John Hancock resigns his position as president of the Continental Congress, due to a prolonged illness, on this day in 1777. Hancock was the first member of the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration of Independence and is perhaps best known for his bold signature on the ground-breaking document.
First elected to the Continental Congress in 1774 as a delegate from Massachusetts, Hancock became its president upon the resignation of Peyton Randolph in May 1775. During his tenure as president, Hancock presided over some of the most historic moments of the American Revolution, culminating in the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.
After resigning his position as president, Hancock returned to his home state of Massachusetts, where he continued his work in public service. After helping to establish the state’s first constitution, Hancock was elected first governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1780 and served for five years. He declined to run for reelection in 1785, but returned after a two-year absence and was elected governor for a second time in 1787. He held the position until his death in 1793.
Hancock will forever be remembered for his bold and defiant signature on the Declaration of Independence, but “bold” and “defiant” could also describe the way he lived. The wealthiest colonist in New England, Hancock risked losing everything he had for the cause of American independence. Nothing better exemplifies Hancock’s defiance than the first words he spoke after signing the Declaration of Independence. In response to the bounty the British had placed on the heads of prominent revolutionary leaders, Hancock replied, “The British ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward.”