John Hancock: Patriot in Purple

John Hancock: Patriot in Purple

John Hancock: Patriot in Purple

John Hancock: Patriot in Purple

Excerpt

One of the strangest paradoxes in history is that a vast majority of Americans know the name John Hancock but only a small minority know the man who bore it.

Because of the showy form in which it is inscribed on the Declaration of Independence "John Hancock" has been incorporated into the English language as a synonym for autograph. This top signature with its large, bold, symmetrical script is the most expressive of the fifty-six appended to the Declaration; yet the fascinating personage for whom it stands is least understood or appreciated of all the important founding fathers. Few names of noted patriots have been so perpetuated; but the memory of no other's personality and achievements has been so thoroughly obliterated.

Named after Hancock are an aircraft carrier celebrated for her contribution to the defeat of the Japanese during the Second World War; a nationally known life insurance company and numerous firms of sectional repute; counties, towns, and streets throughout the eastern part of the United States. Still, it is doubtful that more than one person in a thousand-even among the educated-is aware of this man's significant role in the birth of a nation. He is remembered as the first to sign the Declaration and is quoted-somewhat derisively-as having declared melodramatically after adding the final flourish: "There! John Bull can read my name without spectacles."

Hancock is the most neglected and maligned of famous figures in the annals of America. For more than a hundred years after his death on October 8, 1793, his own state of Massachusetts ignored him completely while rearing monuments and statues to many lesser men. In 1894, when the legislature of the commonwealth, of which he had been the original governor under its independent constitution, got around to . . .

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