John Hancock by Richard Hildreth

In the mouths of the people of New England, and indeed throughout the United States, the name of John Hancock has become a household word. In the State of Massachusetts, where he was born, lived, and died, and in the affairs of which he took, for five-and-twenty years, so very active and leading a part, he enjoyed a degree and a permanence of popularity never yet obtained by any other man. And yet we may observe and the same thing may be noted in other and more recent instances—a remarkable fact that deserves to be  pondered—that his high degree of popularity was not at all dependent upon any peculiar embodiment or manifestation on his part of the more prevailing and characteristic traits of the community about him. Indeed the popular favor which Hancock enjoyed would seem to have been determined, as the attachment of individuals so often is, and as has happened also in other notable instances, rather by the attraction of opposites.

And yet Hancock's line of descent was such as might naturally enough have inspired the expectation of finding in him a good many more marks of the old puritan temper and manners than he ever exhibited. From the days of the first settlement of New England, down to the period of the Revolution and afterwards, the "ministers" constituted a sort of clerical nobility, enjoying a very high degree of influence and consideration; and it is to forefathers of that order, that a large part of the most distinguished and influential New England families may trace their origin. The elder sons of these ministers, commonly, and the younger ones often, were educated to the profession of their fathers, long regarded in New England as the most certain road to distinction, whether spiritual or temporal. But as the demand for ministers was limited, and as their families were generally pretty large, many of their sons found it necessary to engage in the avocations of civil life, in which they not uncommonly attained to wealth and high social positions. Yet, for the most part, however zealous and successful they might be in the pursuit of temporal objects, they still continued to exhibit pretty evident marks of their clerical descent and breeding in a certain stiff, cold, and austere gravity, if not, indeed, in a certain sanctimonious air  even in the very act of concluding the very tightest and sharpest of bargains;—all the attributes, in fact, comprehensively and impressively conveyed to an inhabitant of New England by the title of Deacon, which office, as if still clinging to the horns of the altar, they often filled; thus becoming pillars and supports of that church of which their fathers had been the candlesticks.

The grandfather of John Hancock, himself called John, was for more than fifty years, as if by a sort of vaticination of the future, minister of Lexington, near to Concord; thus associating with that of Hancock another name, now to all American ears so familiar as the scene of the first revolutionary bloodshed. We are told by a biographer of this first John Hancock, that he possessed "a facetious temper," but in the grim old portrait which still hangs on the walls of his grandson's family mansion-house, very small traces of facetiousness appear; and so far as physiognomy goes, we should be rather inclined to look to his grandmother, to whose accompanying portrait the artist has given a fine open countenance, with something of a magnificent and voluptuous style of beauty, for the source of those social qualities and captivating manners by which their famous grandson was distinguished. The minister of Lexington had two sons, both also ministers, one of whom became his father's colleague. The other, the father of our John Hancock, was settled at Braintree, near Boston, in that part of it which now constitutes the town of Quincy; and it was here that in the year 1737 our John Hancock was born, only a short distance from the birth-place of John Adams, who was some two years his senior. The old house in which the future patriot first saw the light was destroyed by an accidental  fire previous to the Revolution; and the land on which it had stood coming subsequently into the possession of John Adams, he presented it to the town of Quincy as a site for a future academy.

At the age of six or seven years, the young John Hancock was left without a father; but in his uncle, Thomas Hancock, he found a guardian and protector, who not only loved him, but was able to assist him. Thomas Hancock early in life had been placed as an apprentice to a Boston stationer, and had afterwards set up in that line of business for himself: but subsequently extending the sphere of his operations, he became one of the most eminent and successful merchants of New England. As he had no children, he adopted, as his own, his young nephew, whose affable and joyous temper had not failed to make him dear to his uncle, as they did to so many others; and having sent him to Harvard College, where he graduated at the early age of seventeen, he took him afterwards into his counting-house to be initiated into the mysteries of merchandise; and in due season admitted him as a partner. It was, perhaps, as well on business as for pleasure, or general improvement, that the young Hancock visited England, whither he went in company with the returning Governor Pownall, whose taste for social enjoyment was similar to his own, and where he saw the funeral of George II. and the coronation of George III., little thinking at that moment how active a part he was himself soon to take in curtailing the limits of the British monarchy, and in snatching from the young king's crown its brightest jewel.

