A photo of the signature of John Hancock
The famous signature.

Granted, this was more prevalent in the days before electronic digital signatures, but you’ve probably heard the term at some point:

“Sign your John Hancock right here!”

As we celebrate the United States of America’s 246th birthday, no signature on the Declaration of Independence – our first Hallmark moment – stands out bigger, bolder and with more flair than that of John Hancock. In fact, he was the first of the 56 men who signed the document that told King George III and England to take a hike, and no doubt wanted emphasize his dedication to the revolution and defiance.

After all, breaking away from England’s grip required the will of brave men and women who knew they were, in essence, declaring treason against the Crown. They didn’t just sign America’s most famous piece of parchment. They signed what would have been their death warrants had England ultimately prevailed.

Such explains why the Declaration might be dated July 4, 1776 – two days after the first founding fathers signed it – the last of the names weren’t signed until November of that year.

By signing first and with such flourish, Hancock made himself a target publicly. By that time, however, he’d already ruffled the British in many other ways. In 1773, three years before the revolution began, Hancock revved up the angry mob at a Sons of Liberty meeting prior to the Boston Tea Party, telling them “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes.”

A painting of John Hancock.
John Hancock

They dumped tea into the Boston Harbor to protest the tea tax foisted upon them by the Crown. Hence, the battle cry of “No Taxation without Representation” was born.

Hancock further infuriated the British by raising money for the Revolution, recruited troops for the Continental Army and also helped assemble ships to create naval power.

When British troops went to Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts to confiscate stored militia armament in April 1775, they also went looking for Hancock and his good friend, Samuel Adams. The British had warrants out for their arrests during the battles in those towns that began the Revolutionary War. However, both men escaped and went to Philadelphia, where they signed the Declaration a year later.  

Indeed, Hancock’s became the most celebrated signature in the nation’s history – so perfect and artistic that National Handwriting Day is celebrated on Hancock’s birthday, which is January 23.

All because he signed his “John Hancock” right there, big, boldly and defiantly as a new nation was born.

Happy birthday, U.S.A.!

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