Wednesday, September 19, 2012

President John Hancock

President John Hancock
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Third President of the Continental Congress
United Colonies of America
May 25, 1775 to July 1, 1776

First President of the Continental Congress
United States of America
July 2, 1776 to October 29, 1777

Seventh President of the United States
in Congress Assembled
November 23, 1785 to June 5, 1786
“The public mind seems not to be yet settled on the Vice President. The question has been supposed to lie between Hancock & Adams. The former is far the more popular man in N. England, but he has declared to his lady, it is said, that she had once been the first in America, & he wd. never make her the second.” -- James Madison, October 28, 1788

On May 25, 1775 the United Colonies Continental Congress elected John Hancock, President. On July 2, 1776 United Colonies Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain. On July 4th, 1776 United States Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence with John Hancock executing the resolution as President. On November 23, 1785 the United States in Congress Assembled (USCA) elected John Hancock President. 

John Hancock was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on January 12, 1737 and died there October 8, 1793. Hancock’s father, the Reverend John Hancock, was an ordained minister who was a graduate of Harvard College. Hancock’s grandfather, also named the Reverend John Hancock, was so revered that he was often called “Bishop” or “Sir Hancock” and was described as a "man of stern Puritanic stuff, but a lover of a good story and a cheerful word nevertheless.” This religious influence did not escape John Hancock’s character who was encouraged to adhere to the strict Christian principles that permeated 18th Century Massachusetts. Hancock’s father died when he was seven and his Uncle Thomas, a wealthy merchant as evidence by the following family account, raised young John as a son.
Mr. Thomas Hancock had built in 1737 a handsome house on Beacon Street. The grounds extended from Mt. Vernon to Joy Street. The garden was laid out with extreme care, filled with rare trees and shrubs, for which Mr. Hancock showed a great predilection, sending abroad to obtain the choicest varieties. The interior of the mansion was adorned with all that wealth could procure from England to add to the comfort and elegance of a home. The numerous orders of Mr. Thomas Hancock comprised wall paper, the designs to be animals, birds and flowers; the best sterling Madeira wines for his own use. And he wrote, " I don't stand for any price, provided the quality of the wine answers to it." Everything must be of the first quality, from the " best new rose May butter " to the “eiderdown bed cover;" and "the best quart bottles of champagne" to "the best of paper."

Negroes were the servants at that time, being most kindly cared for by this family. Thomas Hancock willed several to his widow; and one, from attachment for his faithful services, was buried in the Hancock plot. 
Thomas Hancock's generous heart, overflowing with love for his nephew, liberally indulged him, which did not result in the wreck of a fine man, as might have been expected, because of the solid foundation of his character. 

On the education front, John Hancock followed in his father’s footsteps being admitted to Harvard and graduating in 1754.  He did not, however, school in the ministry focusing rather on liberal arts and business.  Upon graduation he invoked on a career in working with his Uncle Thomas in Boston. In 1760, he was introduced to politics by embarking on a foreign tour with the Royal Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Pownal, who was close friend of Uncle Thomas. On October 29, 1760 while in London, he wrote to his Uncle:

“Sunday last the Prince of Wales was proclaimed King thro' ye city with pomp and joy. His coronation, I am told, will not be till April; that I can't yet determine whether I shall stay to see it, but rather think I shall, as it is the grandest thing I shall ever meet with."  [2]

Young John Hancock did attend the coronation ceremony and was presented to King George III by his royal Governor.  John received a snuff-box on which was engraved with the  likeness of the new Kling. He wrote the Rev. Daniel Perkins from London:

“I shall with satisfaction bid adieu to this grand place, with all its pleasurable enjoyments and tempting scenes, r more substantial pleasures, which I promise myself in the enjoyment of my friends in America."[3]

John Hancock returned to Boston with a new understanding of European business and culture.   Three years later, on August 1, 1764,[4] Thomas Hancock the wealthiest man in Boston and senior member on the Massachusetts Council died.    Having no children left his thriving business as well as a sizable fortune to John Hancock who was now 27.

John Hancock became active in Colonial politics shortly after the Stamp Act was enacted.  On November 1, 1765, in an effort to recoup loss revenues due to the war, the British Parliament, imposed a direct tax on the American Colonies.  This tax was to be paid directly to King George III to replenish the royal treasuries coffers emptied by his father during the height of the Seven Years War. Under the British Stamp Act, all printed materials including broad­sides, newspapers, pamphlets, bills, legal documents, licenses, almanacs, dice and playing cards, were required to carry a revenue stamp. Americans who for 160 years faithfully paid taxes to their respective colonial governments were, for the first time, expected to pay this additional tax direct­ly to Great Britain.  

President John Hancock Oil Painting
Forgotten Founders Collection

The colonists, in opposition to King and Parliament, convened the Stamp Act Congress in New York City on October 19, 1765.  They passed a resolution which made “the following declarations of our humble opinion, respecting the most essential rights and liberties Of the colonists, and of the grievances under which they labour, by reason of several late Acts of Parliament” [5] calling on King George III to repeal the Act. The Act was repealed on March 18, 1766 but it was replaced with the Declaratory Act.  This Act asserted that the British government had absolute authority over the American colonies which further divided the two political systems. 

In 1766,  John Hancock was chosen to represent Boston in the Massachusetts House of Representatives with James Otis, Thomas Cushing, and Samuel Adams.  In that House, Eliot reports that Hancock  "blazed a Whig of the first magnitude" [6] defying the taxes of the British Empire. The seizure of Hancock’s sloop, the "Liberty," for an alleged evasion of the laws of trade, caused a riot in Massachusetts, with customs’ royal commissioners barely escaping with their lives.

In 1767, in another attempt to obtain revenue from the colonies, the Townshend Revenue Acts [7] were passed by Parliament, taxing imported paper, tea, glass, lead and paints.  In February of 1768, Samuel Adams and James Otis drafted and the Massachusetts Assembly adopted a circular letter to be sent to the other American Assemblies protesting these taxes. They expressed the hope that redress could be obtained through petitions to King George III.  The letter called for a convention to thrash out the issue of taxation without representation and issue a unified address to the Crown. The British government, however, provoked a confrontation by ordering the Massachusetts Assembly to rescind the letter and ordered Governor Bernard to dismiss the assembly if they refused.

In protest to this and other British laws, John Hancock and other Selectman called for a state­wide “town meeting” at Faneuil Hall on September 23, 1768, 96 towns answered Hancock’s call to address taxation and self-government grievances against the British Crown n September 28th. The circular produced by Hancock calling for the meeting read:

Copyright © Stan Klos, President Who? Forgotten Founders 2004 & 2008
John Hancock "No Taxation Without Representation Broadside"
Image Courtesy of the Stan Klos Collection [8]

“YOU are already too well acquainted with the _hreatenin [sic] and very alarming Circumstances to which this Province, as well as America in general, is now reduced. Taxes equally detrimental to the Commercial interests of the Parent Country and her Colonies, are imposed upon the People, without their Consent; - Taxes designed for the Support of the Civil Government in the Colonies, in a Manner clearly unconstitu­tional, and contrary to that, in which ‘till of late, Government has been supported, by the free Gift of the People in the American Assemblies or Parliaments; as also for the Maintenance of a large Standing Army; not for the Defence [sic] of the newly acquired Territories, but for the old Colonies, and in a Time of Peace. The decent, humble and truly loyal Applications and Petitions from the Representatives of this Province for the Redress of these heavy and very _hreatening [sic] Grievances, have hitherto been ineffectual…The only Effect…has been a Mandate…to Dissolve the General Assembly, merely because the late House of Representatives refused to Rescind a Resolution of a former House, which imply’d nothing more than a Right in the American Subjects to unite in humble and dutiful Petitions to their gracious Sovereign, when they found themselves aggrieved…

“The Concern and Perplexity into which these Things have thrown the People, have been greatly aggravated, by a late Declaration of his Excellency Governor BERNARD, that one or more Regiments may soon be expected in this Province…
“Deprived of the Councils of a General Assembly in this dark and difficult Season, the loyal People of this Province, will, we are persuaded, immediately perceive the Propriety and Utility of the proposed Committee of Convention…”.
Signed “John Hancock,” also signed “Joseph Jackson,” “John Ruddock,” “John Rowe,” and “Samuel Pemberton” as Selectmen of Boston.” [9]

 This particular Hancock document had a demonstrable effect, “it changed the world,” as the governor called for British reinforcements. Hancock’s convention composed a list of grievances, passed several resolutions, and adjourned. Two days later, royal transports unloaded British troops at the Long Wharf and began a military occupation of Boston that would last until March 17, 1776. It was the beginning of the end of British Colonialism in America.  

Eighteen months later, on March 5th, 1770, Hancock would be drawn in again to anti-crown politics by attending the funeral of the Bostonians slain in an affray known as the “Boston Massacre." [10]  Here it is reported by various historians that Hancock eloquently delivered a speech to the mourning citizens that fear­lessly condemned the conduct of the soldiers and their crown. His words were so critical of the British Authorities that it greatly offended the Colonial Governor who ordered his arrest.  Hancock's speech was printed in key American newspa­pers broadening his notoriety throughout the colonies.[11]  This author could not find any 1770 account of the speech ever being given by John Hancock in newspapers, broadsides or letters at the funeral for the slain Bostonians.  What was uncovered is this account of the funeral by a Boston newspaper on March 12, 1770:  

Last Thursday, agreeable to a general request of the inhabitants and by the consent of parents and friends, were carried to their grave in succession the bodies of Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks, the unhappy victims who fell in the bloody massacre of the Monday evening preceding!

On this occasion most of the shops in town were shut, all the bells were ordered to toll a solemn peal, as were also those in the neighbouring towns of Charlestown, Roxbury, etc. The procession began to move between the hours of four and five in the afternoon, two of the unfortunate sufferers, viz. Messrs. James Caldwell and Crispus Attucks who were strangers, borne from Faneuil Hall attended by a numerous train of persons of all ranks; and the other two, viz. Mr. Samuel Gray, from the house of Mr. Benjamin Gray (his brother) on the north side the Exchange, and Mr. Maverick, from the house of his distressed mother, Mrs. Mary Maverick, in Union Street, each followed by their respective relations and friends, the several hearses forming a junction in King Street, the theatre of the inhuman tragedy, proceeded from thence through the Main Street, lengthened by an immense concourse of people so numerous as to be obliged to follow in ranks of six, and bought up by a long train of carriages belonging to the principal gentry of the town. The bodies were deposited in one vault in the middle burying ground. The aggravated circumstances of their death, the distress and sorrow visible in every countenance, together with the peculiar solemnity with which the whole funeral was conducted, surpass description.[12] 

There are also numerous 18th Century accounts of John Hancock delivering a fourth Anniversary Speech of the Boston Massacre in 1774 … “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 . . .”.  This speech has been reported by numerous 19th – 21st Century scholars as the one reported given at the 1770 funeral which did not occur. Never-the-less, the text of the March 5, 1774 provides exemplary “rebel rhetoric” eloquently criticizing both the Crown and the British Authorities occupying Boston.  His demeanor during this speech was reported as:

“without shrinking or demur, on this occasion calmly faced the assemblage before him. Though the streets were full of British soldiers, and some collected to hear him, he denounced the conduct of the administration in its various oppressive acts, and especially in sending an armed force to be stationed in the capital in time of peace. He was bold and eloquent, exciting the astonishment alike of his friends and foes” [13]

In 1774 Hancock was elected, with Samuel Adams, to the Provincial congress at Concord, Massachusetts. John Hancock was unanimously elected president and presided over its Committee of Safety. Contrary to popular belief John Hancock was not elected on June 14, 1774 as a delegate to the Continental Congress because his Provincial Congress President office required him to remain in Boston.