Thomas Hancock, the uncle, died in 1764, leaving behind him a fortune amassed by his judicious and successful mercantile enterprises, of not less than $350,000, one of the largest ever acquired in Boston, up to that time, though small in comparison with several of the present day, when even ten times as much may be produced by combined good fortune, tact, and perseverance. Thomas Hancock bestowed by his will some considerable legacies for charitable purposes, among others a thousand pounds to Harvard College to endow a professorship of oriental languages, being thus, as the historian of the college assures us, the first native American to endow a professorship in any literary institution;—but the great bulk of his fortune he bequeathed to his favorite nephew, $250,000 at once, and a reversionary interest in $100,000 more, of which his widow was to enjoy the use during her life.

Thus in 1764, at the early age of twenty-seven, and just upon the eve of the commencement of the revolutionary disputes with the mother country, John Hancock came into possession of one of the largest fortunes in the province.

Yet, though this large estate was an instrument and a stepping-stone, without the help of which Hancock would never have attained to that social and political distinction which he coveted and enjoyed so much, yet without his rare personal gifts and accomplishments it would have been wholly unavailing to that end; and so far from qualifying him, would have disqualified him, as it did so many other of the rich men of that time, for playing the conspicuous part he did in political affairs. Though for some time after his uncle's death he continued in business as a merchant, there were others who knew much better than he how to increase estates, already in the popular estimate—especially considering the use made of them—quite too large. Indeed, his business operations do not seem to have had mainly or primarily in view the making of money; for though he started new enterprises, going largely into ship-building, it was rather, at least so Hutchinson insinuates, as a politician than as a capitalist, looking more to the number of people he employed, and the increase thereby of his influence and popularity, than to the enlargement of his already plentiful fortune. There were others also who knew much better than he how to keep what they had, at least as they thought, men who used no less economy in spending their money than they or their fathers had done in acquiring it. But although the rich man who keeps his capital entire, and even increasing, is, in some sense, certainly a public benefactor, yet the fountain that overflows, sending forth a copious stream which the thirsty passers-by are all free to drink from, or at least to look at, is always more joyfully seen and more pleasingly remembered—even though it does run the risk of some time running dry—than the deep well, whose water is hardly visible, and which, though quite inexhaustible, yet for want of any kind of a bucket that can be made to sink into it, or any rope long enough to draw such a bucket up, is very little available to the parched throats of the fainting wayfarers, who, in the spirit and with the feelings of Tantalus, are thus rather disposed to curse than to bless it.

To be able to make money is, at least in New England, a very common accomplishment, to be able to keep it not a rare one; but very few have understood so well as Hancock did, how to make the most of it in the way of spending it, obtaining from it, as he did, the double gratification of satisfying his own private inclinations, at the same time that he promoted  his political views by the hold that he gained on the favor and good-will of his fellow-citizens.

He possessed, indeed, in a degree, those tastes which wealth is best able to gratify, and to the gratification of which it is most essential. In the very face and eyes of the puritanical opinions and the staid and ultra-sober habits of New England, he delighted in splendid furniture, fine clothes, showy equipages, rich wines, good dinners, gay company, cards, dances, music, and all sorts of festivities. Nothing pleased him so much as to have his house full of guests to share with him in these enjoyments, and few were better qualified, by winning manners, graceful and affable address, a ready wit, a full flow of spirits, and a keen enjoyment of the whole thing, to act the part of master of the feast. But while thus luxuriously inclined, he had no disposition for gross debauch: and the presence of ladies at all his entertainments, while it seemed to give to them a new zest, banished from his house that riotous dissipation into which mere male gatherings are so certain to sink; and which in times past, in New England, made the idea of gross dissipation almost inseparable from that of social enjoyment, nor even yet is the distinction between them fully apprehended by every body.

