John Hancock


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John HancockHancock, JOHN, statesman; born in Quincy, Massachusetts, January 12, 1737; graduated at Harvard in 1754; and, becoming a merchant with his uncle, inherited that gentleman's large fortune and extensive business. He was one of the most active of the Massachusetts "SONS of LIBERTY ", and, with Samuel Adams, was outlawed by Gage in June, 1775. Hancock was a member of the Provincial Assembly in 1766, and was chosen president of the Provincial Congress in October, 1774. He was a delegate to the first Continental Congress, and continued in that body until 1778. As president of Congress, he first placed his bold signature to the Declaration of Independence. In February, 1778, he was appointed first major-general of the Massachusetts militia, and took part in Sullivan's campaign in Rhode Island in August following. He was a member of the Massachusetts State convention in 1780, and governor of the State from 1780 to 1785, and from 1787 till his death in Quincy, Oct. 8, 1793. He was president of the State convention that adopted the national Constitution. Hancock's residence was in a fine stone mansion on Beacon street, fronting the Common. It was built by his uncle, Thomas Hancock.

In the autumn of 1789 President Washington made a tour through portions of the New England States. He arrived at Boston on Saturday, October 24. Hancock, who was then governor, had invited the President to lodge at his house in Boston, which the latter declined. After Washington's arrival, Hancock sent him an invitation to come and dine with him and his family informally that day at the close of the public reception ceremonies. It was accepted by Washington, with a full persuasion that the governor would call upon him before the dinner-hour. But Hancock had conceived the notion that the governor of a State, within his own domain, was officially superior to the President of the United States when he came into it. He had laid his plans for asserting his superiority by having Washington visit him first, and to this end sent him the invitation to lodge and dine with him. At near the time for dinner, as the President did not appear, the governor evidently felt some misgivings, for he sent his secretary to the President with an excuse that he was too ill to call upon his Excellency in person. The latter divined the nature of the "indisposition," and dined at his own lodgings at the Widow Ingersoll's with a single guest. That evening the governor, feeling uneasy, sent his lieutenant and two of his council to express his regret that his illness had not allowed him to call upon the President. "I informed them expressly," says Washington in his diary," that I should not see the governor except at my lodgings." That message led Hancock to visit the President next day, and repeat in person the insufficient excuse for his own folly.

Arraignment of Great Britain

—As before stated, Hancock and Samuel Adams were both elected members of the Provincial Congress at Concord early in 1774. On March 5 of that year Hancock delivered the following oration in Boston, which was the principal cause of his being outlawed, together with Samuel Adams, by General Gage, early in the following year. The British expedition to Concord in April, 1775, which led to the battle of Lexington, was undertaken to secure the arrest of both Hancock and Samuel Adams: This speech could therefore be considered one of the "Triggers" for the Revolutionary War.

Men, Brethren, Fathers, and Fellow-Countrymen,—The attentive gravity, the venerable appearance of this crowded audience; the dignity which I behold in the countenances of so many in this great assembly; the solemnity of the occasion upon which we have met together, joined to a consideration of the part I am to take in the important business of this day, fill me with an awe hitherto unknown; and heighten the sense which I have ever had of my unworthiness to fill this sacred desk; but allured by the call of some of my respected fellow citizens, with whose request it is always my greatest pleasure to comply, I almost forgot my want of ability to perform what they required. In this situation I find my only support in assuring myself that a generous people will not severely censure what they know was well intended, though its want of merit should prevent their being able to applaud it. And I pray that my sincere attachment to the interest of my country, and hearty detestation of every design formed against her liberties, may be submitted as some apology for my appearance in this place.

I have always, from my earliest youth, rejoiced in the felicity of my fellow men; and have ever considered it as the indispensable duty of every member of society to promote, as far as in him lies, the prosperity of every individual, but more especially of the community to which he belongs, and also as a faithful subject of the state, to use his utmost endeavors to detect, and, having detected, strenuously to oppose every traitorous plot which its enemies may devise for its destruction. Security to the persons and properties of the governed is so obviously the design and end of civil government, that to attempt a logical proof of it would be like burning tapers at noonday, to assist the sun in enlightening the world; and it can-not be either virtuous or honorable to attempt to support a government of which this is not the great and principal basis; and it is to the last degree vicious and in-famous to attempt to support a government which manifestly tends to render there have been some unhappy instances; or why have I seen an honest father clothed with shame, or why a virtuous mother drowned in tears?

