Grasping at Straws: John Hancock

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

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Half-length portrait of a man with a hint of a smile. His features suggests that he is in his 30s, although he wears an off-white wig in the style of an English gentleman that makes him appear older. His dark suit has fancy embroidery.


As far as our memories go back, school taught us all about the Founding Fathers, the architects of the United States of America. These Hall-of-Fame-level Patriots (not Tom Brady) are known for their countless contributions to the attitudes that helped shape the Revolutionary War era, as well as essentially every era to come after.

We know the most prominent ones by heart: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, John Adams, James Madison, etc. Our nation’s first four presidents…and a guy who has a beer named after him. Tough break for ol’ Sammy.

Not as tough as the one for another dominant figure from that era, however. As Presidents’ Day has come and passed once again, I’m here to make the case for the non-future-president among the Founding Fathers who should have the grandest legacy among each new generation. It is not Alexander Hamilton, who might have the one of the most exclusive and widely praised musicals in recent history based on his life.

No, it is John Hancock who deserves our affection. Our unbridled respect. Our consideration for most influential Founding Father.

To understand why Hancock should be so heavily revered (not Paul Revere) to this day, let’s sprint through his life up until he left his mark on history with his most notorious achievement, his signature.

Born in 1737 in Braintree, Massachusetts (also home to John Adams), Hancock was taken in by his Uncle Thomas at age 7 after his father passed away. Thomas Hancock was one of the richest and most well-connected people in Massachusetts, which John took full advantage of as he grew up.

Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree at Harvard in 1754 (at age 17!), John worked under his uncle while creating the same sort of elite network that made his uncle so successful. By 1761 John had gradually taken control of leadership over his uncle’s business, and after joining the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew in 1762, he solidified his reputation as an up-and-coming leading member of Massachusetts society.

This emergence and subsequent involvement in politics coincided with the growing tensions between the colonies and Great Britain. Support from Samuel Adams (not the beer) only furthered his influence as a Patriot in many of the notorious pre-American Revolution events, such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party. By the time the war broke out, Hancock was chosen as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and unanimously elected as its President.

This leads us to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, which is where most people know the name “John Hancock” from. Unfortunately, this seems to be the extent of people’s interest in him. Even from my brief summary of the first 40 years of his life, it becomes quite obvious that Hancock was an exceptional man. His ability to make connections and inspire people to rally around him is the stuff of legends. Any recent college graduate would kill to have even a fraction of the networking skills that John Hancock possessed. During the darkest days of early Congress, he wrote innumerable letters to colonial officials, raising money, supplies, and troops for Washington’s army, which provided an invaluable boost to the fledgling band of freedom fighters.

The guy was simply beloved, no matter what he did. In 1778, he commanded 6,000 men as the major general of the Massachusetts militia during an attach against the British garrison in Rhode Island. By all accounts, he was a pretty terrible military leader. Hancock basically passed on all his duties to his subordinates and probably sat back in his general’s tent eating grapes or whatever high-ranking officials did back then. Unsurprisingly, his militia men eventually abandoned the other Continental soldiers once it looked like the campaign would be a failure.

Yet 2 years later, Hancock was elected governor of Massachusetts with 90% of the vote. No matter what he did, people couldn’t get enough of him. John Hancock was basically the colonial Snoop Dogg. You can quote me on that.

But back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His Super Bowl. The defining moment of John Hancock’s life and legacy. It can not be understated how incredible of a move it was to take up all that real estate with his signature. It was a masterful stroke by possibly the most forward-thinking man in recorded history. Here’s why:

It’s 1776. The Second Continental Congress is putting the finishing touches on the Declaration of Independence. The most important piece of paper since the Magna Carta. An absolute game-changer for the rest of Western society. The official ratification of the DoI would have ramifications that would change the course of the world.

Except, how many of those men truly understood that on July 4, 1776? Who among them could truly be so aware of the impact that document would eventually have, the monumental stamp on history they were making that day?

John Freaking Hancock. That’s who.

Sure, as the President of the Congress, John Hancock had first dibs on signing, and therefore had an advantage in writing his name exactly how he wanted. But to have the presence of mind, in that moment just before ink hit paper, to be like, “This is my moment, right now, to be a legend for all of eternity,” and then just unleash the most extravagant, unrelenting signature that has ever existed…man, it’s simply awe-inspiring when you think about it.

With more pressure than a baseball player being up to bat with the bases loaded, 2 outs, down 3, bottom of the 9th inning, John Hancock stepped up to the plate and launched a 450-foot grand slam. Actually, I don’t even think his home-run ball has ever landed. It’s still in orbit around the Earth, the same planet on which he foresaw his signature being the most referenced and recognizable one ever written.

In a world today where people constantly think about what they can do to be seen and known by as many people as possible, and then often do ridiculous things all in the name of “going viral,” John Hancock bested all of them simply by doing exactly what each of us do to cash our paychecks. Except when he did it, it was remembered by everyone to ever come after him. Try accomplishing that the next time you’re at your local Chase bank.

John Hancock is undoubtedly the most underappreciated of the Founding Fathers, if for no other reason that he fully understood the weight and gravity of what he and his fellow Patriots (still not Tom Brady) were doing like none of the others did. Hancock was an all-time great socialite with the ability to capture the minds of the masses, a Kardashian before the first Armenian ever made his/her way to America. Most of all, John Hancock believed in the United States of America like no one else, which is why he made certain that his involvement in its creation would be abundantly clear for each generation of freedom fighters to come.

Or maybe, I’m just grasping at straws.