Among other property which Hancock had inherited from his uncle, was a stone mansion-house, still standing, and now in the very centre of the city of Boston, but which then was looked upon as quite retired and almost in the country. This house, which was built about the year that Hancock was born, fronts eastwardly on Boston Common, since so elaborately improved and converted into so beautiful a park, with its gravel walks, trees, and smooth-shaven lawns, but which was then a  common in the old English sense of the word, a common pasture for the cows of the neighbors, and a training field for the militia, with very few improvements except a single gravel walk and two or three rows of trees along Tremont-street. This house was situated a little west of the central and highest summit of that triple hill, which had early acquired for the peninsula of Boston the name of Trimountain,—since shortened into Tremont, and preserved in the name of the street above mentioned, which central summit was, from an early period, known as Beacon Hill, a name preserved in that of Beacon-street. This name was derived from the use to which this highest central summit had been put from a very early period—materials being always kept in readiness upon the top of it for kindling a bonfire, as a means of alarming the country round in case of invasion or other danger. After having been a good deal graded down, this summit is now occupied as a site for the State House, which, with its conspicuous dome, crowns and overlooks the whole city.

It was in this mansion-house of his uncle's, which seems as if by a sort of attraction to have drawn the State House to its side, that Hancock continued to live except when absent at Philadelphia in attendance on the Continental Congress; and not content with its original dimensions, to afford more room for his numerous guests, he built at one end of it a wooden addition, since removed, containing a dining-room, dancing-hall, and other like conveniences. It was here Hancock, assisted by his amiable and accomplished wife, who entered into all his tastes and feelings, and who contributed her full share to give expression and realization to them, presided over so many social dinner parties and gay assemblages, dressed out, both host  and guests, in that rich costume which Copley, who was one of Hancock's near neighbors, loved so well to paint, and of which his pencil has transmitted to us so vivid an idea. Nor did he show himself abroad with less display than he exhibited at home, his custom being to ride on public occasions in a splendid carriage drawn by six beautiful bays, and attended by several servants in livery.

While the public attention was thus drawn upon him by a display which at once attracted and gratified the eyes of the multitude, whose envy at that time there was less fear than now of exciting, and by a generous and free hospitality, the more captivating for not being either indigenous or common, the part which Hancock took in the rising disputes with the mother country converted him into that popular idol, which he continued to be for the remainder of his life; and which, to one so greedy as he was of honor and applause, must have been in the highest degree gratifying. It is indeed not uncommon to depreciate the public services of such men as Hancock, by ascribing all to vanity and the love of distinction; as if without the impulse of these motives any great efforts would be made to serve the public! Worthy indeed of all honor are those men in whom these impulses take so honorable a direction; and happy the nation able to purchase such services at so cheap a rate!

In 1766, two years after his uncle's death, Hancock was chosen, along with James Otis, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Cushing, one of the four representatives from Boston to the General Court. The seizure, two years after, of his sloop Liberty, for alleged violations of the revenue laws, in evading the payment of duties on a cargo of wine imported from  Madeira, closely and personally identified him with the resistance then making throughout the colonies to the attempt to collect a revenue in America by parliamentary authority alone. This seizure led to a riot which figures in all the histories of that period, by which the commissioners of the customs were driven from the town, and in consequence of which two or three British regiments were ordered to Boston—the first step on the part of the mother country towards a military enforcement of the authority which she claimed. Hancock felt personally the consequences of this riot, in a number of libels or criminal informations filed against him in the Court of Admiralty, to recover penalties to the amount of three or four hundred thousand dollars, for violations of the revenue laws. "It seemed," writes John Adams in his Diary, and he had ample opportunity to know, for he was retained as Hancock's counsel, "as if the officers of the court were determined to examine the whole town as witnesses." In hopes to fish out some evidence against him; they interrogated many of his near relations and most intimate friends. They even threatened to summon his aged and venerable aunt: nor did those annoyances cease till the battle of Lexington, the siege of Boston, and the expulsion of the British from that town shut up the Admiralty Court, and brought the prosecution, and British authority along with it, to an end.