But I forbear, and come reluctantly to the transaction of that dismal night, when in such quick succession we felt the extremes of grief, astonishment and rage; when Heaven, in anger, for a dreadful moment suffered hell to take the reins; when Satan with his chosen band opened the sluices of New England's blood, and sacrilegiously polluted our land with the dead bodies of her guiltless sons. Let this sad tale of death never be told without a tear; let not the heaving bosom cease to burn with a manly indignation at the barbarous story, through the long tracts of future time; let every parent tell the shameful story to his listening children till tears of pity glisten in their eyes, and boiling passions shake their tender frames; and while the anniversary of that ill-fated night is kept a jubilee in the grim court of pandemonium, let all America join in one common prayer to Heaven, that the inhuman, unprovoked murders of March 5, 1770, planned by Hillsborough and a knot of treacherous knaves in Boston, and executed by the cruel hand of Preston and his sanguinary coadjutors, may ever stand in history without a parallel. But what, my countrymen, withheld the ready arm of vengeance from executing instant justice on the vile assassins? Perhaps you feared promiscuous carnage might ensue, and that the innocent might share the fate of those who had performed the infernal deed. But were not all guilty? Were you not too tender of the lives of those who come to fix a yoke on your necks? But I must not too severely blame a fault, which great souls only can commit. May that magnificence of spirit which scorns the low pursuits of malice, may that generous compassion which often preserves from ruin even a guilty villain, forever actuate the noble bosoms of Americans! But let not the miscreant host vainly imagine that we feared their arms. No; them we despised; we dread nothing but slavery. Death is the creature of a poltroon's brains; 'tis immortality to sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of our country. We fear not death. That gloomy night, the palefaced moon, and the affrighted stars that hurried through the sky, can witness that we fear not death. Our hearts which, at the recollection, glow with rage that four revolving years have scarcely taught us to restrain, can witness that we fear not death; and happy it is for those who dared to insult us that their naked bones are not piled up an everlasting monument of Massachusetts bravery. But they retired, they fled, and in that flight they found their only safety. We then expected that the hand of public justice would soon inflict that punishment upon the murderers which, by the laws of God and man, they had incurred. But let the unbiased pen of a Robertson, or perhaps of some equally famed American, conduct this trial before the great tribunal of succeeding generations. And though the murderers may escape the just resentment of an enraged people; though drowsy justice, intoxicated by the poisonous draught prepared for her cup, still nods upon her rotten seat, yet be assured, such complicated crimes will meet their due reward. Tell me, ye bloody butchers! ye villains high and low! ye wretches who contrived, as well as you who executed the inhuman deed! Do you not feel the goads and stings of conscious guilt pierce through your savage bosom? Though some of you may think yourselves exalted to a height that -bids defiance to human justice, and others shroud yourselves beneath the mask of hypocrisy, and build your hopes of safety on the low arts of cunning, chicanery and falsehood; yet do you not sometimes feel the gnawing of that worm which never dies? Do not the injured shades of Maverick, Gray, Caldwell, Attucks and Carr attend you in your solitary walks, arrest you even in the midst of your debaucheries, and fill even your dreams with terror? But if the unappeased manes of the dead should not disturb their murderers, yet surely even your obdurate hearts must shrink, and your guilty blood must chill within your rigid veins, when you behold the miserable Monk, the wretched victim of your savage cruelty. Observe his tottering knees, which scarce sustain his wasted body; look in his haggard eyes; mark well the deathlike paleness on his fallen cheek, and tell me, does not the sight plant daggers in your souls? Unhappy Monk; cut off in the gay morn of manhood from all the joys which sweeten life, doomed to drag on a pitiful existence, without even a hope to taste the pleasures of returning health! Yet, Monk, thou livest a warning to thy country, which sympathizes with thee in thy sufferings; thou livest an affecting, an alarming instance of the unbounded violence which lust of power, assisted by a standing army, can lead a traitor to commit.

For us he bled, and now languishes. The wounds by which he is tortured to a lingering death were aimed at our country! Surely the meek-eyed Charity can never behold such sufferings with indifference. Nor can her lenient hand forbear to put oil and wine into these wounds, and to assuage at least what it cannot heal, Patriotism is ever united with humanity and compassion. This noble affection which impels us to sacrifice everything dear, even life itself, to our country, involves in it a common sympathy and tenderness for every citizen, and must ever have a particular feeling for one who suffers in a public cause. Thoroughly persuaded of this, I need not add a word to engage your compassion and bounty towards a fellow-citizen who, with long-protracted anguish, falls a victim to the relentless rage of our common enemies.

Ye dark designing knaves, ye murderers, parricides! how dare you tread upon the earth, which has drank in the blood of slaughtered innocents, shed by your wicked hands? How dare you breathe that air which wafted to the ear of Heaven the groans of those who fell a sacrifice to your accursed ambition? But if the laboring earth doth not expand her jaws; if the air you breathe is not commissioned to he the minister of death, yet hear it and tremble! The eye of Heaven penetrates the darkest chambers of the soul, traces the leading clew through all the labyrinths which your industrious folly had devised; and you, however you may have screened yourselves from human eyes, must be arraigned, must lift your hands, red with the blood of those whose death you have procured, at the tremendous bar of God.