Under Hancock’s Presidency, Massachusetts organized bands of "minutemen", Colonial militiamen ready in a minute’s notice, to oppose the British. Hancock also presided over the organized effort to boycott tea imported by the British East India Company.

Resolved, That the Honourable John Hancock, Esquire, Doctor Joseph Warren, Doctor Benjamin Church, Junior, Mr. Richard Devens, Captain Benjamin White, Colonel Joseph Palmer, Mr. Abraham Watson, Colonel Azor Orne, Mr. John Pigeon, Colonel William Heath, and Mr. Jabez Fisher, be, and hereby are, appointed a Committee of Safety, to continue until the further order of this, or some other Congress, or House of Representatives of this Province, whose business and duty it shall be, most carefully and diligently to inspect and observe all and every such person or persons, as shall at any time attempt to carry into execution, by force, an Act of the British Parliament, entitled "An Act for the better regulating the Government of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England," or who shall attempt to carry into execution, by force, another Act of the British Parliament, entitled "An Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice in the cases of persons questioned for any act done by them in the execution of the Law, or for the suppression of Riots and Tumults in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay;" which said Committee, or any five of them, (provided always, that not more than one of the said five shall be an inhabitant of the Town of Boston,) shall have power, and they are hereby empowered and directed, when they shall judge that such attempt or attempts are made to alarm, muster, and cause to be assembled, with the utmost expedition, and completely armed, accoutred, and supplied with provisions sufficient for their support in the march to the place of rendezvous, such and so many of the Militia of this Province, as they shall judge necessary for the end and purpose of opposing such attempt or attempts, and at such place or places as they shall judge proper, and them to discharge, as the safety of the Province shall permit. And this Congress do most earnestly recommend to all the Officers and Soldiers of the Militia in this Province, who shall from time to time, during the commission of the said Committee, receive any call or order from the said Committee, to pay the strictest obedience thereto, as they shall regard the liberties and lives of themselves and the people of this Province, any order or orders of any form Congress varying therefrom notwithstanding.

Resolved, That the Honourable Jedediah Preble, Esquire, Honourable Artemas Ward, Esquire, Colonel Seth Pomeroy, Colonel John Thomas, and Colonel William Heath, be, and they hereby are appointed General Officers, whose business and duty it shall be, with such and so many of the Militia of this Province as shall be assembled by order of the Committee of Safety, effectually to oppose and resist such attempt or attempts as shall be made for carrying into execution, by force, an Act of the British Parliament, entitled "An Act for the better regulating the Government of jhe Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England;" or who shall attempt the carrying into execution, by force, another Act of the British Parliament, entitled "An Act for the more Impartial Administration of Justice in the cases of persons questioned for any act done by them in the execution of the Law, or for the suppression of Riots and Tumults in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay," so long as the said Militia shall be retained by the Committee of Safety, and no longer; and the said General Officers shall, while in the said service, command, lead, and conduct in such opposition, in the order in which they are above named, any order or orders of any former Congress, varying therefrom notwithstanding.[14]

These minutemen became crucial in dealing with General Thomas Gage who was named Royal governor and commander-in-chief, of Massachusetts by the Crown in 1774.   At first, Gage governorship was a welcome change in Boston due to the unpopularity of Governor Thomas Hutchinson.  Only two months earlier on the cold evening of December 16, 1773 Bostonians dressed as Mohawks boarded three English ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver Loaded with tea from the East India Company and dumped their contents into the water as a protest against the Crown’s tax on tea.  This occurred because protesters, who had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, did not succeed in having the King’s tea returned to England. Instead Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson permitted the tea remain on board three ships at Griffin's Wharf in Boston.

John Hancock, personally, had a hand in this “Boston Tea Party.”  When the duties were levied upon the importation of foreign merchandise by the British Government John Hancock, who headed the committee, formed an association to prohibit the importation of British goods. This association formulation was followed by many of the other colonies. This association eventually led to its leaders inciting a group of men, some dressed in the Mohawk warrior disguises, to boarded the three vessels British tea vessels in Boston Harbor. In three hours the men dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water. An account of Hancock’s involvement is given by Major Thomas Maxwell.

“In 1773 I went with my team to Boston. I loaded at John Hancock's warehouse, and was about to leave town when Mr. Hancock requested me to drive my team up into his yard, and ordered his servants to take care of it, and requested me to be on Long Wharf at 2 o'clock P. M., and informed me what was to be done. I went accordingly, joined the band under one Captain Hewes; we mounted the ships and made tea in a trice. This done I took my team and went home, as an honest man should.'' [15]

General Gage arrived in the midst of the colonial chaos caused by the Boston Tea Party. His mission, aside from restoring respect for the King’s law, included strictly enforcing the confiscation of war-making materials.  In September 1774 Gage carried out his orders and adeptly seized the gunpowder stockpile stored in Somerville, Massachusetts.  This success gave rise to the effectiveness of the “Sons of Liberty” who kept a close eye on Gage’s activities successfully warning other arsenals when British were coming.

General Thomas Gage’s mili­tary strategy of seizing colonial arsenals and rooting out revolutionaries resulted in what is now known as the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The British's Troops April 18, 1775 advance on Concord to seize its arsenal resulted in Joseph Warren calling out the "Minute Men." Upon learning of the British plans which included the capture of John Hancock and Samuel Adams, Warren dispatched Paul Revere who wrote

"About 10 o'clock, Dr. Warren Sent in a great haste for me, and begged that I would immediately Set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were..." [16]

Revere was rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown by two friends where he checked first with members of the Sons of Liberty that Warren's call to arms Old Church signals had been seen. Revere then borrowed a horse from Deacon Larkin and began his famous ride. Revere reported on his ride north along the Mystic River:

"I awakened the Captain of the minute men; and after that I alarmed almost every house till I got to Lexington. I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams at the Rev. Mr. Clark's; I told them my errand ...”[17]

Revere then helped Adams and Hancock escape, and at 4:30am he wrote that

"Mr Lowell asked me to go to the Tavern with him, to git a Trunk of papers belonging to Mr. Hancock. We went up Chamber; and while we were giting the Trunk, we saw the British very near, upon a full March." [18]

It was at that time, while collecting the trunk that Revere recalls hearing "The shot heard 'round the world" on the Lexington Green. Revere wrote,

"When we got about 100 Yards from the meeting-House the British Troops appeared on both Sides... I saw and heard a Gun fired... Then I could distinguish two Guns, and then a Continual roar of Musquetry; Then we made off with the Trunk.” [19]  

The militias were outnumbered in Lexington and fell back, enabling British troops to proceed on to Concord, where they searched for the supplies. Hancock and Adams both escaped the British unharmed.  The militia regrouped and at Concord’s North Bridge they engaged and defeated three companies of the King's troops. The outnumbered regulars fell back from the minutemen after a pitched battle in open territory as more men swelled the militia’s numbers. The British expedition was rescued by reinforcements under Brigadier General Hugh Percy. The combined force, now of about 1,700 men, marched back to Boston under heavy fire in a tactical withdrawal and eventually reached the safety of Charlestown. The accumulated militias blockaded the narrow land accesses to Charlestown and Boston, starting the Siege of Boston.
Following the April battles at Lexington and Concord, the British soldiers returned to Boston quar­tering the community. On June 12th General Gage issued a proclamation offering pardons to all the rebels, excepting Samuel Adams and John Hancock,

"whose offences," it was declared, "are of too flagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment." [20]

On June 16th Colonel William Prescott was ordered onto the Charlestown Peninsula to occupy Bunker Hill to defy the British occupation of Boston. For reasons that are still not entirely clear, the colonists took possession of neighboring Breed's Hill and constructed defense fortifications. General William Howe quickly assembled a force of 3,000 soldiers to the foot of the American position. Two uphill assaults were launched and repulsed by Colonel Prescott who reputedly cau­tioned his men "not to fire until they saw the whites of their eyes" but this phrase was attributed earlier to British General James Wolfe who issued the same order at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. The assaults resulted in heavy losses for the British forcing Howe to call for 400 additional soldiers.

The British third charge caught the Americans low on powder and unable to oppose the over­whelming numbers of fixed British bayonets. Prescott ordered the retreat down the north slope of Breed's Hill. Many were shot in the back during this escape across the Neck. A key causality was Dr. Joseph Warren, who was among the last to leave his position. He was killed instantly by a mus­ket ball in the back of his head. A full report of the Battle was given to … including this excerpt on the causalities:

The loss of the New-England Army amounted, according to an exact return, to one hundred and forty-five killed and missing, and three hundred and four wounded. Thirty of the first were wounded and taken prisoners by the enemy. Among the dead was Major General Joseph Warren, a man whose memory will be endeared to his countrymen, and to the worthy in every part and age of the world, so long as virtue and valour shall be esteemed among mankind. [21]

Joseph Warren’s death provided a political vacuum that John Hancock would fill leading to a U.S. 1776 prominence second only to George Washington.

Mr. Hancock was elected a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress on December 5, 1775.

Resolved, that the proceedings of the American continental Congress held at Philadelphia, on the fifth day of September last, and Reported by the honble Delegates from this Colony, have with the deliberation due to their high importance been considered by us; and the American Bill of rights therein contained, appears to be formed with the greatest Ability and Judgment; to be founded on the immutable Laws of Nature and reason, the principles of the English constitution, and respective Charters and constitutions of the Colonies, and to be worthy of their most vigorous support, as essentially necessary to liberty. Likewise the ruinous and eniquitous measures, which, in violation of these RIGHTS, at present convulse and threaten destruction to America, appear to be clearly pointed out, and judicious plans adopted for defeating them.

Resolved, That the most grateful acknowledgments are due to the truly honorable and patriotic Members of the Continental Congress, for their wise and able exertions in the cause of American Liberty; and this Congress, in their own Names, and in behalf of this Colony, do hereby, with the utmost Sincerity, express the same.

Resolved, That the Hon. John Hancock, Hon. Thomas Cushing, Esquires, Mr. Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Robert Treat Paine, Esquires, or any three of them, be, and they hereby are appointed and authorized to represent this Colony, on the tenth of May next, or sooner if necessary, at the American Congress, to be held at Philadelphia, with full power, with the Delegates from the Other American Colonies, to concert, agree upon, direct and order such farther measures, as shall to them appear to be best calculated for the recovery and establishment of American rights and Liberties, and for restoring harmony between Great-Britain and the Colonies.[22]

The Second Continental Congress opened on May 10, 1775 with Peyton Randolph serving as President. As in 1774, Randolph was called to Virginia for a Burgesses session and forced to abandon his presiding chair.  Henry Middleton declined to serve as President a second time due to ill health. Samuel Adams and his cousin John Adams champion the cause of their wealthy benefactor John Hancock who was elected President on May 25th, 1775.  It is reported by several 19th and 20th Century Hancock biographers that Benjamin Harrison, of Virginia, with Southern warmth and fervency, threw his arms around John Hancock and placed him in the vacant Presidential chair, exclaiming,

We will show Mother Britain how little we care for her by making a Massachusetts man our President, whom she has excluded from pardon and offered a reward for his head [23]

I was unable to find any 18th century documents, newspapers of letters to corroborate the passage.

