Wednesday, July 4, 2012


There was no battle. There were no cannons. There were no muskets. That would come later.

On July 4th there was just the document.

The thirteen colonies were united behind an idea: No taxation without representation. The British Crown, represented by King George III (The same monarch from The Madness of King George, father to Blackadder's Prince Regent) responded to this demand by sending 700 British warships to Nova Scotia, showing in no uncertain terms that not only had he rejected that demand but intended to play rough to enforce it.

That changed things. If the colonies were going to resist a military occupation and the leaders were to risk being hanged as traitors, they might as well do it for something substantial.


As they say: Shit just got real.

In June, 1776 British patrol frigates were skirmishing in the Delaware River; late in the month British troops landed on Staten Island. The American reaction to all this was a muddle of confusion. A few were delighted, most of the rest were amazed or appalled.

There is far less muddle about what happened on July 2, 1776, publicly proclaimed two days later. Adopting a resolution written by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, the Thirteen Colonies stated they had now clarified their goals in the controversy with the British monarchy. 

Fighting had been going on for a year in Massachusetts, and Lord Howe's fleet had set sail a month before the Declaration, actually landing on Staten Island at just about the same time as the Fourth of July.

So what actually happened on the 4th?

Contrary to popular mythology, there was no ceremonial signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776. After Congress approved the wording of the text on July 4, a copy was sent to be printed. As president, Hancock may have signed the document that was sent to the printer, but this is uncertain because that document is lost, perhaps destroyed in the printing process. The printer produced the first published version of the Declaration, the widely distributed Dunlap broadside. Hancock, as President of Congress, was the only delegate whose name appeared on the broadside, although the name of Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, but not a delegate, was also on it. This meant that until a second broadside was issued six months later with all of the signers listed, Hancock was the only delegate whose name was publicly attached to the treasonous document. Hancock sent a copy of the Dunlap broadside to George Washington, instructing him to have it read to the troops "in the way you shall think most proper".

Eventually there would be 56 signatories to that declaration but that would take to almost the end of September.

So when someone asks you for your "John Hancock" on something, think about the historical John Hancock, the first man to publicly declare himself a rebel to the crown. Signing that paper was as good as signing his own death warrant had things not turned out as they did, and for a while his was the only one. Think about what an act of bravery signing that paper entailed. No, he didn't hunt vampires, but he was a brave man nonetheless.

So next time stop and think about how important it is when you sign your "John Hancock" to something.

Happy Fourth of July to all my American readers! You have an amazing country with a singularly colourful history. 

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Fascinating! That's probably why John Hancock's signature is centrally located and so much larger than the rest of the (later) signatures. It had to be good and visible!

M. D. Jackson said...

Before I learned the history I thought it was just vanity, but now I think that he did it that big to encourage others to sign.

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