But I gladly quit the gloomy theme of death, and leave you to improve the thought of that important. day, when our naked souls must stand before that Being from whom nothing can be hid. I would not dwell too long upon the horrid effects which have already followed from quartering regular troops in this town; let our misfortunes teach posterity to guard against such evils for the future. Standing armies are sometimes (I would by no means say generally, much less universally) composed of persons who have rendered themselves unfit to live in civil society; who have no other motives of conduct than those which a desire of the present gratification of their passions suggests; who have no property in any country; men who have given up their own liberties, and envy those who enjoy liberty; who are equally indifferent to the glory of a George or a Louis; who for the addition of one penny a day to their wages would desert from the Christian cross to fight under the crescent of the Turkish sultan. From such men as these what has not a state to fear? With such as these, usurping Caesar passed the Rubicon; with such as these he humbled mighty Rome, and forced the mistress of the world to own a master in a traitor. These are the men whom sceptred robbers now employ to frustrate the designs of God, and render vain the bounties which His gracious hand pours indiscriminately upon His creatures. By these the miserable slaves in Turkey, Persia, and many other extensive countries, are rendered truly wretched, though their air is salubrious, and their soil luxuriously fertile. By these France and Spain, though blessed by nature with all that ad-ministers to the convenience of life, have been reduced to that contemptible state in which they now appear; and by these Britain—but if I were possessed of the gift of prophecy, I dare not, except by divine command, unfold the leaves on which the destiny of that once powerful kingdom is inscribed.

But, since standing armies are so hurtful to a state, perhaps my countrymen may demand some substitute, some other means of rendering us secure against the incursions of a foreign enemy. But can you be one moment at a loss? Will not a well-disciplined militia afford you ample security against foreign foes? We want not courage; it is discipline alone in which we are exceeded by the most, formidable troops that ever trod the earth. Surely our hearts flutter no more at the sound of war than did those of the immortal bands of Persia, the Macedonian phalanx, the invincible Roman legions, the Turkish janissaries, the gens-des-armes of France, or the well-known grenadiers of Britain. A well-disciplined militia is a safe, an honorable guard to a community like this, whose inhabitants are by nature brave, and are laudably tenacious of that freedom in which they were born. From a well-regulated militia we have nothing to fear; their interest is the same with that of the state. When a country is invaded, the militia are ready to appear in their defense; they march into the field with that fortitude which a consciousness of the justice of their cause inspires; they do not jeopard their lives for a master who considers them only as the instruments of his ambition, and whom they regard only as the dispenser of the scanty pittance of bread and water. No, they fight for their houses, their lands, for their wives, their children, for all who claim the tenderest names, and are held dearest in their hearts, they fight pro aris et focis, for their liberty, and for themselves, and for their God. And let it not offend if I say that no militia ever appeared in more flourishing condition than that of this province now doth; and, pardon me if I say—of this town in particular—I mean not to boast; I would not excite envy, but manly emulation. We have all one common cause; let it therefore be our only contest who shall most contribute to the security of the liberties of America. And may the same kind Providence which has watched over this country from her infant state, still enable us to defeat our enemies. I cannot here forbear noticing the signal manner in which the designs of those who wish not well to us have been discovered. The dark deeds of a treacherous cabal have been brought to public view. You now know the serpents who, while cherished in your bosoms, were darting their envenomed stings into the vitals of the constitution. But the resentatives of the people have fixed a mark on these ungrateful monsters, which though it may not make them so secure as Cain of old, yet renders them at least as infamous. Indeed, it would be affrontive to the tutelar deity of this country even to despair of saving it from all the snares which human policy can lay.

True it is that the British ministry have annexed a salary to the office of the governor of this province, to be paid out of a revenue, raised in America without our consent. They have attempted to render our courts of justice the instruments of extending the authority of acts of the British Parliament over this colony, by making the judges dependent on the British administration for their support. But this people will never be enslaved with their eyes open. The moment they knew that the governor was not such a governor as the charter of the province points out, he lost his power of hurting them. They were alarmed; they suspected him, have guarded against him, and he has found that a wise and a brave people, when they know their danger, are fruitful in expedients to escape it.

The courts of judicature also so far lost their dignity, by being supposed to be under an undue influence, that our representatives thought it absolutely necessary to resolve that they were bound to declare that they would not receive any other salary besides that which the general court should grant them; and, if they did not make this declaration, that it would be the duty of the House to impeach them.