President Hancock, soon after his election, stepped up his courting of 27 year old Dorothy Quincy who was also being pursued by Aaron Burr while she was residing in his Uncle’s Family Mansion in New York.[24]   Dorothy "Dolly" Quincy, was born on May 10, 1747, in Braintree, Massachusetts, and was the daughter of Justice Edmund and Elizabeth (Wendell) Quincy.  On June 10, 1775, John Hancock wrote to Miss Quincy:

I am almost prevailed on to think that my letters to my aunt and you are not read, for I cannot obtain a reply. I have asked a million questions and not an answer to one. ... I really take it extremely unkind. Pray, my dear, use not so much ceremony and reservedness. Why can't you use freedom in writing? Be not afraid of me. I want long letters. ... I beg, my dear Dolly, you will write me often and long letters. I will forgive the past if you will mend in future. Do ask my aunt to make me up and send me a watch-string, and do you make up another? I want something of your doing.[25]

The Coupled were married on August 28, 1775.  The New York Post gives a detailed account which, occurred at the Burr Mansion in New York, in part:

It is diffuse in particulars of the “blue blood “present and the great gathering of guests from the town and from afar, which added unusual brilliancy to the scene. This wedding created, evidently, a social flurry: and unbounded interest was expressed throughout the northern colonies, the papers publishing notices of the event.[26]

John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)  Portrait of Dorothy Quincy, Circa 1772.  Dorothy "Dolly" Quincy, was born on May 10, 1747, in Braintree, Massachusetts, was the daughter of Justice Edmund and Elizabeth (Wendell) Quincy. On August 28, 1775, At the age of 28, Miss Quincy married John Hancock at the Thaddeus Burr Mansion in Fairfield, Connecticut. Together, they had two children, Lydia Henchman Hancock (1776 - 1777) and John George Washington Hancock (1778 - 1787).  After John Hancock's death, Dorothy was courted and married by Captain James Scott in 1796. Their marriage ended with Captain Scott's death in 1809. Dorothy would remain a widow until her death, aged 83, on February 9, 1830. 
The Pennsylvania Gazette of September 6, 1775 reported:

Under date of August 29, Fairfield, New York: Last evening was married at the seat of Thaddeus Burr, Esq., by the Rev. Mr. Elliott, the Hon. John Hancock, Esq., President of the Continental Congress, to Miss Dorothy Quincy, daughter of Edmund Quincy. Esq., of Boston. Florus informs us that, ' in the second Punic war, when Hannibal besieged Rome, and was very near making himself Master of it, a field upon which part of his army lay was offered for sale, and was immediately purchased by a Roman, in a strong assurance that the Roman valour and courage could soon raise the siege.'
Equal to the conduct of that illustrious citizen was the marriage of the Hon. John Hancock, Esq., who. with his amiable Lady, has paid as great a compliment to American valour, and discovered equal Patriotism, by marrying now, while all the colonies are as much convulsed as Rome when Hannibal was at her gates.[27]

Hancock’s wealth, young bride and position were enhanced by the selection of a house elegantly Philadelphia home chosen to entertain foreign and domestic dignitaries. The Adams, steadfast liberals at that time, regretted their decision to back his Presidency because Hancock aligned himself with fellow merchant delegates who were, at best, tepid in the cause of independence. President Hancock also used his office in an opulent fashion much to the disappointment of his Massachusetts Colleagues.[28] Moreover, when Peyton Randolph returned to Congress Hancock made no overture to surrender the Presidency, despite many delegates charg­ing his election was only to serve during Randolph’s absence.[29]

Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200.

The Hancock presidency was most eventual in the Continental Congress’ history starting with a July 6, 1775 resolution, "Declaration of the Causes and Necessities of Taking Up Arms," which, rejected independence but asserted that Americans were ready to die rather than be enslaved. In this resolution that justified it war with Great Britain, the United Colonies Continental Congress openly invoked their Christian God stating:

“Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great, and, if nec­essary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable. -- We gratefully acknowledge, as signal instances of the Divine favour towards us, that his Providence would not per­mit us to be called into this severe controversy, until we were grown up to our present strength, had been previously exercised in warlike operation, and possessed of the means of defending ourselves. With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost ener­gy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverence, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves.” [30]

On June 14, debate opened in Congress on the appointment of Commander-in-Chief of Continental forces. John Hancock made it known to all the delegates that he wanted the high office and as President he expected to be nominated.  He was astounded when his fellow Massachusetts delegate, John Adams, moved to appoint George Washington:

“Accordingly When congress had assembled I rose in my place and in as short a Speech as the Subject would admit, represented the State of the Colonies, the Uncertainty in the Minds of the People, their great Expectations and Anxiety, the distresses of the Army, the danger of its dissolution, the difficulty of collecting another, and the probability that the British Army would take Advantage of our delays, march out of Boston and spread desolation as far as they could go. I concluded with a Motion in form that Congress would Adopt the Army at Cambridge and appoint a General, that though this was not the proper time to nominate a General, yet as I had reason to believe this was a point of the greatest difficulty, I had no hesitation to declare that I had but one Gentleman in my Mind for that important command, and that was a Gentleman from Virginia who was among Us and very well known to all of Us, a Gentleman whose Skill and Experience as an Officer, whose independent fortune, great Talents and excellent universal Character, would command the Approbation of all America, and unite the cordial Exertions of all the Colonies better than any other Person in the Union. Mr. Washington, who happened to sit near the Door, as soon as he heard me allude to him, from his Usual Modesty darted into the Library Room. Mr. Hancock, who was our President, which gave me an Opportunity to observe his Countenance, while I was speaking.”[31]

On June 17th, 1775 the Continental Congress passed the following resolution appointing George Washington as Commander-In-Chief:

Resolved unanimously upon the question, Whereas, the delegates of all the colonies, from Nova-Scotia to Georgia, in Congress assembled, have unanimously chosen George Washington, Esq. to be General and commander in chief, of such forces as are, or shall be, raised for the maintenance and preservation of American liberty; this Congress doth now declare, that they will maintain and assist him, and adhere to him, the said George Washington, Esqr., with their lives and fortunes in the same cause.[32]

John Adams wrote his wife this concerning the appointment:

I can now inform you that the Congress have made Choice of the modest and virtuous, the amiable, generous and brave George Washington Esqr., to be the General of the American Army, and that he is to repair as soon as possible to the Camp before Boston.[33]

Colonel George Washington was chosen because he was, a delegate of the wealthiest and most populous colony had extensive combat experience during the French and Indian War. His health and age, 43, were ideal to conduct long campaigns, which Congress knew would be part of the protracted conflict. Washington's fellow Virginians, especially former Continental Congress President Peyton Randolph, lobbied numerous delegates maintaining that his military professionalism and dedication to the patriot cause qualified him, above all others, for the appointment. Washington, who attended Congress in impeccable military dress, was determined to defend colonial rights and had a burning desire to obtain the Commander-in-Chief commission.

June 23rd, 1775: the Colonial Continental Congress resolved “that a sum not
exceeding two millions of Spanish milled dollars be emitted by the Congress
in bills of Credit, for the defense of America in the following form:”

49,000 bills of 8 dollars each ... $392,000
49,000 do. of 7 dollars each ... $343,000
49,000 do. of 6 dollars each ... $294,000
49,000 do. of 5 dollars each ... $245,000
49,000 do. of 4 dollars each ... $196,000
49,000 do. of 3 dollars each ... $147,000
49,000 do. of 2 dollars each ... $98,000
49,000 do. of 1 dollars each ... $49,000
11,800 do. of 20 dollars each ... $236,000

On July 26, 1775 John Hancock's Continental Congress established the Colonial Post office with Benjamin Franklin as Postmaster General with this resolution:

That a postmaster General be appointed for the United Colonies, who shall hold his office at Philadelphia, and shall be allowed a salary of 1000 dollars per annum for himself, and 340 dollars per annum for a secretary and Comptroller, with power to appoint such, and so many deputies as to him may seem proper and necessary.
That a line of posts be appointed under the direction of the Postmaster general, from Falmouth in New England to Savannah in Georgia, with as many cross posts as he shall think fit.

That the allowance to the deputies in lieu of salary and all contingent expenses, shall be 20% on the sums they collect and pay into the General post office annually, when the whole is under or not exceeding 1000 Dollars, and 10% for all sums above 1000 dollars a year.

That the rates of postage shall be 20% less than those appointed by act of Parliament1. That the several deputies account quarterly with the general post office, and the postmaster general annually with the continental treasurers, when he shall pay into the receipt of the Sd Treasurers, the profits of the Post Office; and if the nec­essary expense of this establishment should exceed the produce of it, the deficiency shall be made good by the United Colonies, and paid to the postmaster general by the continental Treasure.

The Congress then proceeded to the election of a postmaster general for one year, and until another is appointed by a future Congress, when Benjamin Franklin, Esquire was unanimously chosen. [35]

In November of 1775 Congress established both the Continental Marines and Navy on the news of Continental Army’s Victory in Montreal.  December of 1775 brought the disastrous news that Generals Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold's attack on the key to Canada, Quebec City failed. General Montgomery was killed and Benedict Arnold was forced to make a hasty retreat into New York. This loss put a great strain on troops and resources while shifting the main thrust of the war back to the Colonies.

In New England, additional troops were desperately needed during the Siege of Boston. Following the battles at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, the effort to drive the British out of Boston had reached something of an impasse. The Americans effectively controlled and defended the land routes around the city, but the British had control of the harbor, allowing them to receive provisions and military stores without interruption.

Continental Congress Oath of Secrecy - That every member of this Congress considers himself under the ties of virtue, honor and love of his Country, not to divulge, directly or indirectly, any matter or thing agitated or debated in Congress - November 9, 1775 from the American Archives
On November 29, 1775, George Washington wrote to the Massachusetts General Court requesting an emergency conference to address a severe shortage of troops. Connecticut troops had reneged on an agreement to stay beyond their original term of service, and many new recruits had been promised furloughs “by way of Encouragement, & to afford opportunity of providing necessaries for themselves and Families.” The “Considerable diminution of our force, at a time when so capitol a change is taking Place in the face of an Enemy, Increasing in Strength,” warned Washington, “cannot but be attended with extreme hazard…I think our Situation Critical, and delays dangerous.” The Massachusetts legislators did not hesitate, passing the resolution just two days later. A copy of the resolution was sent to General Washington on December 7, 1775.[36]

Washington was satisfied with the response. “The Militia are coming fast,” he told John Hancock on December 11th. “I am much pleased, with the Alacrity which the good people of this Province [Massachusetts]…have Shewn upon this occasion” These very short-term enlistments were only intended to temporarily fill gaps in the line. By January 1, 1776, less than half of the anticipated yearly enlistments had materialized. Washington summed up the dire situation to Hancock:

It is not in the pages of History perhaps, to furnish a case like ours; to maintain a post within Musket Shot of the Enemy for Six months…and at the same time to disband one Army and recruit another, within that distance, of Twenty odd British regiments, is more probably than ever was attempted; But if we succeed as well in the last, as we have heretofore in the first, I shall think it the most fortunate event of my whole life.[37]

Under these circumstances, an American assault on the well-trained British troops embedded in Boston had little chance of success. Fortunately, a daring overnight coup allowed Washington to avoid that option. On March 4, 1776 the Americans seized Dorchester Heights, which overlooked Boston, arming it with captured artillery dragged down from Fort Ticonderoga by Henry Knox and his men. The British, under General William Howe, were forced to evacuate, and the fleet sailed to Nova Scotia later that month.[38] [39]

On January 16th, 1776 the Continental Congress approved the enlistment of "free negroes." [40] This led to the establishment of the First Rhode Island Regiment, composed of 33 free-negroes and 92 slaves.[41] The regiment distinguished itself at the Battle of Newport and the slaves were freed at the end of the war. Also in January Thomas Paine publishes "Common Sense",[42] which was a con­temptuous attack on King George III's reign over the colonies. Paine's work united many Americans in the Revolutionary Cause by successfully arguing that the Colonists now had a moral obligation to reject monarchy.