At the commencement of the disputes with the mother country, the sentiment against the right of parliament to impose taxes on the colonies had seemed to be almost unanimous. The only exceptions were a few persons holding office under the crown. The rich especially, this being a question that touched the pocket, were very loud in their protests against any such  exercise of parliamentary authority. But as the dispute grew more warm and violent, threatening to end in civil commotions, the rich, not doubting that the mother country would triumph in the end, and fearing the loss of their entire property in the attempt to save a part of it, began to draw back; thus making much more conspicuous than ever the position of Hancock as a leader of the popular party. Indeed there was hardly a wealthy man in Boston, he and Bowdoin excepted, both of whom had not accumulated but inherited their property, who did not end with joining the side of the mother country. And the same thing may be observed of Massachusetts, and indeed of New England generally. Of all the larger and better-looking mansion-houses, of eighty years old and upwards, still standing in the vicinity of Boston, of which the number is considerable, there are very few that did not originally belong to some old tory who forfeited his property out of his very anxiety to preserve it. Hancock's acceptance of the command of the company of cadets or governor's guard, whence the title of colonel by which for some time he was known; his acting with that company as an escort, at the funeral of Lieutenant-Governor Oliver, who was very obnoxious to the patriots; his refusing to go all lengths with Samuel Adams in the controversy with Hutchinson as to the governor's right to call the General Court together, elsewhere than in Boston; and the circumstance that although he had been several times before negatived as a member of the council, Hutchinson had at length allowed his name on the list of counsellors proposed by the General Court; these and perhaps some other circumstances excited indeed some suspicions that Hancock also was growing lukewarm to the popular cause. But these he took care to dissipate by  declining to sit as counsellor, by acting as orator at the Anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and by accepting, not long after, an appointment as one of the delegates to the Continental Congress. The oration above alluded to, delivered in March, 1774, and which Hancock's enemies pretended was written for him by Dr. Cooper, was pronounced by John Adams, who heard it, "an eloquent, pathetic, and spirited performance."

"The composition," so he wrote in his diary, "the pronunciation, the action, all exceeded the expectation of every body. [These last were certainly not Cooper's.] They exceeded even mine, which were very considerable. Many of the sentiments came with great propriety from him. His invective, particularly against a preference of riches to virtue, came from him with a singular dignity and grace." A passage in this oration, which was afterwards printed, on the subject of standing armies, gave great offence to the British officers and soldiers by whom the town continued to be occupied, and not long after Governor Gage dismissed Hancock from his command of the company of cadets; whereupon they disbanded themselves, returning the standard which the governor on his initiation into office had presented to them.

The sensibilities of the British officers and soldiers being again excited by some parts of an oration delivered the next year by Dr. Warren, on the same anniversary, a few weeks before the battle of Lexington, a military mob beset Hancock's house and began to destroy the fences and waste the grounds. Gage sent a military guard to put a stop to their outrages.

But it was no longer safe for Hancock to remain in such close contiguity to the British troops. He was president of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, which, in  consequence of the act of parliament to modify the charter of that province, had lately assumed to themselves the power of the purse and the sword. He was also president of the provincial committee of safety, which, under authority of the Provincial Congress, had begun in good earnest to prepare for taking arms for the vindication of those rights which the men of Massachusetts claimed under the now violated and (so far as parliament had the power) abrogated Charter of the province. Under these circumstances, Hancock abandoned his house, which was subsequently occupied by Lord Percy as his headquarters; and at the time of the march of the British troops for Concord, he was living at Lexington, in company with Samuel Adams. Indeed it was supposed that one of the objects of this march was to seize the persons of those two patriots, to whom Gage seemed to point as the authors of the collision at Lexington by the issue of a proclamation, in which pardon was offered to all who, giving over their late traitorous proceedings, would furnish proof of their repentance and of their renewed allegiance to their king, by submitting to the authority of his duly appointed governor, and of the late act of parliament: but from this pardon John Hancock and Samuel Adams were excepted, their offences being too flagrant to be passed over without condign punishment.