Great expectations were also formed from the artful scheme of allowing the East India Company to export tea to America, upon their own account. This, certainly, had it succeeded, would have effected the purpose of the contrivers and gratified the most sanguine wishes of our adversaries. We soon should have found our trade in the hands of foreigners, and taxes imposed on everything which we consumed; nor would it have been strange if, in a few years, a company in London should have purchased an exclusive right of trading to America. But their plot was soon discovered. The people soon were aware of the poison which, with so much craft and subtlety, had been concealed; loss and disgrace ensued; and, perhaps, this long-concerted masterpiece of policy may issue in the total disuse of tea in this country, which will eventually be the saving of the lives and the estates of thousands—yet while we rejoice that the adversary has not hitherto prevailed against us, let us by no means put off the harness. Restless malice, and disappointed ambition, will still suggest new measures to our inveterate enemies. Therefore, let us also be ready to take the field whenever danger calls; let us be united and strengthen the hands of each other by promoting a general union among us. Much has been done by the committees of correspondence for this and the other towns of this province, towards uniting the inhabitants; let them still go on and prosper. Much has been done by the committees of correspondence for the Houses of Assembly, in this and our sister colonies, for uniting the inhabitants of the whole continent, for the security of their common interest. May success ever at-tend their generous endeavors. But permit me here to suggest a general congress of deputies, from the several Houses of Assembly on the continent, as the most effectual method of establishing such a union as the present posture of our affairs require. At such a congress a firm foundation may be laid for the security of our rights and liberties, a system may be formed for our common safety, by a strict adherence to which we shall be able to frustrate any attempts to over-throw our constitution, restore peace and harmony to America, and secure honor and wealth to Great Britain, even against the inclinations of her ministers, whose duty it is to study her welfare; and we shall also free ourselves from those unmannerly pillagers who impudently tell us that they are licensed by an act of the British Parliament to .thrust their dirty hands into the pockets of every American. But, I trust, the happy time will come when, with the besom of destruction, those noxious vermin will be swept forever from the streets of Boston.

Surely you never will tamely suffer this country to be a den of thieves. Remember, my friends, from whom you sprang. Let not a meanness of spirit, unknown to those whom you boast of as your fathers, excite a thought to the dishonor of your mothers. I conjure you by all that is dear, by all that is honorable, by all that is sacred, not only that ye pray, but that ye act; that, if necessary, ye fight, and even die, for the prosperity of our Jerusalem.

Break in sunder, with noble disdain, the bonds with which the Philistines have bound you. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed by the soft arts of luxury and effeminacy into the pit digged for your destruction. Despise the glare of wealth. That people who pay greater respect to a wealthy villain than to an honest, up-right man in poverty, almost deserve to be enslaved; they plainly show that wealth, however it may be acquired, is, in their esteem, to be preferred to virtue.

But I thank God that America abounds in men who are superior to all temptation, whom nothing can divert from a steady pursuit of the interest of their country, who are at once its ornament and safeguard. And sure I am I should not incur your displeasure if I paid a respect so justly due to their much-honored characters in this place; but, when I name an Adams, such a numerous host of fellow-patriots rush up to my mind that I fear it would take up too much of your time should I attempt to call over the illustrious roll; but your grateful hearts will point you to the men: and their revered names, in all succeeding times, shall grace the annals of America. From them, let us, my friends, take example; from them, let us catch the divine enthusiasm, and feel, each for himself, the godlike pleasure of diffusing happiness on all around us; of delivering the oppressed from the iron grasp of tyranny; of changing the hoarse complaints and bitter moans of wretched slaves into those cheerful songs which freedom and contentment must inspire. There is a heart-felt satisfaction in reflecting on our exertions for the public weal which all the sufferings an enraged tyrant can inflict will never take away; which the ingratitude and reproaches of those whom we have saved from ruin can-not rob us of. The virtuous asserter of the rights of mankind merits a reward which even a want of success in his endeavors to save his country, the heaviest misfortune which can befall a genuine patriot, cannot entirely prevent him from receiving. I have the most animating confidence that the present noble struggle for liberty will terminate gloriously for America. And let us play the man for our God, and for the cities of our God; while we are using the means in our power, let us humbly commit our righteous cause to the great Lord of the universe, who loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity. And, having secured the approbation of our hearts by a faithful and unwearied discharge of our duty to our country, let us joyfully leave our concerns in the hands of Him who raiseth up and putteth down the empires and kingdoms of the world as He pleases; and, with cheerful submission to His sovereign will, devoutly say:

" Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the field shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet we will rejoice in the Lord, we will joy in the God of our salvation."



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