Paine's first edition sold out quickly and within three months, it is estimated that over 120,000 copies had been printed. Signer Benjamin Rush recalled that

"Its effects were sudden and exten­sive upon the American mind. It was read by public men, repeated in clubs, spouted in Schools, and in one instance, delivered from the pulpit instead of a sermon by a clergyman in Connecticut.” [43]

The work so inspired George Washington who declared that Paine swept away all his remaining allegiance to King George III stating that Common Sense offered "...sound doctrine and unanswerable rea­soning." [44] for independence.

Paine's provocative pamphlet was translated into French and appeared first in Quebec. John Adams wrote that "Common Sense was received in France and in all Europe with Rapture.” Common Sense was translated into German, Danish, and Russia. It was estimated that over 500,000 copies were sold during the initial years of the Revolutionary War.

John Hancock's Congress capitalized on this ground swell of Paine Patriotism by invocating the aid of God in this moral cause for independence. This time the name of Jesus Christ was included in the official congressional resolution passed on March 16th, 1776. This proclama­tion signed by President Hancock set May 17, 1776:

"Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer" throughout the colonies. The Continental Congress urged its fellow citizens to "confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his [God's] righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness."[45]

The Colony of Massachusetts followed suit almost immediately ordering a "suitable number" of these proclamations to be printed so "that each of the religious Assemblies in this Colony, may be furnished with a Copy of the same" and added the motto "God Save This People" as a substitute for "God Save the King."

Common Sense changed the political climate in America as the pamphlet ignited debates where the people spoke openly and often for independence. The Second Continental Congress would take to heart Paine's suggestion:

“To conclude: However strange it may appear to some, or however unwilling they may be to think so, matters not, but many strong and striking reasons may be given, to show, that nothing can settle our affairs so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration for independence.” [46]

Common Sense was expertly peppered with evocations to Almighty God and biblical quotes that theologically makes a case for Independence from Great Britain. Clearly, the Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer resolution passed by Congress in the Spring of 1776 draws strongly from the popular Judeo-Christian verbiage in Paine's best-selling pamphlet.  Specifically the 1776 Journals of Congress record the resolution as: 

Mr. W[illiam] Livingston, pursuant to leave granted, brought in a resolution for appointing a fast, which & par being taken into consideration, ∥ was agreed to as follows:

In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are immi­nently endangered by the secret machinations and open assaults of an insidious and vindictive administration, it becomes the indispensable duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publick­ly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God; to confess and deplore our offences against him; and to supplicate his interposition for averting the threatened danger, and prospering our strenuous efforts in the cause of freedom, virtue, and posterity.

The Congress, therefore, considering the warlike preparations of the British Ministry to subvert our invaluable rights and priviledges, and to reduce us by fire and sword, by the savages of the wilderness, and our own domestics, to the most abject and igno­minious bondage: Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's super intending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprizes, on his aid and direction, Do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with unit­ed hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; and by inclining their hearts to justice and benevolence, prevent the further effusion of kin­dred blood. But if, continuing deaf to the voice of reason and humanity, and inflexi­bly bent, on desolation and war, they constrain us to repel their hostile invasions by open resistance, that it may please the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies, to animate our officers and soldiers with invincible fortitude, to guard and protect them in the day of battle, and to crown the continental arms, by sea and land, with victory and suc­cess: Earnestly beseeching him to bless our civil rulers, and the representatives of the people, in their several assemblies and conventions; to preserve and strengthen their union, to inspire them with an ardent, disinterested love of their country; to give wis­dom and stability to their counsels; and direct them to the most efficacious measures for establishing the rights of America on the most honourable and permanent basis--That he would be graciously pleased to bless all his people in these colonies with health and plenty, and grant that a spirit of incorruptible patriotism, and of pure unde­filed religion, may universally prevail; and this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty, and enabled to transmit them inviolate to the latest posterity. And it is recommended to Christians of all denominations, to assemble for public worship, and abstain from servile labour on the said day. Resolved, That the foregoing resolve be published.

John Hanock, President 

Charles Thomson, Secretary[47]
This proclamation was printed in full in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 20 March, 1776.  There were many more 1776 events in Hancock's Congress that are noteworthy in the march towards Independence but all are reduced to historical footnotes due to Richard Henry Lee's June resolution and Thomas Jefferson's pen on the cause of independence. Despite his attempts to thwart revolution, John Hancock was caught up in the "Common Sense" fervor and ended-up presiding over the Continental Congress who would vote to abolish all ties with Great Britain. 

On April 3, 1776 the Continental Congress issued the “Privateering Act” that empowered privateers to harass British shipping.   

In Congress Wednesday, April 3, 1776.  Instructions to the Commanders of Private Ships or Vessels of War, which shall have Commissions or Letters of Marque and Reprisal, authorizing them to make captures of British Vessels and Cargoes.

I. You may, by force of arms, attack, subdue, and take all ships and other vessels belonging to the inhabitants of Great Britain on the high seas, or between high-water and low-water marks, except ships and vessels bringing persons who intend to settle and reside in the United Colonies, or bringing arms, ammunition, or warlike stores to the said Colonies, for the use of such Inhabitants thereof as are friends to the American cause, which you shall suffer to pass unmolested, the commanders thereof permitting a peaceable search, and giving satisfactory information of the contents of the ladings and distinctions of the voyages.

II. You may, by force of arms, attack, subdue, and take all ships and other vessels whatsoever, carrying soldiers, arms, gunpowder, ammunition, provisions, or any other contraband goods to any of the British armies or ships-of-war employed against these Colonies.

III. You shall bring such ships and vessels as you shall take, with their guns, rigging, tackle, apparel, furniture and ladings, to some convenient port or ports of the United Colonies, that proceedings may thereupon be had in due form before the Courts which are, or shall be there appointed, to hear and determine causes civil and maritime.

IV. You, or one of your chief officers, shall bring or send the Master and Pilot, and one or more principal person or persons of the company of every ship or vessel by you taken, as soon after the capture as may be, to the Judge or Judges of such Court as aforesaid, to be examined upon oath, and make answer to the interrogatories which may be propounded touching the interest or property of the ship or vessel and her lading; at the same time you shall deliver, or cause to be delivered, to the Judge or Judges, all passes, sea-briefs, charter-parties, bills of lading, cockets, letters, and other documents and writings found on board, proving the said papers by the affidavit of yourself or some other person present at the capture, to be produced as they were received, without fraud, addition, subduction, or embezzlement.

V. You shall keep and preserve every ship or vessel and cargo by you taken, until they shall, by sentence of a Court properly authorized, be adjudged lawful prize; not selling, spoiling, wasting, or diminishing the same, or breaking the bulk thereof, nor suffering any such tiling to be done.

VI. If you, or any of your officers or crew, shall, in cold blood, kill or maim, or by torture or otherwise cruelly, inhumanly, and contrary to common usage and the practice of civilized nations in war, treat any person or persons surprised in the ship or vessel you shall take, the offender shall be severely punished.

VII. You shall, by all convenient opportunities, send to Congress written accounts of the captures you shall make, with the number and names of the Captains, copies of your Journal from time to time, and intelligence of what may occur or be discovered concerning the designs of the enemy, and the destinations, motions, and operations of their fleets and armies.

VIII. One-third, at least, of your whole company shall be landsmen.

IX. You shall not ransome any prisoners or Captains, but shall dispose of them in such manner as the Congress, or if that be not sitting in the Colony whither they shall be brought, as the General Assembly, Convention, or Council, or Committee of Safety of such Colony shall direct.

X. You shall observe all such further, instructions as Congress shall hereafter give in the premises, when you shall have notice thereof.

XI. If you shall do anything contrary to these Instructions, or to others hereafter to be given, or willingly suffer such things to be done, you shall not only forfeit your Commission and be liable to an action for breach of the condition of your bond, but be responsible to the party grieved for damages sustained by such malversation.

By order of Congress;

JOHN HANCOCK, President.

National Collegiate Honor’s Council Partners in the Park Independence Hall Class of 2017 students at Independence Hall with Ranger Jay holding the September 1787, American Museum printing of the U.S. Constitution and Ranger Ed Welch holding John Dunlap's 1776 Journals of Congress opened, respectively to the U.S. Constitution of 1787 and Declaration of Independence. They are flanked by National Collegiate Honors Council Students and NCHC President, Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos - – For more information visit our National Park and NCHC Partners in the Park Class of 2017 website

The Declaration of Independence

The most important resolution to emerge from John Hancock’s Presidency is the Declaration of Independence. In the spirit of brevity this summary has been developed on the Declaration’s History and its early printings.

On June 7th, 1776 Richard Henry Lee brought the following resolution before the Continental Congress of the United Colonies:

``Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.'' [48]

On Saturday, June 8th, Lee's resolution was referred to a committee of the whole (the entire Continental Congress), and they spent most of that day as well as Monday, June 10th debating independence. The chief opposition for independence came mostly from Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina. As Thomas Jefferson said, they "were not yet matured for falling from the parent stem." Since Congress could not agree more time was needed:

"to give an opportunity to the delegates from those colonies which had not yet given authority to adopt this decisive measure, to consult their constituents .. and in the meanwhile, that no time be lost, that a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration". [49]

Who was the first U.S. President?

Accordingly, on June 11th a Committee of Five was chosen with Thomas Jefferson of Virginia being picked unanimously as its first member.  Congress also chose John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The committee assigned Jefferson the task of producing a draft declaration, as proposed in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, for its consideration.

John Adams in his autobiography recalls this of Jefferson’s selection as Chairman:

“Mr. Jefferson had been now about a Year a Member of Congress, but had attended his Duty in the House but a very small part of the time and when there had never spoken in public: and during the whole Time I satt with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three Sentences together. The most of a Speech he ever made in my hearing was a gross insult on Religion, in one or two Sentences, for which I gave him immediately the Reprehension, which he richly merited. It will naturally be enquired, how it happened that he was appointed on a Committee of such importance. There were more reasons than one. Mr. Jefferson had the Reputation of a masterly Pen. He had been chosen a Delegate in Virginia, in consequence of a very handsome public Paper which he had written for the House of Burgesses, which had given him the Character of a fine Writer. Another reason was that Mr. Richard Henry Lee was not beloved by the most of his Colleagues from Virginia and Mr. Jefferson was sett up to rival and supplant him. This could be done only by the Pen, for Mr. Jefferson could stand no competition with him or anyone else in Elocution and public debate.”[50]

Jefferson's writing of the original draft took place in seventeen days between his appointment to the committee until the report of draft presented to Congress on June 28th. Thomas Jefferson drew heavily on George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights (passed on June 12, 1776), Common Sense, state and local calls for independence, and his own work on the Virginia Constitution.

