1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hancock, John

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HANCOCK, JOHN (1737-1793), “American Revolutionary statesman, was born in that part of Braintree, Massachusetts, now known as Quincy, on the 23rd of January 1737. After graduating from Harvard in 1754, he entered the mercantile house of his uncle, Thomas Hancock of Boston, who had adopted him, and on whose death, in 1764, he fell heir toa large fortune and a prosperous business. In 1765 he became a selectman of Boston, and from 1766 to 1772 Was a member of the Massachusetts general court. An event which is thought to have greatly influenced Hancock's subsequent career was the seizure of the sloop “ Liberty ” in 1768 by the customs officers for discharging, without paying the duties, acargo of Madeira wine consigned to Hancock. Many suits were thereupon entered against Hancock, which, if successful, would have caused the confiscation of his estate, but which undoubtedly enhanced his popularity with the Whig element and increased his resentment against the British government. He was a member of the committee appointed in a Boston town meeting immediately after the “ Boston Massacre ” in 1770 to demand the removal of British troops from the town. In 1774 and 1775 he was president of the first and second Provincial Congresses respectively, and he shared with Samuel Adams the leadership of the Massachusetts Whigs in all the irregular measures preceding the War of American Independence. The famous expedition sent by General Thomas Gage of Massachusetts to Lexington and Concord on the 18th-19th of April 1775 had for its object, besides the destruction of materials of war at Concord, the capture of Hancock and Adams, who were temporarily staying at Lexington, and these two leaders were expressly excepted in the proclamation of pardon issued on the 12th of June by Gage, their offences, it was said, being “of too fiagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment.” Hancock was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1780, was president of it from May 177 5 to October 1777, being the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, and was a member of the Confederation Congress in 1785-1786; In 1778 he commanded, as major-general of militia, the Massachusetts troops who participated in the Rhode Island expedition. He was a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1779-1780, became the first governor of the state, and served from 118O to 1785 and again from 1787 until his death. Although at first unfriendly to the Federal Constitution as drafted by the convention at Philadelphia, he was finally won over to its support, and in 1 788 he presided over the Massachusetts convention which ratified the instrument. Hancock was not by nature a leader, but he wielded great influence on account of his wealth and social position, and was liberal, public-spirited, and, as his repeated election-the elections were annual-to the governorship attests, exceedingly popular. He died at Quincy, Mass., on the 8th of October 1793.

See Abram E. Brown, John Hancock, His Book (Boston, 1898), a work consisting largely of extracts from Hancock's letters.