Government and Politics

Declaration of Independence

Why did John Hancock go down in history as the notable signer of the Declaration of Independence?

Most Americans know that when they’re putting their “John Hancock” on something, it means they’re signing a document. It’s because of the 56 men who signed their names to the historic document, it was Hancock (1737–1793) who, as president of the Second Continental Congress, signed the declaration first.

The events were as follows: On July 2, 1776, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) presented the draft of the declaration to the Second Continental Congress, which had convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, more than a year earlier (on May 10, 1775). The congressional delegates of the 13 colonies then deliberated and debated the draft, making some changes: A section was deleted that condemned England’s King George III (1738–1820) for encouraging slave trade. Other changes were cosmetic in nature. On July 4 the final draft of the declaration was adopted by Congress, and it was then that it was signed by Hancock. The document was then printed. A few days later, on July 8, the declaration was read to a crowd who assembled in the yard of the state house. On July 19 the Congress ordered that the Declaration of Independence be written in script on parchment. It is that copy that in early August was signed by all 56 members of the Second Continental Congress. The Declaration of Independence is housed, along with the U.S. Constitution (1788) and the Bill of Rights (1791), in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., where it is on display to the public. John Hancock went on to become governor of Massachusetts, from 1780 to 1785 and from 1787 to 1793.


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