Andy Warhol famously said that everyone was due their fifteen minutes of fame. So perhaps the gifted should be granted a little longer. Seventh of our ten Presidents of the United States was another familiar figure; John Hancock, perhaps the only one to be retained in the national memory. He is the Hancock of the famously oversized signature on the Declaration of Independence – so large that it has become an eponym in America for signature. Legend says he signed it large in order that King George III should be able to read it without his glasses. This story too is dubious. Hancock was always a show-off though and most of his autographs are big.
He was born in Braintree (now Quincy) Massachusetts. His career was supposedly working as a merchant but he made most of his money from smuggling glass, lead, and tea. Certainly amongst the richest of the land he was well able to afford the funds which were used to finance the revolution. Hancock was a good orator and a skilled moderator (in the Scottish Presbyterian sense of Chairman) but his skills really lay in raising funds and supplies. That and not paying tax. As President ICA he served from November 23, 1785 to June 6, 1786.
As to whether he fits into an oligarchical pattern – as the sceptics of the idea that oligarchs are a strange result of the time of the constitution – he stands alone in the political history of his country. No sons or daughters survived and no cousins indeed no descendents whatever stepped into his shoes.
For all his fame, for all that he was first to sign the Declaration he is no oligarch king.
Copyright David Macadam 2010