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John Hancock was an 18th century U.S. merchant who was president of the Continental Congress and the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence.
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The two were warned by Paul Revere during his famous April 18, 1775 night ride shouting out that British forces were on their way. Hancock and Adams fled Lexington, where they were staying, and eventually made their way to Philadelphia.
The Congress met in May,
1775. George Washington was appointed leader of the Continental Army while Hancock was appointed congress president. Hancock would give the coming American war effort financial support while his presidential role was more of a figurehead position, with congressional decisions generally achieved through committee. In August of the same year, he wed Dorothy Quincy, who came from a merchant family as well. Hancock’s business fortune by this time had significantly dwindled.
Hancock became the first representative to sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, a document which maintained that the thirteen American states were free of British rule. Hancock left a sizable signature with flourish; the idea of leaving one's "John Hancock" on paperwork has meaning to this day.
Hancock resigned as president of the Continental Congress in 1777, citing health issues, though he remained a member. During the same year he also faced accusations from Harvard for mismanagement of institutional funds, as he had been serving as treasurer since 1773; Hancock was made to issue a significant repayment. Then in 1778, working with the French navy, he would lead an unsuccessful military campaign to recapture Newport, Rhode Island from the British.
In 1780, Hancock won the election to become the first governor of Massachusetts. He held office until 1785 when he resigned, citing poor health once again. Yet his resignation also coincided with the forthcoming Shay’s Rebellion, an uprising from debt-burdened citizens of the state who were protesting high government taxation and state regulations. Hancock was believed to have mishandled the Massachusetts economy, yet he was reelected to the governorship in 1787.
The following year Hancock also won the presidency of his state’s convention, whose purpose was to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Hancock ultimately pushed for constitutional approval despite some initial reservations, and also presented amendments endorsed by the Federalist Party. Hancock’s name was in the candidate pool during the first U.S. presidential election, though he won a small share of electoral votes.
Hancock died on October 8, 1793, while serving as governor. He was buried in Boston, Massachusetts.
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They are American icons—they're on our dollars and coins, they are the subject of our monuments, and we live our daily lives in the world their ideas helped create. America's Founding Fathers include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and, of course, Benjamin Franklin. These men, together with several other key players of their time, structured the American democracy and left a legacy that has shaped the world. But beyond their legends, these men were human beings who led complex and fascinating lives. Learning their stories helps us better understand what made them tick, as well as their influence on our world today.
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