Before the issue of this proclamation, Hancock had already proceeded to Philadelphia, where the famous Continental Congress of 1775 was already in session, composed, to a great extent, of the same members with its predecessor of the year before, but of which he had been chosen a member in place of Bowdoin. He was a fluent and agreeable speaker, one of those who, by grace of manner, seem to add a double force and weight to all which they say; yet in that illustrious  assembly there were quite a number, including John Adams, from his own State, compared with whom he could hardly have claimed rank as an orator. There were also in that assembly several able writers; the state papers emanating from whose pens were compared by Chatham to the ablest productions of the republican ages of Greece and Rome; but Hancock was not one of those. There were men of business there who undertook, without shrinking, all the Herculean labors of organizing the army and navy, the treasury and the foreign office of the new confederation—but neither in this line does Hancock appear to have been greatly distinguished. And yet it was not long before, by his appointment as president of that body, he rose to a position in Continental affairs, no less conspicuous than that which we have seen him exercising in those of his own province. Circumstances led indeed to this situation, quite apart from Hancock's personal qualifications, and yet had he not possessed those qualifications in a high degree, he would never have had the opportunity of immortalizing himself as he has done by his famous signature at the head of the Declaration of Independence,—a signature well calculated to give a strong impression with those who judge of personal character by handwriting, of the decided temper and whole-hearted energy of the man. Virginia, as the most populous and wealthy of the colonies, had received the compliment of furnishing the President of the Congress of 1774; and Peyton Randolph—a planter and lawyer, an elderly gentleman of the old school, formerly attorney general of that province, and in Governor Dinwiddie's time, sent by the Assembly on a special message to England, to complain of the governor for the fees he exacted on patents of land—had been first selected for that  distinguished station. He had again been chosen as President of the new Congress; but being also speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and that body having been called together by Lord Dunmore, in what proved to be its last meeting, to consider Lord North's conciliatory propositions, it became necessary for Randolph to return home. His place in Congress was filled, in compliance with an arrangement previously made by the House of Burgesses, by no less distinguished a successor than Thomas Jefferson; but in filling up the vacant seat of President of Congress, during what was then regarded as but the temporary absence of Randolph, it was natural enough to look to Massachusetts, the next province to Virginia in population and wealth, no ways behind her in zeal for the cause, and, as the result proved, far her superior in military capabilities. Nor among the delegates present from Massachusetts, was there any one who seemed, on the whole, so well fitted for the station, or likely to be at all so satisfactory to the delegates from the other States, as John Hancock. Had James Bowdoin been present, he would perhaps have been more acceptable to the great body of the members than Hancock, as being less identified than he was with violent measures. But though chosen a delegate to the first Congress, the sickness of Bowdoin's wife had prevented his attendance; and the same cause still operating to keep him at home, John Hancock had been appointed, as we have mentioned, in his place. Of Hancock's four colleagues, all of whom were older men than himself, Samuel Adams certainly, if not John Adams also, might have disputed with him the palm of zeal and activity in the revolutionary cause; but not one of them risked so much as he did, at least in the judgment of his fellow-members from the middle and southern provinces, who were generally men of property. He alone, of all the New England delegates, had a fortune to lose; and while his wealthy southern colleagues looked with some distrust upon the Adamses, regarding them perhaps a little in the light, if we may be pardoned so coarse an illustration, of the monkey in the fable, who wished to rake his chestnuts out of the fire at the risk and expense of other people's fingers, no such idea could attach to Hancock, who, in point of fortune, had probably as much to lose as any other member, except perhaps John Dickinson—for the wealthy Charles Carrol, of Maryland, had not a seat in the Congress. At the same time Hancock's genial manners and social spirit, seemed to the members from the southern and middle provinces to make him quite one of themselves, an associate in pleasure and social intercourse, as well as in business; while the austere spirit and laborious industry of the Adamses threatened to inflict upon them the double hardship of all work and no play. But while the moderate members found, as they supposed, in the fortune which Hancock had at stake a pledge that he would not hurry matters to any violent extremes; the few also most disposed to press matters to a final breach, were well satisfied to have as president, one who had shown himself in his own province so energetic, prompt, decisive, and thorough.

Yet Hancock's colleagues, and the members generally from New England, never entirely forgave the preference which had been thus early shown to him; and upon many of the sectional questions and interests which soon sprung up, and by which the Continental Congress was at times so seriously belittled and so greatly distracted, Hancock was often accused of  deserting the interests of New England, and of going with the southern party. The internal and secret history of the Continental Congress or rather of the temporary and personal motives by which the conduct of its members, as to a variety of details, was influenced, remains so much in obscurity that it is not easy to ascertain the precise foundation of those charges, reiterated as they are in letters and other memoirs of those times; but on the whole, no reason appears to regard them otherwise than as the natural ebullition of disappointed partisanship against a man, who, in the struggle of contending factions and local interests, strove to hold the balance even, and who did not believe, with Samuel Adams and some others, that political wisdom was limited to New England alone.

