Reprints the primary documents.


External links