John Hancock- Biography and Crucial Facts

John Hancock

Founding Father John Hancock: Biography and Major Facts

John Hancock was an American hero and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He is known for signing a conspicuously large signature in 1776 on the Declaration of Independence document that gave birth to the United States of America. After inheriting family riches, the politically influential statesman used his fortunes to stand with his fellow countrymen during the bloody Revolutionary days against British colonialism in the American colonies.

Birth and Early Life

The Massachusetts-born statesman came into the world on 23rd January 1737. Hancock was the son of Col. John Hancock Jr and Mary Hawke Thaxter. Unfortunately, Hancock’s father did not live long enough before passing away, leaving behind his 7-year-old son. Luck found the kid when he was adopted by Thomas Hancock – his wealthy merchant uncle who lived in Boston.

Hancock Inherits Wealth

By 1754,  Hancock had completed Harvard University. He began working in his uncle’s businesses as a clerk. In 1760, he then moved to London to represent his uncle’s firm for a year. By 1763, Hancock had become actively involved in Thomas’ booming business.

He fully inherited the lucrative merchant business when his uncle shockingly left the world in 1764. Hancock had openly declared his strong opposition to an unfair tax policy (the 1765 Stamp Act) and other intolerable acts initiated by the British.

In an attempt to source revenue and strengthen their economically weak empire, as well as to pay debts incurred during the Seven Years’ War, the British imposed numerous tax acts on the American colonies during the 1760s.  Some of the taxes targeted  Hancock’s business transactions, so he knew that he had to fight back.

Court Election and Seizure of His Ship

In 1766, political power fell on him; he was elected to join the Massachusetts General Court. This recommendation was based on his strong stance against British oppression. His position allowed him to slowly gain national influence and popularity.

One event later made him more anti-British. The British had seized “Liberty” – a ship that Hancock used to smuggle his goods in defiance of those intolerable taxes. Following the seizure, they threatened to heavily sanction Hancock as a result of his tax violations. However, Hancock never paid a dime; but, he sadly lost the ship to the British.

Hancock’s meteoric rise in the political landscape continued as he got re-elected into the Massachusetts courts and governing bodies. Under the mentorship of Samuel Adams ( a famed revolutionary),  the two political activists co-operated and  resisted unfair British policies in their colony.

Political Influences

Over the next years, Hancock dedicated his life and wealth to spearhead anti-British actions. In 1770, five Americans were shot to death by British troops in what was termed as the Boston Massacre. Hancock stepped in as a leader and warned Governor Hutchinson to remove the British troops, else a necessary civilian action would follow. Hancock’s fame grew nationwide when the British troops were withdrawn. He stood firm against the next set of British taxes.

John Hancock’s Role during the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

John Trumbull’s famous painting of The Declaration of Independence shows John Hancock (seated far right) taking receipt of the drafted Declaration document

As the years went by, Hancock rose into more influential political positions. In 1774, he became a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. Simultaneously, the Provincial Congress made Hancock their leader. Due to their growing revolutionary influences, the British troops planned to arrest Hancock and Samuel Adams. But they were lucky enough to have escaped successfully upon a tip-off by Paul Revere. Their escape happened before the revolutionary Battles of Concord and Lexington.

Hancock worked in Congress during the early days of the Revolution. He would write letters to George Washington, calling for provision of the necessary supplies for the Revolution and the Continental Army.

Hancock was the presiding officer that took receipt of the Declaration document drafted by the Committee of Five, which was made up of Roger Sherman (Connecticut delegate), Thomas Jefferson (Virginia delegate), John Adams (Massachusetts delegate), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania delegate) and Robert R. Livingston (New York delegate).

Also, as President of Congress, John Hancock was the first person to put his signature on the sacred Independence document.  Hancock’s signature appeared unusually large on the document; a feat that makes him still very famous among Americans.

It was only until 4th July 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was officially announced. The document declared that the 13 colonies were no longer under British rule, and then the USA was born. The names of the signatories (the signers) of Independence weren’t revealed immediately – any such attempt would have endangered the lives of Hancock and his team since the British government would have charged them of treasonous acts.

Crucial Facts about John Hancock

The following are 5 very crucial facts about John Hancock:

  • Heavily involved in the Boston Tea Party

A hilarious but serious incident occurred in 1773. On 16th December that year, a group of irate American demonstrators (Sons of Liberty) offloaded tea from a British ship and threw the precious commodity into the Boston harbor. Hancock was not present at the scene, but he played a role in causing the demonstration against the Tea Act. He even remarked that people were free to do whatever they liked.

  • He could have chosen to be a Loyalist

In the days of the Revolution, the loyalists were sections of elite Americans who sided with the British and hesitated to struggle for Independence. Given Hancock’s affluence at the time, he could have chosen to stay aloof and bask in his riches. For the love of fledgling nation, he rather used his wealth to support the Revolutionary actions of the 13 colonies.

  • First Signer of the Declaration
John Hancock

John Hancock’s signature as seen on the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence

As President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock holds the honor of being the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. His signature turned out to be a rather bold statement that epitomized the determination of the American colonies in their pursuit for independence. He intended to have it that way so that George III could easily understand the passion and drive that he and other delegates of Congress had towards independence.

Occupying about five inches of the paper, Hancock signature’s for centuries has remained a well-talked about thing in American politics and history. His name became synonymous with signature.

  • Governor of Massachusetts

In 1780, after Independence, Hancock was elected Massachusetts Governor. After his re-election, he governed the state for a long time until his last breath.

  • Came close to becoming America’s First President

After his governorship re-election in 1787, Hancock went on  to win the presidency of a Massachusetts convention that was tasked with  ratifying the American Constitution. He used his position to press for approval of the Constitution and also added some amendments backed by the Federalist Party.

The presidential candidate list of America’s first election captured Hancock’s name. But he lost the electoral college votes to George Washington and John Adams who became President and Vice President respectively.

Marriage and Children

Despite his busy and dangerous life as a political revolutionary, Hancock married Dorothy Quincy in 1775. Their union brought forth 2 children – a daughter and a son. Sadly, their daughter died before attaining the age of one . Tragedy befell the couple again when their son drowned at 8.

How did John Hancock die?

After spending his life in a politically tensed atmosphere, Hancock’s health declined progressively. Due to natural causes, at 56-years-old, the Massachusetts governor passed away on 8th October 1793.

Hancock’s legacies live on. All over the United States,  universities, military assets and other prominent places are named after him.

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