Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Your Most Outstanding Revolutionary War Personality? Mine is John Hancock

Some months ago, I was interested in which Founding Father you considered the greatest. My choice was John Adams. This may have come as a surprise, but his intellect and perseverance to the cause of American independence was unparalleled. Your responses didn’t agree with mine at all.

It’s time for another questionnaire. Just which Revolutionary War personality is your favorite? Let’s omit the Founding Fathers because the results would be badly slanted. Otherwise, your choice could be from any colony or background. Giving a reason for your choice would add a great deal.

My selection is John Hancock, without hesitation.

What, you protest, that incorrigible smuggler, making himself the richest man in Boston in the process?

Let’s not forget that smuggling was a well-established component of the colonial economic system. It was anti-British, anti-tax. Hancock always drove the British nuts.

In fact, one of Hancock’s smuggling adventures can be considered a smoldering cause of the American Revolution. In response to his ownership and operation of the wine smuggler “Liberty”, aptly named, the British sent troops to Boston (1768).

Hancock was all-business, all the time. It helped define him. He was, in my opinion, a completely contemporary man. He would have fitted right in with the CEOs of today. I don’t think of him as a man of memorable speeches or resounding patriotic words. For me, he was always a man of action.

His personality left things to be desired. He had a colossal ego, great ambition. Is this bad? Most powerful men have these qualities. I like his raw courage. He was always on the run from the British. He was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. That made him a traitor.

Maybe it’s stretching a point, but you could consider him America’s first President. At the 2nd Continental Congress in 1776, he was the President of that Congress. He had a great deal of authority. But he never became President of the United States.

His antipathy towards Washington as commander-in-chief was not just completely unfounded. Washington had no real track record. The little he had was less than distinguished. Besides, Hancock, in typical fashion, considered himself a far better choice. This man was no shrinking violet. I like his confidence.

He went on to become governor of Massachusetts for nine terms. The great unrest of farmers in that state around 1786, the Shay’s Rebellion, was a wake-up call against uncontrolled taxation and rural hardship. When Hancock was reelected with a new, sympathetic legislature in 1788, I think he did a smart thing. He pardoned Shays and instituted a series of fiscal reforms, not a complete solution but a start.

The proposed Constitution was a real dilemma for Hancock, and I think he handled it as you would expect, considering the personal business aspect. Hancock was no Federalist; far from it. He was persuaded though to support the Constitution when he was promised a Bill of Rights (to curtail its power) and a federal office. The latter obviously would improve his financial profile.

Hancock did not live long enough (1793) to influence the pivotal financial years of the early republic after 1789. But I think his contribution would have been based on sound business practices, a solid tax code, no huge deficits and a social program which requires that everyone contributes.

Is that all wishful thinking? – Renata Breisacher Mulry

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Jessica James said...

So many great leaders and men during the Revolutionary War (where are they now?).

Anyway, mine would be Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. His unusual military tactics were carried over to the Civil War - another era I enjoy studying.

Friends of 1776 Team said...

Thanks for weighing in Jessica!

The war in the South was different, and Francis Marion really hassled the British. Here is the Wikipedia entry for him.

With your focus on this area, we'd be interested in what you thought of the movie The Patriot.

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