Jefferson's original rough draft was first submitted to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams for their thoughts and changes. Jefferson wrote,

"… because they were the two members of whose judgments and amendments I wished most to have the benefit before presenting it to the Committee".[51]

The entire committee reviewed the Declaration after Franklin and Adams's changes. After much discussion 26 additional changes were made from Jefferson's original draft. The Committee presented it to Congress on Friday June 28th which ordered it to lie on the table.  According to historian John C. Fitzpatrick the Declaration's

"... genesis roughly speaking, is the first three sections of George Mason's immortal composition (Virginia Declaration of Rights), Thomas Jefferson's Preamble to the Virginia Constitution, and Richard Henry Lee's resolution..."[52]

Congress was called to order on July 1st at 9 am and heated debate consumed most of that hot and humid Monday.  Late in the day it was apparent that the delegates from Pennsylvania and South Carolina were not ready to pass the Lee resolution for Independence. Additionally the two delegates from Delaware were split so debate was postponed until the following day.  On July 2, 1776 both Robert Morris and John Dickinson deliberately “abstained” by not attending the session and the remaining Pennsylvania delegation voted for independence.[53]  Henry Middleton’s son, Arthur Middleton, chose to ignore his absent father’s wish and changed the colony's position to yes on independence. Finally the great patriot Caesar Rodney, summoned by fellow delegate Thomas McKean,[54] suffering from a serious facial cancer and afflicted with asthma reportedly rode 80 miles through the rain and a lightning storm arriving in time to break the Delaware 1 to 1 dead­lock by casting the third vote for independence. Thus all 12 colonies voted on July 2nd and adopt­ed the resolution, introduced by Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, declaring independence from Great Britain.

 Resolution for Independency   which  was passed on July 2, 1776.   

United Colonies of America, July 2, 1776 manuscript naming the historic resolution: "Resolution for Independency"  which  is clearly marked on this original Continental Congress manuscript passed on July 2, 1776.  The roll indicates that New Hampshire was the first State to vote for Independence
United Colonies of America Resolution For Independency with roll call vote results written on the July 2, 1776  -  Image courtesy of the Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1783; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives
United Colonies of America roll call vote result written on the July 2, 1776 "Resolution for Independency"  which  is clearly marked on this original Continental Congress manuscript passed on July 2, 1776.  The roll indicates that New Hampshire was the first State to vote for Independence.  Mew York is not listed as the delegation abstained from the vote -  Image courtesy of the Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1783; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives

John Adams would write 29 years later on this debate that resulted in a vote for Independence:

“The Subject had been in Contemplation for more than a Year and frequent discussions had been had concerning it. At one time and another, all the Arguments for it and against it had been exhausted and were become familiar. I expected no more would be said in public but that the question would be put and decided. Mr. Dickinson however was determined to bear his Testimony against it with more formality. He had prepared himself apparently with great Labour and ardent Zeal, and in a Speech of great Length, and all his Eloquence, he combined together all that had before been written in Pamphlets and News papers and all that had from time to time been said in Congress by himself and others. He conducted the debate, not only with great Ingenuity and Eloquence, but with equal Politeness and Candour: and was answered in the same Spirit. No Member rose to answer him: and after waiting some in hopes that some one less obnoxious than myself, who was still had been all along for a Year before, and still was represented and believed to be the Author of all the Mischief, I determined to speak.

It has been said by some of our Historians, that I began by an Invocation to the God of Eloquence. This is a Misrepresentation. Nothing so puerile as this fell from me. I began by saying that this was the first time of my Life that I had ever wished for the Talents and Eloquence of the ancient Orators of Greece and Rome, for I was very sure that none of them ever had before him a question of more Importance to his Country and to the World. They would probably upon less Occasions than this have begun by solemn Invocations to their Divinities for Assistance but the Question before me appeared so simple, that I had confidence enough in the plain Understanding and common Sense that had been given me, to believe that I could answer to the Satisfaction of the House all the Arguments which had been produced, notwithstanding the Abilities which had been displayed and the Eloquence with which they had been enforced. Mr. Dickinson, some years afterwards published his Speech. I had made no Preparation beforehand and never committed any minutes of mine to writing.

Before the final Question was put, the new Delegates from New Jersey came in, and Mr. Stockton, one of them Dr. Witherspoon and Mr. Hopkinson, a very respectable Characters, expressed a great desire to hear the Arguments. All was Silence: No one would speak: all Eyes were turned upon me. Mr. Edward Rutledge came to me and said laughing, Nobody will speak but you, upon this Subject. You have all the Topicks so ready, that you must satisfy the Gentlemen from New Jersey. I answered him laughing, that it had so much the Air of exhibiting like an Actor or Gladiator for the Entertainment of the Audience, that I was ashamed to repeat what I had said twenty times before, and I thought nothing new could be advanced by me. The New Jersey Gentlemen however still insisting on hearing at least a Recapitulation of the Arguments and no other Gentleman being willing to speak, I summed up the Reasons, Objections and Answers, in as concise a manner as I could, till at length the Jersey Gentlemen said they were fully satisfied and ready for the Question, which was then put and determined in the Affirmative.” [55]

 John Adams wrote Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776:

Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony "that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do."

You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell'd Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days. On July 2, 1776 the Association known as United Colonies of America officially became the United States of America.[56]

Consequently, it was the date of July 2, 1776 that John Adams thought would be celebrated by future generations of Americans writing to his wife Abigail Adams a second letter on July 3, 1776: 

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

 I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.[57]

After the resolution was passed, the Continental Congress turned to the debate over the language in the Committee of Five's formal Declaration of Independence. Time was short and Congress adjourned until Wednesday the third.  The debates of July third and fourth altered the manuscript and with these changes the Declaration of Independence was approved. Thomas Jefferson was disappointed by the "depredations" made by Congress writing:

"The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many.  For this reason those passages which conveyed censure on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offense. The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under these censures; for tho' their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others." [58]

Thomas Jefferson Draft of the Declaration of Independence
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress 
 Despite these July 4th changes and previous committee edits Jefferson is rightfully considered the main author of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams in his autobiography recalls this of Jefferson’s pen:

The Committee had several meetings, in which were proposed the Articles of which the Declaration was to consist, and minutes made of them. The Committee then appointed Mr. Jefferson and me, to draw them up in form, and cloath them in a proper Dress. The Sub Committee met, and considered the Minutes, making such Observations on them as then occurred: when Mr. Jefferson desired me to take them to my Lodgings and make the Draught. This I declined and gave several reasons for declining. 1. That he was a Virginian and I a Massachusettesian. 2. that he was a southern Man and I a northern one. 3. That I had been so obnoxious for my early and constant Zeal in promoting the Measure, that any draught of mine, would undergo a more severe Scrutiny and Criticism in Congress, than one of his composition. 4thly and lastly and that would be reason enough if there were no other, I had a great Opinion of the Elegance of his pen and none at all of my own. I therefore insisted that no hesitation should be made on his part. He accordingly took the Minutes and in a day or two produced to me his Draught.[59]

Late in the afternoon on July 4th, 1776 twelve of the thirteen colonies reached agreement to formally proclaim themselves as free and independent nations. Only New York was the lone holdout and it was due to the fact the Delegates were not granted the authority to vote yes or no on Independence.

Was Delaware, Virginia, or New Hampshire the first US State?

This Declaration was a Proclamation that was long overdue as the fighting between the American colonists and the British forces had been going on for over a year. The Declaration, on July 4th, 1776, firstly memorialized what history has judged to be a just, moral and most persuasive treatise on why the colonies had the right to declare their independence from Great Britain. The July 2nd vote put the world on notice of the Colonies’ independence. It was, however, the Declaration’s proclamations that were designed to win the hearts and minds of the American Colonists who would be asked to continue a seemingly insuperable war against King and country. Therefore, it was essential that the Delegates not rely on the newspapers to disseminate its message to the people as most colonists could not afford the cost of purchasing a paper. Consequently, in the evening of July 4, 1776 John Hancock's Congress ordered:

“That the declaration be authenticated and printed That the committee appointed to prepare the declaration superintend and correct the press. That the copies of the declaration be sent to the several assemblies, conventions and committees, or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the Continental troops, and that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the army.” [60]

In accordance with the above order Philadelphia printer John Dunlap was given the task to print broadside copies of the agreed-upon declaration to be signed in type only by Continental Congress President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson.

Broadside Produced during the night of July 4, 1776,
 by printer John Dunlap - Courtesy of the National Archives

John Dunlap is thought to have printed 200 Broadsides that July 4th evening which were distributed to the members of Congress on July 5th. It is a known fact that John Hancock sent a copy on July 5th, 1776 to the Committee of Safety of Pennsylvania, a copy to the Convention of New Jersey, and a copy to Colonel Haslet with instructions to have it read at the head of his battalion. In addition John Adams sent one copy, and Elbridge Gerry two copies, to friends.

The Declaration, as affirmatively voted on July 4th, was not signed on that day by the attending delegates. The New York Delegates were required by their legislature to abstain from voting or signing any instrument of independence. President John Hancock, in an attempt to quickly gain the unan­imous consent from all thirteen colonies, sent a Dunlap broadside off to the New York Provincial Congress on Saturday July 6th. On July 9th the New York Provincial Congress assembled in the White Plains Court House and adopted the resolution heartedly supported by Delegate John Jay who had rushed from New York City to preside over the body:

That reasons assigned by the Continental Congress for declaring The United Colonies Free and Independent States are cogent and conclusive, and that now we approve the same, and will at the risque of our lives and fortunes, join with the other colonies in supporting it. [61]

The New York Resolution was laid before the Continental Congress on July 15th so then and not before the document was re-titled “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen States of America."

Today only twenty-five of the July 5, 1776 Dunlap broadsides are known to exist. The original working copy of the Declaration of Independence that was signed by Hancock and Thomson on July 4, 1776 is lost. All we have left from the actual July 4th event are the congressional drafts and printings of John Dunlap. One of these unsigned "Dunlap Broadsides", is reported to have sold for $8.14 million in an August 2000 New York City Auction.[62] This copy was discovered in 1989 by a man browsing in a flea market who purchased a painting for four dollars because he was interested in the frame. Concealed in the backing of the frame was an original Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence.

The other printings of the Dunlap Broadside known to exist are dispersed among private owners, American and British institutions. The following are the current know locations of the Dunlap Broadsides.

1.            Harvard University, Houghton Library
2.            Massachusetts Historical Society
3.            Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
4.            New York Historical Society
5.            New York Public Library
6.            American Philosophical Society
7.            Historical Society of Pennsylvania
8.            Independence National Historical Park
9.            Maryland Historical Society
10.         Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division
11.         Library of Congress, Manuscript Division
12.         National Archives and Records Service
13.         Indiana University, Lilly Library
14.         University of Virginia, Alderman Library
15.         Public Record Office, London, England (Admiralty Records)
16.         Public Record Office, London, England (Colonial Office 5)
17.         Chicago Historical Society
18.         Maine Historical Society
19.         William H. Scheide, Scheide Library, Princeton, New Jersey
20.         Ira G. Corn, Jr., and Joseph P. Driscoll, Dallas, Texas
21.         Anonymous, New York, New York
22.         Chew Family, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
23.         John Gilliam Wood, Edenton, North Carolina
24.         Anonymous, purchased at Southeby's, December 1990
25.         Visual Equities, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia [63]

In 1776 as the Delegates returned home with their personal copies of the Dunlap Broadside each State decided on how to disseminate the Declaration of Independence to its citizens. Some states, like Virginia, chose newspapers while others ordered official State Broadsides to be printed from the Dunlap Declaration of Independence. The official printing, for instance, ordered by Massachusetts was to be distributed to ministers of all denominations, to be read to their congregations. News of the declaration was proclaimed in every parish of Massachusetts via this state printed broadside. In the absence of other media, broadsides such as this were subsequently distributed out among the colonies and tacked to the walls of churches and other meeting places to spread news of America's independence. These state broadsides all had the July 4th date but many adding the corrected language "Unanimous Declaration" to their headings with NY's ascension on July 9th.