The President of Congress, in those times, was regarded as the personal representative of that body and of the sovereignty of the Union; and in that respect filled, to a certain degree, in the eye of the nation and of the world, the place now occupied by the President of the United States, though sharing, in no degree, the vast patronage and substantial power attached to the latter office. In his capacity of personal representative of the nation the President of Congress kept open house and a well-spread table, to which members of Congress, officers of the army, attachés of the diplomatic corps foreign and domestic, distinguished strangers, every body in fact who thought themselves to be any body—a pretty large class, at least in America—expected invitations; whereby was imposed upon that officer pretty laborious social duties, in addition to his public and political ones, which were by no means trifling. All these duties of both classes, Hancock continued to discharge with great assiduity and to general satisfaction,  for upwards of two years and a half, through a period at which the power and respectability of the Continental Congress was at its greatest height, before the downfall of the paper money and the total exhaustion of the credit of the nation at home and abroad had reduced the representative of the sovereignty of the nation to a pitiful dependence on the bounty of France, and upon requisitions on the States, to which very little attention was paid. Feeling all the dignity of his position, Hancock took one of the largest houses in Philadelphia, where he lived in profuse hospitality, and all upon advances made out of his own pocket. After his day, it became necessary for Congress to allow their president a certain annual stipend out of the public treasury to support the expenses of his household. In Hancock's time, this was not thought of; and it was not till near the close of the war, after the precedent had been established in the case of his successors, that he put in any claim for the reimbursement of his expenses.

There is a story, that Hancock, when chosen President of Congress, blushed and modestly hung back, and was drawn into the chair only by the exertion of some gentle force on the part of the brawny Harrison, a member from Virginia, and afterwards governor of that State. And yet, according to John Adams, Hancock was hardly warm in his seat when he aspired to a much more distinguished position. He expected to have been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the American armies, and displayed in his countenance, so Adams says in his Diary, the greatest vexation and disappointment when Washington was named for that station. It is certain that he had some military aspirations, for he wrote to Washington shortly after his assumption of command, requesting that some  place in the army might be kept for him, to which Washington replied with compliments at his zeal, but with apprehension that he had no place at his disposal worthy of Colonel Hancock's acceptance. Not long after his return to Boston, his military ardor revived. He procured himself to be chosen a major-general of the Massachusetts militia, and he marched the next summer (1778) at the head of his division to join the expedition against Newport, in which the French fleet and troops just arrived under D'Estaing, a detachment from Washington's army under Sullivan, Greene, and La Fayette, and the militia from the neighboring States were to co-operate. But D'Estaing suffered himself to be drawn out to sea by the English fleet, which had appeared off Newport for that express purpose, and after a slight running engagement, the fleet, while struggling for the weather gauge, were separated by a violent storm, in which some of D'Estaing's ships were dismasted and others greatly damaged, so that he judged it necessary to put into Boston to refit. The American army meanwhile had crossed to Rhode Island, and established itself before Newport, but as Count D'Estaing could not be persuaded to return, it became necessary to abandon the island, not without a battle to cover the retreat. With this expedition, Hancock's military career seems to have terminated; but on arriving at Boston, he found ample work on hand better adapted perhaps to his talents than the business of active warfare. Sullivan, of a hot and impetuous temper, and excessively vexed at D'Estaing's conduct, was even imprudent enough to give expression to his feelings in general orders. It was like touching a spark to tinder, and the American army before New-York, which shared the general's feelings, encouraged by his example, "broke out," so Greene wrote to Washington, "in  clamorous strains." The same disappointment was bitterly felt also at Boston; for the British occupation of Newport had long been an eyesore to New England, occasioning great expense in keeping up militia to watch the enemy there, and in projects for their expulsion; and the prevailing dissatisfaction at the conduct of the French admiral soon found expression in a serious riot between the populace of the town and the sailors of the French fleet, threatening to revive all those violent prejudices against the French, fostered in the colonies for near a hundred years, and which the recent alliance with France had glossed over indeed, but had not wholly subdued. Upon this occasion, Hancock exerted himself with zeal and success to prevent this ill-temper, which had broken out between the classes least accustomed to restrain their feelings or the expression of them, from spreading any higher. He opened his house to the French officers, who, delighted at the opportunity of social enjoyment and female society, kept it full from morning till night, and by his "unwearied pains," so La Fayette wrote to Washington, did much to heal the breach which Sullivan's imprudence had so dangerously aggravated. On this occasion, at least, if on no other, Hancock's love of gayety, and of social pleasures, proved very serviceable to his country.

