Today in History: John Hancock Elected President of Congress (1775)

John Hancock with the Declaration of Independence. Spare Change News

Before the American Revolution, the American colonists tried to reconcile with England many times. The argument over representation in Parliament was something, however, that the citizens of the Colonies wouldn’t budge on.

The problem was that England was broke, and several of its trading companies were also on the brink of bankruptcy. Britain needed the money because of the almost constant wars that it fought with France. Parliament needed to raise money, so decided that they could tax the colonies without fear because the colonists had no voice. They did this repeatedly for several decades before the American Revolution broke out.

After many failed attempts to get the British to see reason, the Americans declared independence on July 4, 1776. The first signatory on the Declaration of Independence is also, perhaps, the most famous: John Hancock. His giant, over-the-top, signature has become very famous over the last 250+ years, so much so that the term “John Hancock” has become a synonym for signature.

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But who was this man with the giant script? Besides being a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock is known for being the first governor of Massachusetts under the first state constitution, a wealthy merchant, a graduate of Harvard (at age 17), and the owner of several ships that played a role in the conflict between the colonies and England.

There has been some controversy about Hancock between historians. Often times, Hancock has been described as a smuggler of highly taxed and regulated goods, but there is no historical proof that this was the case. Hancock’s position as merchant put him in position to influence the struggle between the colonists and the British troops who had taken up residence in Boston during the 1760s. After the Boston Massacre in 1770, Hancock led the political fight to remove those troops from Boston.

He met with British representatives and threatened them with 10,000 armed colonists. Even though the British representatives knew Hancock was bluffing, they moved the troops out regardless because of their precarious position and the number of disgruntled Bostonians. And while it would be a temporary withdrawal, people from Boston celebrated Hancock’s success, and almost unanimously reelected him to the Massachusetts House.

The signature of John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. Google Images

On May 24, 1775, John Hancock was elected the President of the Second Continental Congress. It was this group of men who would attempt for the last few times to negotiate with Britain. It was the Continental Congress that would govern the newly formed United States of America through the Revolutionary war. Primarily, it organized the army, gave command to George Washington, and funded the war through loans and the printing of the country’s first unified paper money.

Hancock served in the Continental Congress between 1775 and 1777, after which he became the first governor of Massachusetts (he’d also be the third governor of the state). It was with his influence that Massachusetts ratified the Constitution of the United States in 1788 after the war ended and the Americans were victorious.

The so-called “Founding Fathers” are an interesting group of people. If it wasn’t for his gigantic signature on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock would likely be as unknown as almost every other signer of the Declaration.

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