Another Philadelphia Printer, Henrich Millers, produced a German Newspaper in 1776 called the Pennsylvanisher staatsbote. On July 9, 1776 the newspaper printed a full German translation of the American Declaration of Independence and reported:

"Yesterday at noon, the Declaration of Independence, which is published on this news paper's front page, was publicly proclaimed in English from an elevated platform in the courtyard of the State House. Thereby the United Colonies of North America were absolved from all previously pledged allegiance to the king of Great Britain, they are and henceforth will be totally free and independent. The proclamation was read by Colonel Nixon, sheriff Dewees stood by his side and many members of the Congress, of the [Pennsylvania] Assembly, generals and other high army officers were also pres­ent. Several thousand people were in the courtyard to witness the solemn occasion. After the reading of the Declaration there were three cheers and the cry: God bless the free states of North America! To this every true friend of these colonies can only say, Amen. " [64]

Miller did prepare a full printing of the Declaration of Independence in a German-language broadside on July 9th but historian Karl J.R. Arndt of Clark University claims Miller was trumped by German printers Cist and Steiner.  According to Clark, Cist and Steiner produced an ordinary laid paper German Declaration of Independence broadside, without a watermark, measuring 16 inches by 12 3/4 inches as early as July 6th, the day after Dunlap's printing .The author had the privilege to inspect and hold this historic broadside that is now in the archives of Gettysburg College. At the bottom center of the Declaration there is an imprint appears as "Philadelphia: Gedruckt bey Steiner und Cist, in der Zweyten-strasse."  

Contrary to popular belief, two original July 5th, 1776 Dunlap printed broadsides with only Hancock and Thomson's names were the actual documents delivered to King George III notifying him of the resolution to absolve all ties with Great Britain. King George III never received a signed copy with a John Hancock’s signature large enough for him to read without his spectacles. The other names of the signers were not made public until 1777.

In 1776, the Continental Congress had fled to Baltimore, Maryland due to mounting British victories  Congress re-convened on 20 December 1776 and stayed in session until March 4th, 1777. On January 18th, 1777, after victories at Trenton and Princeton, John Hancock's Congress ordered a true copy of the Declaration of Independence printed complete with the names of all the sign­ers. Mary Katherine Goddard, a Baltimore Postmaster, Printer and publisher, was given the original engrossed copy of the Declaration to set the type in her shop. A copy of the Goddard printing was ordered to be sent to each state so the people would know the names of the signers:

Ordered, That an authenticated copy of the Declaration of Independency, with the names of the members of Congress subscribing the same, be sent to each of the United States, and that they be desired to have the same put upon record.[65]

Today, there are nine known Goddard broadsides that can be found.

Library of Congress, Connecticut State Library of the late John W. Garrett, Maryland Hall of Records, Maryland Historical Society, Massachusetts Archives, New York Public Library, Library Company of Philadelphia, Rhode Island State Archives.[66]

Declaration of Independence, January 18th, 1777 Mary Katherine Goddard printing

The Engrossed Declaration of Independence

After the Continental Congress learned N.Y. agreed to the declaration they ordered, on July 19, 1776 that the Declaration:

be fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile [sic] of 'The unanimous decla­ration of the thirteen United States of America,' and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.[67]

Timothy Matlack, a Pennsylvanian who had assisted the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson prepared the official document in a large, clear hand. Matlack was also the "scribe" who wrote out George Washington's commission as commanding general of the Continental Army which was also signed by President John Hancock. Finally on August 2, 1776 the journal of the Continental Congress record reports: "The declaration of independence being engrossed and compared at the table was signed." which contradicts the popular belief that the Declaration was executed by all the delegates in attendance on July 4, 1776.   According to the -- National Archives and Records Administration: 

John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the first to sign the sheet of parchment measuring 24¼ by 29¾ inches. He used a bold signature centered below the text. In accordance with prevailing custom, the other delegates began to sign at the right below the text, their signatures arranged according to the geographic location of the states they represented. New Hampshire, the northernmost state, began the list, and Georgia, the southernmost, ended it. Eventually 56 delegates signed, although all were not present on August 2. Among the later signers were Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton, who found that he had no room to sign with the other New Hampshire delegates. A few delegates who voted for adoption of the Declaration on July 4 were never to sign in spite of the July 19 order of Congress that the engrossed document "be signed by every member of Congress.

Non-signers included John Dickinson, who clung to the idea of reconciliation with Britain, and Robert R. Livingston, one of the Committee of Five, who thought the Declaration, was premature.  [68]

With the signatures of 56 brave delegates, this new nation born in freedom with an indivisible spirit, proclaimed on a singular piece of hand written parchment their Unanimous Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was safeguarded all throughout the revolutionary war traveling with the Continental Congress to maintain its safety. The National Archives lists the following locations of the Traveling Declaration since 1776:

Philadelphia: August-December 1776
Baltimore: December 1776-March 1777
Philadelphia: March-September 1777
Lancaster, PA: September 27, 1777
York, PA: September 30, 1777-June 1778
Philadelphia: July 1778-June 1783
Princeton, NJ: June-November 1783
Annapolis, MD: November 1783-October 1784
Trenton, NJ: November-December 1784
New York: 1785-1790
Philadelphia: 1790-1800
Washington, DC (three locations): 1800-1814
Leesburg, VA: August-September 1814
Washington, DC (three locations): 1814-1841
Washington, DC (Patent Office Building): 1841-1876
Philadelphia: May-November 1876
Washington, DC (State, War, and Navy Building): 1877-1921
Washington, DC (Library of Congress): 1921-1941
Fort Knox*: 1941-1944
Washington, DC (Library of Congress): 1944-1952
Washington, DC (National Archives): 1952-present *
*Except that the document was displayed on April 13, 1943, at the dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D. C.[69]

The original Declaration, now exhibited in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, has faded badly -- largely because of poor preservation techniques during the 19th century and the wet ink transfer process of 1820 utilized to make vellum copies.

 The Wet Ink Transfer of the Declaration
It is important we digress here to explain the history and process that virtually eradicated most of the ink on the one and only engrossed signed Declaration of Independence that has become our national icon.

By 1820 the condition of the only signed Declaration of Independence was rapidly deteriorating. In that year John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, commissioned William J. Stone of Washington to create exact copies of the Declaration using a "new" Wet-Ink Transfer process. Unfortunately this Wet-Ink Transfer greatly contributed to the degradation of the only engrossed and signed Declaration of Independence ever produced.

On April 24, 1903 the National Academy of Sciences reported its findings, summarizing the physical history of the Declaration:

"The instrument has suffered very seriously from the very harsh treatment to which it was exposed in the early years of the Republic. Folding and rolling have creased the parchment. The wet press-copying operation to which it was exposed about 1820, for the purpose of producing a facsimile copy, removed a large portion of the ink. Subsequent exposure to the action of light for more than thirty years, while the instrument was placed on exhibition, has resulted in the fading of the ink, particularly in the signatures. The present method of caring for the instrument seems to be the best that can be suggested

The committee does not consider it wise to apply any chemicals with a view to restoring the original color of the ink, because such application could be but partially successful, as a considerable percentage of the original ink was removed in making the copy about 1820, and also because such application might result in serious discoloration of the parchment; nor does the committee consider it necessary or advisable to apply any solution, such as collodion, paraffin, etc., with a view to strengthening the parchment or making it moisture proof.

The committee is of the opinion that the present method of protecting the instrument should be continued; that it should be kept in the dark, and as dry as possible, and never placed on exhibition." [70]

The Wet-Ink Transfer Process called for the surface of the Declaration to be moistened transfer­ring some of the original ink to the surface of a clean copper plate. Three and one-half years later under the date of June 4, 1823, the National Intelligencer reported that:

"the City Gazette informs us that Mr. Wm. J. Stone, a respectable and enterprising (sic) engraver of this City has, after a labor of three years, completed a facsimile of the Original of the Declaration of Independence, now in the archives of the government, that it is executed with the greatest exactness and fidelity; and that the Department of State has become the purchaser of the plate. The facility of multiplying copies of it, now possessed by the Department of State will render furthur (sic) exposure of the original unnecessary." [71]

On May 26, 1824, a resolution by the Senate and House of Representatives provided:

"That two hundred copies of the Declaration, now in the Department of State, be distributed in the manner following: two copies to each of the surviving Signers of the Declaration of Independence (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton); two copies to the President of the United States (Monroe); two copies to the Vice-President of the United States (Tompkins); two copies to the late President, Mr. Madison; two copies to the Marquis de Lafayette, twenty copies for the two hous­es of Congress; twelve copies for the different departments of the Government (State, Treasury, Justice, Navy, War and Postmaster); two copies for the President's House; two copies for the Supreme Court room, one copy to each of the Governors of the States; and one to each of the Governors of the Territories of the United States; and one copy to the Council of each Territory; and the remaining copies to the different Universities and Colleges of the United States, as the President of the United States may direct."[72]

The 201 official parchment copies struck from the Stone plate carry the identification "Engraved by W. J. Stone for the Department of State, by order" in the upper left corner followed by "of J. Q. Adams, Sec. of State July 4th 1824." in the upper right corner. "Unofficial" copies that were struck later do not have the identification at the top of the document or are the printed on vellum. Instead the engraver identified his work by engraving "W. J. Stone SC. Washn." near the lower left corner and burnishing out the earlier identification. Today approximately 40 of the 201 Stone facsimiles printed in 1823 are known to exist.[73] Additionally, three 1823 “proof” paper strikes of the Declaration have recently appeared in public auctions in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Copyright © Stan Klos, President Who? Forgotten Founders 2004 & 2008
1823 Vellum Wet Ink Transfer
Declaration of Independence
Stan Klos Collection

After the 1823 printing, the original plate was altered for Peter Force to include rice paper copies in a series of books entitled AMERICAN ARCHIVES: Containing a Documentary History of the United States Of America Series 4, Six Volumes and Series 5. The purpose of this book was to compile the History of the United State 1774 through 1783. American Archives were also to include the reproduction of key founding documents of the United States. For that occasion the "Wet Ink" copper plate was removed from storage and altered to reflect the Rice Paper printing. These documents were then folded and inserted into Volume 1 of The American Archives collection.  It is believed that Force printed between 900 and 1200 copies of the rice paper printings for insertion into the 1848 Volumes. The Archival costs of the publication limited the number of clients. It is not known precisely how many "rice wet ink transfers" survive.  Nor is it know on how many copies were truly printed and in what time frames.   

