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John Hancock (1737-1793)

60 min

Students will:

  • explain the ways John Hancock worked to support the Revolutionary cause.
  • understand the reasons for Hancock’s reputation in the American colonies.
  • understand the partnership between Hancock and Samuel Adams in resisting British tyranny.
  • analyze the various purposes of the “Oration on the Anniversary of the Boston Massacre.”
  • evaluate the effectiveness of Hancock’s rhetorical strategies.
  • appreciate Hancock’s contributions to his country.

  1. Review answers to homework questions.
  2. Conduct a whole-class discussion to answer the Critical Thinking Questions.
  3. Ask a student to summarize the historical significance of John Hancock.

    John Hancock financed the Sons of Liberty. A Patriot leader, he served in the Continental Congress and presided over the signing of the Declaration of Independence, where he affixed his outsized signature. He helped draft the state constitution of Massachusetts and served as governor of the state for nine terms.

Forever famous for his outsized signature on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock was a larger than life figure in other ways as well. Part of the great Boston triumvirate that included Samuel Adams and James Otis, Hancock was a wealthy merchant whose bank account helped to finance the radical activities of the Sons of Liberty. Hancock himself became a thorn in the side of the British, who seized his ship, the Liberty, in 1768 and put a price on his head in 1775.

Hancock served as president of the Continental Congress and presided over the signing of the Declaration on August 2, 1776. Disappointed at being passed over for command of the Continental army in 1777, he returned to Massachusetts, where he had a hand in writing the state constitution of 1780 and served as governor for all but four years between 1780 and 1793. Hancock agreed to support ratification of the Constitution despite his reservations about centralized government power.

Popular in his day and in the hearts of succeeding generations of Americans because of his famous signature, opinion of Hancock remains divided. Some agree with John Adams that he was “an essential character” in the Revolution, while others belittle him as no more than Samuel Adams’s moneyman and tool.

Have each pair share their response for the first section of the chart with the class; continue until all have reported. What are the strongest points of Hancock’s speech? Are there portions that do not work as well?

  1. Ask students to write a one-page speech agreeing or disagreeing with Hancock’s assertion that “Security to the persons and properties of the governed is … obviously the design and end of civil government….”
  2. In 1774, Governor Gage pardoned all who had been involved in illegal opposition to the British—all that is, except Hancock and his close ally Samuel Adams. Have students write a dispatch, as Gage, to law enforcement authorities explaining that they should be on the lookout for John Hancock. Gage should explain why Hancock did not receive amnesty and why he is such a serious threat to British rule. Make sure to explain why the “Oration on the Anniversary of the Boston Massacre” was so subversive.

John Hancock was famous for his grand symbolic gestures such as his signature on the Declaration of Independence and his participation in the Boston Tea Party. Ask students to write a one-page essay answering the questions: Why did Hancock choose to deliver this speech on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre? Is this an effective rhetorical strategy? Identify at least two examples of modern political figures using symbolic gestures to strengthen the impact of a speech. Compare these examples to the symbolism in Hancock’s speech.

Student Handouts

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