During his absence at Philadelphia, his popularity at home had undergone no diminution, and he soon resumed, as a member of the council, on which since the breach with Gage the executive administration had devolved, a leading influence in the State administration; and when at last, after two trials, a constitution was sanctioned by the people, he was chosen by general consent the first governor under it. This was a station of vastly more consideration then than now. Under the  old confederation, at least after the Continental Congress, by the exhaustion of its credit and the repudiation of its bills, had no longer money at command, the States were sovereign in fact as well as in words; while all that reverence which under the old system had attached to the royal governors, had been transferred to their first republican successors. Since that period the State governments have sunk into mere municipalities for the administration of local affairs, and all eyes being constantly turned towards Washington, the executive offices of the States, even the station of governor, are no longer regarded except as stepping-stones to something higher.

Hancock discharged his office as governor to good acceptance for five years, when he voluntarily retired, making way for James Bowdoin, who might be regarded in some respects as his rival, the head of a party, perhaps more intelligent, and certainly far more select, than that great body of the population by whom Hancock was supported; but whom, so at least his opponents said, he rather studied to follow than aspired to lead. During Bowdoin's administration, occurred Shays' insurrection, one of the most interesting and instructive incidents in the history of Massachusetts, but into the particulars of which we have not space here to enter. This insurrection, of which the great object was the cancelling of debts, an object which the States now practically accomplish by means of insolvent laws, was thought to involve, either as participators more or less active, or at least as favorers and sympathizers, not less than a third part of the population of the State. The active measures taken at Bowdoin's suggestion for putting down the insurgents by an armed force, and the political disabilities and other punishments inflicted upon them after their defeat, did not at all tend to increase Bowdoin's popularity with this large portion of the people. Though Hancock's health had not allowed him to take his seat in the Continental Congress, to which he had again been chosen a delegate, and by which he had, in his absence, been again selected as their president—yet, weary of retirement, he suffered himself to be brought forward as a candidate, and to be elected as governor over Bowdoin's head—a procedure never forgiven by what may be called the party of property, against which the insurrection of Shays had been aimed, whose members thenceforth did not cease, in private at least, to stigmatize Hancock as a mere demagogue, if not indeed almost a Shaysite himself. Nor indeed is it impossible, that the governor, with all his property, had some personal sympathies with that party. He, like them, was harassed with debts, which, as we have seen in the case of the college, he was not much inclined, and probably not very able, to bring to a settlement. He still had large possessions in lands and houses in Boston, but at this moment his property was unsalable, and to a considerable extent unproductive; and a stop law might have suited his convenience not less than that of the embarrassed farmers in the interior, who had assembled under the leadership of Shays to shut up the courts and put a stop to suits. This scheme, however, had been effectually put down prior to Hancock's accession to office, and it only remained for him to moderate, by executive clemency, the penalties inflicted on the suppressed insurgents—a policy which the state of the times and the circumstances of the case very loudly demanded, however little it might be to the taste of the more imperious leaders of the party by which those penalties had been inflicted. But even this same party might  acknowledge a great obligation to Hancock for the assistance which they soon after obtained from him in securing the ratification by Massachusetts of that federal constitution under which we now so happily live. Still governor of the State, he was chosen a delegate from Boston to the State convention, called to consider the proposed constitution: and though incapacitated by sickness from taking his seat till near the close of the session, he was named its president. The federal constitution had been already ratified by five States, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut. But Virginia, New York, and North Carolina, were known to be strongly against it, and its rejection by Massachusetts would, in all probability, prevent its acceptance by the number of States required to give it effect. The convention was very equally divided, and the result hung long in doubt. At last Hancock came upon the floor and proposed some amendments, principally in the nature of a bill of rights, agreed to probably by concert out of doors, to be suggested for the approval of Congress and adoption by the States under the provision for amendments contained in the constitution, and most of which were afterwards adopted. Thus sweetened, the constitution was fairly forced down the reluctant throat of the convention; and unlike the typical book of St. John, though so bitter in the mouth, it has fortunately proved sweet enough and very nourishing in the digestion.