William Stone Copper Plate and 1976 Printing Photo 
Courtesy of the National Archives

Among the resolutions passed by the Continental Congress on  July, 4th 1776 was one that called for the President John Hancock to send to several commanding officers of the Continental army copies of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock sent a copy of the resolutions together with the "Dunlap Broadside" of the Declaration to General George Washington on July 6, 1776. Washington had the Declaration read to his assembled troops in New York on July 9th. Later that night, the Americans destroyed a bronze and lead statue of King George III, which stood at the foot of Broadway on the bowling green in celebration of the Nation’s Independence. Washington's personal copy of the Dunlap printing of the Declaration of Independence remains in the Manuscript Division's George Washington Papers.[75]

The Traveling Government of the United States of America

President John Hancock’s accommodations in Philadelphia were akin to   his wealthy station and home in Boston. When Congress was forced to flee to Baltimore in December 1776 due to Washington’s losses on Long Island, Manhattan, and New Jersey, John Hancock was unable to find quarters to meet his usual life style in Baltimore. In a letter to Robert Morris dated January 14th, 1777 he writes:

I have got to Housekeeping, but really my Friend in a very poor house, and but just furniture enough to liver tolerably descent tho' when I tell you I give 25 pounds this currency Philadelphia you would judge it to be amply furnished. I have only two rooms and one of them I am obliged to let my servants occupy…. [76]

On February 29th, 1777 Hancock found himself on the road again as the Congress moved back to Philadelphia and reconvened on March  4th. While moving from meeting place to meeting place John Hancock faithfully conducted business as the presiding officers executed hundreds of letters and orders on a weekly basis. 

In September 1777, the British were on the march again to conquer  Philadelphia.  On September 14th Congress resolved that if it should be necessary to remove from Philadelphia, “Lancaster shall be the place which they shall meet.” John Hancock and his fledgling Confederation Congress was forced to flee the city once again. Robert Morton, a Philadelphia Tory wrote,

Sept. 19, 1777. This morning about 1 o'clock an express arrived to Congress giving an account of the British Army having got to the Swedes Ford on the other side of Schuylkill, which so much alarmed the gentlemen of the Congress, the military officers, and other friends to the general cause of American Freedom, that they decamped with the utmost precipitation and in the greatest confusion; insomuch that one of the delegates, by name of Fulsom, was obliged in a very Fulsome manner to ride off without a saddle. Thus we have seen the men, from whom we have received, and from whom we still expect protection, leave us to fall into the hands of (by their accounts) a barbarous, cruel and unrelenting enemy.[77]

The members rode off to a small river town in central Pennsylvania called Lancaster. The route many of the members took was circuitous. For example the future Continental Congress President, Henry Laurens of South Carolina, traveled by carriage on September 19th first to Bristol to col­lect the recuperating French Officer Marquis de Lafayette who was wounded in the Battle of Brandywine. Laurens was then forced by British Patrols to travel north to Bethlehem. His carriage then moved south west through the Lehigh Valley into Reading and finally headed south to Lancaster.

Laurens discovered that the Lancaster Inns were already overcrowded as the citizens of Philadelphia flooded in the small community along with the State government of Pennsylvania. Delegate Laurens wrote:

"Here [Lancaster] Congress were soon convened but hearts were still fluttering in some bosoms & a motion made for adjourning to this Town [York-Town]," [78]

On the other side of the mighty Susquehanna, a river offering a protective natural barrier like the Delaware which impeded a surprise British Invasion of Philadelphia, sat the small hamlet of York-Town (now known as York, Pennsylvania). York had an underutilized courthouse that could readily be used to reconvene Congress in safety. York also offered numerous accommodations to house the delegates comfortably. On September 31st the Continental Congress moved into this 35-year-old town of about 300 dwellings and 2,000 residents.

John Adams, once settled in York Town to the time to write Abigail:

“It is now a long Time, since I had an Opportunity of writing to you, and I fear you have suffered unnecessary Anxiety on my Account. -- In the Morning of the 19th. Inst., the Congress were allarmed, in their Beds, by a Letter from Mr. Hamilton one of General Washington’s Family, that the Enemy were in Possession of the Ford over the Schuylkill, and the Boats, so that they had it in their Power to be in Philadelphia, before Morning. The Papers of Congress, belonging to the Secretary's Office, the War Office, the Treasury Office, &c. were before sent to Bristol. The President, and all the other Gentlemen were gone that Road, so I followed, with my Friend Mr. Merchant [Marchant] of Rhode Island, to Trenton in the jersies. We stayed at Trenton, untill the 21. when We set off, to Easton upon the Forks of Delaware. From Easton We went to Bethlehem, from thence to Reading, from thence to Lancaster, and from thence to this Town, which is about a dozen Miles over the Susquehannah River. -- Here Congress is to sit.

In order to convey the Papers, with safety, which are of more Importance than all the Members, We were induced to take this Circuit, which is near 180 Miles, whereas this Town by the directest Road is not more than 88 Miles from Philadelphia. This Tour has given me an Opportunity of seeing many Parts of this Country, which I never saw before.”[79]

The work in York was prodigious as the delegates were in the final stages of formulating the first U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, while anxiously awaited news from Battle of Saratoga. The letters of the delegates report that Congress typically met from 10am to 1pm and recessed until 4 pm. The after recess sessions often lasted well into the evening while committee duties filled the remaining free time. John Hancock wrote to his wife Dorothy during this period:

 I sat in the Chair yesterday & Conducted the Business Eight hours, which is too much, and after that had the Business of my office to attend to as usual … I cannot Stand it much longer in this way.  [80]

John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams of his tenure in York,

 War has no Charms for me … If I live much longer in Banishment, I shall scarcely know my own Children. Tell my little ones, that if they will be very good, Pappa will come home.  [81]

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Maryland Delegate initially wrote of his York experience that "the Congress still continues the same noisy, empty & talkative assembly it always was since I have known it," As the Delegates grew painfully aware that aid would not be forthcoming to their cause without an unanimously ratified Confederation Constitution the atmosphere of dread could only be changed with the crafting of such a document that would surely "give us great strength & new vigor."

 John Hancock needed new strength and vigor as the burdens of the office, a constantly fleeing Congress, heated deliberations on the Articles of Confederation, political rifts with his own State’s delegation and the Gout were all taking their toll.  In York Hancock only sought a two month leave of absence to Boston not a full resignation. The Delegates, however, preferred Hancock resign permanently and a new member elected to the Presidency.  On October 17, 1777 John Hancock wrote George Washington on his intentions to resign his office as President:

 …since I have had the honor of presiding in Congress, and I should esteem myself happy to have it in my power to render further service to my country in that department; but the decline of health, occasioned by so long and unremitted an application to the duties of my office, both in Congress and out of Congress, joined to the situation of my own private affairs, has at length taught me to think of retiring for two or three months; and I have determined to take my leave the ensuing week, and set out immediately for Boston after this express returns. As the Congress will doubtless proceed to appoint a successor in my stead, on him therefore will devolve the business of the chair. The politeness and attention I have ever experienced from you, in the course of our correspondence, will always be a source of the most pleasing satisfaction to me.  [82]

Shortly after writing this letter unofficial news of a battle in Saratoga reached President John Hancock on October 19, 1777. British General John Burgoyne and his entire British force had offered his surrender to General Horatio Gates. For nine days President Hancock awaited the offi­cial dispatches of General Gates while he presided over an ever anxious Congress painstakingly debating the articles of the 1st U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation.   
On October 22, 1777 John Hancock received this reply from George Washington who was too anxious to hear more of the surrender at Saratoga:

 It gives me real pain to learn, that the declining state of your health, owing to your unwearied attention to public business, and the situation of your private affairs, oblige you to relinquish a station, though but for a time, which you have so long filled with acknowledged propriety. Motives as well of a personal as of a general concern make me regret the necessity that compels you to retire, and to wish your absence from office may be of as short a duration as possible. In the progress of that intercourse, which has necessarily subsisted between us, the manner in which you have conducted it on your part, accompanied with every expression of politeness and regard to me, gives you a claim to my warmest acknowledgments. I am not so well informed of the situation of things up the North River, as to be able to give you any satisfactory advice about your route. I should rather apprehend it might be unsafe for you to travel that way at this time, and would recommend, if you can do.  [83]

On Thursday, October 23, 1777, Congress resumed consideration of the Articles of Confederation with Gout Stricken John Hancock presiding over the debate, as reported by the committee of the whole.

 The sixth article was read; whereupon it was moved to strike out the word "hereafter," in the second line, and to add to the article paragraph under debate on Tuesday, these words, "in pursuance of any treaties already proposed by Congress to the courts of France and Spain;" and, the question being put, the same was agreed to. On the question put, the 6th article as amended passed. The seventh article was read, and on the question put, Resolved, in the affirmative, N. C. D. The eighth article being read, and the question put, Resolved in the affirmative, N. C. D. The last sentence in the 9 article being read, and the question put, Resolved in the affirmative, N. C. D. The Tenth article being read and the question put, Resolved in the affirmative, N. C. D.; The eleventh article was read, whereupon it was moved, after the word "reprisal" in the 8th line, to insert "Unless such state be infested by pirates, in which case vessels of war may be fitted out for that occasion and kept so long as the danger shall continue or till the united states in Congress assembled shall determine otherwise." And the question being put, the same was agreed to. The question being then put on the 11th article, as amended, Resolved in the affirmative; The 14 article was read, and debated by paragraphs, and the question being put severally thereon, the 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 paragraphs were agreed to. It was then moved after the word "captures" at the end of the 11th line, to insert "provided that no member of Congress shall be appointed a judge of any of the said courts. The united States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of." And the question being put, Resolved in the affirmative. The 6 and 7 paragraphs as amended were agreed to.; It was moved, after the word, "alliances," in the 13 line, to insert, "provided, that no treaty of commerce shall be made whereby the legislative power of the respective states shall be restrained from imposing such imposts and duties on foreigners as their own people are subjected to, or from prohibiting the exportation or importation of any species of goods or commodities whatsoever"  after debate the motion was divided, and the yeas and nays being required on the first part,  as far as the disjunctive "or;"  So it was resolved in the affirmative.  [84]

Work on the Constitution of 1777 progressed steadily under the last few days of John Hancock’s Presidency with amendments and changes being agreed on in the sessions of October 27, 28 and even the 29th when he tendered his official resignation. So intent was Congress on completing the Constitution that they re-convened immediately after Hancock’s departure under the Chairmanship of Charles Thomson. The Journals report:

 Congress resumed the consideration of the 14 article of confederation, whereon it was moved to strike out the words "general officers" in the 24 line, and insert "all officers:" and to add after "United States," "excepting regimental officers." And on the question put, the same was agreed to. It was then moved to strike out the next paragraph, and in the following paragraph, after the word "forces" to insert these words, "and commissioning all officers whatever." And on the question put, the same was agreed to.

The president having taken leave of Congress.  Four O'Clock, p. m.
Met at 4’ O’clock, Resolved, That the secretary officiate as president until a new choice is made. On motion, Ordered, That the secretary wait upon the president and request him to furnish the house with a copy of the speech with which he took leave of Congress. [85]

Congress would meet only once more, on October 30th, 1777 to debate and revise the Articles of Confederation with Charles Thompson presiding.  The Articles would not be approved, however, until a new President of the Continental Congress took office.  The Journals report a flurry of activity in Congress after Hancock’s departure mostly due to the great news flowing in from Saratoga delaying the Constitution’s approval until November 15, 1777. An engrossed copy was prepared and once again, Hancock’s signature was so large the King did not require his spectacles.

On Friday, October 31, 1777 the address that Hancock delivered on the 29th, requesting two months of leave was place in the record:

Gentlemen: Friday last compleated two years and five months since you did me the honour of electing me to fill this chair. As I could never flatter myself your choice proceeded from any idea of my abilities, but rather from a partial opinion of my attachment to the liberties of America, I felt myself under the strongest obligations to discharge the duties of the office, and I accepted the appointment with the firmest resolution to go through the business annexed to it in the best manner I was able. Every argument conspired to make me exert myself, and I endeavoured, by industry and attention, to make up for every other deficiency.