On the occasion of Washington's visit to Boston, subsequently to his inauguration as President, a curious struggle took place between him and Hancock, or perhaps we ought rather to say, between the Governor of Massachusetts and the President of the United States, on a question of etiquette.  Hancock, as Governor of Massachusetts, insisted upon the first call, a precedence which Washington, as President of the United States, refused to yield. Finding himself obliged to succumb, Hancock's gout and other complicated diseases served him for once in good stead; for in the note which he finally sent, announcing his intention to wait upon Washington, they answered as a convenient excuse for not having fulfilled that duty before.

Some two or three years after, we find Governor Hancock, out of deference to the puritanical opinions and laws of the State, involved in another noticeable controversy, but one into which he could not have entered with any great heart. Shortly after the adoption of the federal constitution, a company of stage-players had made their appearance in Boston, and though the laws still prohibited theatrical exhibitions, encouraged by the countenance of the gayer part of the population, they commenced the performance of plays, which they advertised in the newspapers as "Moral Lectures." Some of their friends among the townsfolks had even built a temporary theatre for their accommodation, a trampling under foot of the laws, which seemed the more reprehensible as the legislature, though applied to for that purpose, had twice refused to repeal that prohibitory statute. "To the legislature which met shortly after," we quote from the fourth volume of Hildreth's History of the United States, "Governor Hancock gave information that 'a number of aliens and foreigners had entered the State, and in the metropolis of the government, under advertisements insulting to the habits and education of the citizens, had been pleased to invite them to, and to exhibit before such as attended, stage-plays, interludes, and theatrical entertainments, under the style and appellation of Moral Lectures.' All which, as he complained, had been suffered to go on without any steps taken to punish a most open breach of the laws, and a most contemptuous insult to the powers of government. Shortly after this denunciation by the governor, suddenly one night, in the midst of the performance of 'The School for Scandal,' the sheriff of the county appeared on the stage, arrested the actors, and broke up the performances. When the examination came on, having procured able counsel (one of whom, if we mistake not, was the then young Harrison Gray Otis), the actors were discharged on the ground that the arrest was illegal, the warrant not having been sworn to. This error was soon corrected, and a second arrest brought the performances to a close. But the legislature, finding that the sentiment of the town of Boston was strong against the law, and that a new and permanent theatre was in the course of erection, repealed the prohibitory act a few months after."

This temporary triumph over the poor players was one of the last of Hancock's long series of successes; unless indeed we ought to assign that station to the agency which he had in procuring the erasure from the federal constitution of a very equitable and necessary provision, authorizing suits in the federal courts against the States by individuals having claims upon them. At such a suit, brought against the State of Massachusetts, Hancock exhibited a vast deal of indignation, calling the legislature together at a very inconvenient season of the year, and refusing to pay the least attention to the process served upon him. Yet the Supreme Court of the United States, not long after, decided that such suits would lie, as indeed was sufficiently plain from the letter of the constitution. But the sovereign States, with all the insolence customary to sovereigns, whether one-headed or many-headed, scorned to be compelled to do justice; and the general clamor raised against this reasonable and even necessary provision, caused it to be ultimately struck from the constitution.

Before this was accomplished, Hancock's career of life was over. Worn down by the gout and other aristocratic diseases, which the progress of democracy seems, since his time, to have almost banished from America, he expired at the early age of fifty-six, in the same house in which he had presided over so many social and political festivities, lamented by almost the entire population of the State in whose service he had spent the best part of his life, and whose faithful attachment to him, spite of some obvious weaknesses on his part, had yet never flagged.

Had we space and inclination, many lessons might be drawn from the history of his life. We shall confine ourselves to this one, which every body's daily experience may confirm: that success in active life, whether political or private, even the attainment of the very highest positions, depends far less on any extraordinary endowments, either of nature or fortune, than upon an active, vigorous, and indefatigable putting to use of such gifts as a man happens to have. What a difference, so far as name and fame are concerned, and we may add, too, enjoyment and a good conscience, between the man who puts his talent to use and him who hoards it up, so that even its very existence remains unknown to every body but himself and his intimate friends.