As to my conduct, both in and out of Congress, in the execution of your business, it is improper for me to say anything. You are the best judges. But I think I shall be forgiven if I say I have spared no pains, expence, or labour, to gratify your wishes, and to accomplish the views of Congress.

My health being much impaired, I find some relaxation absolutely necessary, after such constant application; I must therefore request your indulgence for leave of absence for two months.

But I cannot take my departure, gentlemen, without expressing my thanks for the civility and politeness I have experienced from you. It is impossible to mention this without a heartfelt pleasure.

If, in the course of so long a period as I have had the honour to fill this chair, any expressions may have dropped from me that may have given the least offence to any member, as it was not intentional, so I hope his candor will pass it over.

May every happiness, gentlemen, attend you, both as members of this house and as individuals; and I pray heaven, that unanimity and perseverance may go hand in hand in this house; and that everything which may tend to distract or divide your councils be forever banished.[86]

John Hancock was not granted the two months leave.  Instead it was then moved:

that the thanks of Congress be presented to John Hancock, Esqr. for the unremitted attention and steady impartiality which he has manifested in discharge of the various duties of his office, as president, since his election to the chair on the 24th day of May, 1775.[87]

There was much debate over this and was the subject of unfavorable comment among the republican faction of Congress.  Samuel Adams in a letter to James Warren criticized it and then had Hancock deliver the letters.  On the 29th he wrote:

This will be delivered to you by Mr. Hancock who has Leave of Absence till the first of January next. I hope the Person to be elected in my Room will have understanding enough to know when the Arts of Flattery are playd upon him, and Fortitude of mind sufficient to resist & despise them. This I mention inter Nosmetipsos. In this evil World there are oftentimes large Doses prepared for those whose Stomacks will bear them. And it would be a disgrace to human Nature to affirm there are some who can take the fullest Cup without nauseating. I suppose you have by this time finishd a form of Government. I hope the greatest Care will be taken in the Choice of a Governor. He, whether a wise Man or a Fool, will in a great Measure form the Morals & Manners of the People. I beg Pardon for hinting the Possibility of one of the last Character being chosen; But alas! Is there not such a Possibility! But I assure myself of better things. I believe my Country will fix their Eyes and their Choice on a Man of Religion and Piety; who will understand human Nature and the Nature and End of political Society-who will not by Corruption or Flattery be seducd to the betraying, even without being sensible of it himself, the sacred Rights of his Country.” [88]

On the 30th of October Samuel Adams wrote:

Mr. H. who had several times before given Notice to Congress of his Intention to return to Boston agreeable to Leave he had obtaind at Philadelphia, made a formal Speech to Congress in which he reminded them of his having served them as President more than two years; whether he had conducted to their Approbation or not, was left to them; but he had the Testimony of his own Mind that he had done it to the best of his Ability. He thanked them for the Civility they had shown him, and if in the Course of Business he had faild in due Respect to any Member, as it was not intentional, he hoped it would be overlookd. It is likely as I have taken it from Memory upon hearing it once read, that I have not done it Justice in point of Expression. But it is not improbable that you may have a Copy of it; for a Motion was made in the Afternoon by Mr D of N.Y. that a Copy should be requested, and Thanks returnd for his great Services, & a Request that he would return and take the Chair. This Motion was opposd by several Members, but it obtaind so far as to request the Copy, & this Day the latter Part of the Motion will be considerd. I have given you this merely as a Peice of News, leaving you to judge of the Tendency & probable Effect of the Speech and Motion. We have had two Presidents before, Neither of whom made a parting Speech or receivd the Thanks of Congress.[89]

The Journals then record on the 31st:

It was then moved to resolve, as the opinion of this Congress, that it is improper to thank any president for the discharge of the duties of that office; And the yeas and nays being required: [The States were Split] The question being then put on the first motion, and the yeas and nays required: So it was resolved in the affirmative.[90]

One of the most respected biographers this period of history wrote of Hancock’s request for a two month furlough:

 Towards the end of October, 1777, Hancock resigned the Presidency, which he had held for two years and five months. A motion of thanks customary on such occasions was offered; but as Hancock had incurred the dislike of most of the New England delegations, an effort was made to deny him this formal compliment by having a motion put that "it is improper to thank any President for the discharge of the duties of that office." New England, except Connecticut, voted solidly in the affirmative, as did three members from other States, among whom was Laurens. The motion failed by a tie. The original motion was then put and Mr. Hancock received his thanks, only Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania voting no. Laurens's position, unlike that of the New Englanders, was without personal bias, as is shown by his refusal to humiliate Hancock personally after the general motion against thanks had failed, which can be stated of no other member who voted for the general proposition of no thanks.  [91]

John Hancock received thanks but not what he requested, a two month furlough.  The historical record, in contradiction to Lauren’s Biographer’s claim it was a resignation. This is probably due to the cold realty he was not granted the leave of absence as there was resistance to Hancock returning as the President. Congress would, however, grant a two month leave of absence to John and Samuel Adams on November 7, 1777. [92]

John Hancock was also ridiculed by the liberal contingent of Congress for accepting George Washington’s offer to supply an escort to protect him on his rather dangerous trip back to Boston. Hancock had only responded positively to General Washington’s offer to provide Dragoons.

 As I proposed setting out on Monday and shall go thro' Bethlehem, I request that the Escort of Horse you so politely offered to attend me, may meet me there should I reach Bethlehem before then, I shall wait their arrival.  In the present critical State of my affairs, I believe I should decline setting not for a five days, but having asked Mrs. Hancock to meet me at some distance from Boston, I am under a Need of beginning my journey on Monday morning.  [93]

George Washington furnished the former President with twelve dragoons and undoubtedly the Massachusetts delegation who voted no on giving Hancock a vote of thanks must have found this escort to Boston infuriating.

Mrs. Hancock’s biographer writes:

 Along the route he was received with continuous indications of the high esteem in which -he was held an approval of his efficient work. Mrs. Hancock hastened to meet her sick husband to cheer him over the rough roads and weariness that, as an invalid, he had to endure.

A notice from Hartford, November 18, says: ‘On Friday passed through this town, escorted by a party of Light Dragoons, the Hon. John Hancock, Esq., President of the American Congress, with his lady, on his way to Boston after an absence on public business of more than two years and a half.’

On his arrival in Boston the bells were rung, cannon fired by artillery at Fort Hill and from the shipping in the harbor. He received the compliments of gentlemen of all orders, and every indication was given of the sense the public has of his important services to the American cause. [94]

President Hancock, on his return to Boston, was met by fellow Declaration of Independence signer William Ellery who wrote in his diary on November 7th, 1777:

 In our way to the Ferry we met President Hancock in a Sulkey, escorted by one of his Secy's and two or three other Gentlemen, and one Light-horseman. This Escort surprised us as it seemed inadequate to the Purpose either of Defence or Parade. But our Surprise was not of long Continuance, for we had not rode far before we met six or eight Light-horsemen on the Cantor and just as we reached the Ferry, a Boat arrived with as many more. These with the Lighthorsemen and the Gentlemen before mentioned made up the Escort of Mr. President Hancock. Who would not be a great Man? I verily believe that the President, as he passes through the Country thus escorted, feels a more triumphant Satisfaction than the Col. of the Queen's Light Dragoons attended by his whole Army and an Escort of a thousand Militia. [95]

John Hancock’s Presidency was indeed an event to be celebrated by Bostonians as he presided of over numerous and exceptionally remarkable events in U.S. History during his two years and five months as President including the enactment of the  Declaration of Independence. The last months of his Presidency were no less extraordinary culminating in the British Surrender at Saratoga and the passage of the 1st Constitution of the United States, the Articles of Confederation. John Hancock's Continental Congress Presidency Chronology is summarized as follows: [96]

The Congressional Evolution of the United States of America 

Continental Congress of the United Colonies Presidents 
Sept. 5, 1774 to July 1, 1776

September 5, 1774
October 22, 1774
October 22, 1774
October 26, 1774
May 20, 1775
May 24, 1775
May 25, 1775
July 1, 1776

Commander-in-Chief United Colonies & States of America

George Washington: June 15, 1775 - December 23, 1783

Continental Congress of the United States Presidents 
July 2, 1776 to February 28, 1781

July 2, 1776
October 29, 1777
November 1, 1777
December 9, 1778
December 10, 1778
September 28, 1779
September 29, 1779
February 28, 1781

Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled
March 1, 1781 to March 3, 1789

March 1, 1781
July 6, 1781
July 10, 1781
Declined Office
July 10, 1781
November 4, 1781
November 5, 1781
November 3, 1782
November 4, 1782
November 2, 1783
November 3, 1783
June 3, 1784
November 30, 1784
November 22, 1785
November 23, 1785
June 5, 1786
June 6, 1786
February 1, 1787
February 2, 1787
January 21, 1788
January 22, 1788
January 21, 1789

Presidents of the United States of America

D-Democratic Party, F-Federalist Party, I-Independent, R-Republican Party, R* Republican Party of Jefferson & W-Whig Party 

 (1881 - 1881)
*Confederate States  of America

Chart Comparing Presidential Powers Click Here

United Colonies and States First Ladies

United Colonies Continental Congress
18th Century Term
09/05/74 – 10/22/74
Mary Williams Middleton (1741- 1761) Deceased
Henry Middleton
05/20/ 75 - 05/24/75
05/25/75 – 07/01/76
United States Continental Congress
07/02/76 – 10/29/77
Eleanor Ball Laurens (1731- 1770) Deceased
Henry Laurens
11/01/77 – 12/09/78
Sarah Livingston Jay (1756-1802)
12/ 10/78 – 09/28/78
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
09/29/79 – 02/28/81
United States in Congress Assembled
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
03/01/81 – 07/06/81
07/10/81 – 11/04/81
Jane Contee Hanson (1726-1812)
11/05/81 - 11/03/82
11/03/82 - 11/02/83
Sarah Morris Mifflin (1747-1790)
11/03/83 - 11/02/84
11/20/84 - 11/19/85
11/23/85 – 06/06/86
Rebecca Call Gorham (1744-1812)
06/06/86 - 02/01/87
02/02/87 - 01/21/88
01/22/88 - 01/29/89

Constitution of 1787
First Ladies
April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Martha Wayles Jefferson Deceased
September 6, 1782  (Aged 33)
March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
December 22, 1828 (aged 61)
February 5, 1819 (aged 35)
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
April 4, 1841 – September 10, 1842
June 26, 1844 – March 4, 1845
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850
July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
February 22, 1862 – May 10, 1865
April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1877
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
January 12, 1880 (Aged 43)
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1889 – October 25, 1892
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909
March 4, 1909 – March 4, 1913
March 4, 1913 – August 6, 1914
December 18, 1915 – March 4, 1921
March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923
August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993
January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001
January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
January 20, 2009 to date

Capitals of the United Colonies and States of America

Sept. 5, 1774 to Oct. 24, 1774
May 10, 1775 to Dec. 12, 1776
Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777
March 4, 1777 to Sept. 18, 1777
September 27, 1777
Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778
July 2, 1778 to June 21, 1783
June 30, 1783 to Nov. 4, 1783
Nov. 26, 1783 to Aug. 19, 1784
Nov. 1, 1784 to Dec. 24, 1784
New York City
Jan. 11, 1785 to Nov. 13, 1788
New York City
October 6, 1788 to March 3,1789
New York City
March 3,1789 to August 12, 1790
Dec. 6,1790 to May 14, 1800       
Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present

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The United Colonies of North America Continental Congress Presidents (1774-1776)
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The United States of America in Congress Assembled Presidents (1781-1789)
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