Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Quote of the Day: On George III, Spectacles, and a Name Writ Large

 

On August 2, 1776, 242 years ago today, the parchment manuscript generally thought of as the original “Declaration of Independence” was signed by most of its 56 final signatories. First in line was the President of the Second Continental Congress, one John Hancock, who signed his name larger than anyone else, and, after doing so, is reputed to have proclaimed our quote of the day, something very similar to: “There! King George and his ministry can read that without spectacles! They can double the price on my head now.”

In fact, these men were not signing the original Declaration of Independence. That one, known as the “fair copy,” was assembled by Thomas Jefferson from earlier drafts, and it was signed by John Hancock alone, on July 4, 1776. It was sent off so copies could be printed, and then lost, perhaps in the printing process itself. Subsequently, approximately 200 broadside copies of the Declaration were printed, with Hancock’s name included in printed form only.

The “engrossed copy” of the Declaration, the one that we immediately recognize as the “real” one, was very likely handwritten by Timothy Matlack, a clerk to the Continental Congress, and incorporated a few revisions from the original, most notable being that the word “unanimous” was added to indicate that all 13 original States were on board with the Declaration. It was signed on August 2 and then traveled with the Continental Congress as it moved around the fledgling country throughout the course of the Revolutionary War.

Poor ink quality, rough handling, and inadequate preservation led to much fading of the ink on the engrossed copy, and after numerous, largely unsuccessful, attempts to preserve its state (including storage in the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox during World War II), it was placed in its current argon-filled titanium and aluminum case at the National Archives, where it is on permanent display. (A facsimile engraving made in 1823, and considerably touched up, is the source of most modern reproductions of the document, as its ink is much more readable than that of the engrossed copy itself.)

By the way, there’s absolutely no evidence that John Hancock ever said anything about King George, his ministers, his spectacles, or a ransom. Although variations of what he’s supposed to have said abound, there’s no proof that any of them are words that ever passed his lips.

His name, though, has passed into the vernacular as a synonym for “signature,” and that’s a fact. You can put your John Hancock on it.

There are 21 comments.

  1. Miffed White Male Member

    When did they put the secret treasure map on the back in invisible ink?

     

    • #1
    • August 2, 2018, at 5:07 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    THanks I did not know all that!

    • #2
    • August 2, 2018, at 5:18 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. John Peabody Member

    Frequently, it makes us cringe to learn of ‘good-faith’ stewardship practices of the past. The worst I once read was that it was displayed in Philadelphia during the Centennial celebrations where it was hung on the wall in direct sunlight for part of the day. Also, see: always-changing attempts to stabilize the Leaning Tower of Pisa…where every generation says “THIS time we know what we’re doing!”

    • #3
    • August 2, 2018, at 6:25 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Jules PA Member

    If he was first to sign the Declaration, John Hancock did not sign larger than all the other signators, they simply failed to follow his lead, and signed in smaller hand.

    • #4
    • August 2, 2018, at 6:59 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Jules PA Member

    John Hancock’s easy-read signature on the Declaration of Independence: America’s first micro-agression against the seeing-impaired?

    😂

    • #5
    • August 2, 2018, at 7:00 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    If he was first to sign the Declaration, John Hancock did not sign larger than all the other signators, they simply failed to follow his lead, and signed in smaller hand.

    Good point. On the other hand, nice to know they weren’t all just following along, though.

    • #6
    • August 2, 2018, at 7:59 AM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Arahant Member

    She: “There! King George and his ministry can read that without spectacles! They can double the price on my head now.”

    I could be wrong, but I would bet more the “ministry” than the king would have needed spectacles. George III had just turned 38 years old. We often think of him as old, which he eventually was, but that was not true of him in 1776. Hancock was only a year older. George Washington was only forty-four when the Revolution began.

    • #7
    • August 2, 2018, at 8:42 AM PST
    • 1 like
  8. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She: “There! King George and his ministry can read that without spectacles! They can double the price on my head now.”

    I could be wrong, but I would bet more the “ministry” than the king would have needed spectacles. George III had just turned 38 years old. We often think of him as old, which he eventually was, but that was not true of him in 1776. Hancock was only a year older. George Washington was only forty-four when the Revolution began.

    Yes. George III struggled on until his death in 1820. By that time, my “Grandma Wells” who was born in 1818, was two years old. (She was, obviously, a few “greats” removed, but has always been known in family history as “Grandma Wells.”) She died in 1914, when my Uncle Arthur (who was seven) and my Aunt Mary (who was five)–my father’s siblings–were of an age to remember her well.

    It’s always a reminder to me of how young this country is, that I have in living memory, two relatives I remember clearly (Arthur died in 2009, when I was 55 years old), who remember someone who was born when George III was king.

    Not for nothing does Mr. She call my side of the family the Dunedain!

    • #8
    • August 2, 2018, at 8:50 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    She (View Comment):
    It’s always a reminder to me of how young this country is, that I have in living memory, two relatives I remember clearly (Arthur died in 2009, when I was 55 years old), who remember someone who was born when George III was king.

    I can go one better. Last I checked, two of President John Tyler’s grandsons were still alive. Tyler was born in the Eighteenth Century (1790). From Wikipedia:

    As of March 2018, Tyler has two living grandsons through his son Lyon Gardiner Tyler, making him the earliest former president with living grandchildren. Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. was born in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928. Lyon Tyler Jr. resides in Franklin, Tennessee, and Harrison Tyler maintains the family home, Sherwood Forest Plantation, in Charles City County, Virginia.

    That is three generations in four centuries.

    • #9
    • August 2, 2018, at 8:55 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    It’s always a reminder to me of how young this country is, that I have in living memory, two relatives I remember clearly (Arthur died in 2009, when I was 55 years old), who remember someone who was born when George III was king.

    I can go one better. Last I checked, two of President John Tyler’s grandsons were still alive. Tyler was born in the Eighteenth Century (1790). From Wikipedia:

    As of March 2018, Tyler has two living grandsons through his son Lyon Gardiner Tyler, making him the earliest former president with living grandchildren. Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. was born in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928. Lyon Tyler Jr. resides in Franklin, Tennessee, and Harrison Tyler maintains the family home, Sherwood Forest Plantation, in Charles City County, Virginia.

    That is three generations in four centuries.

    Wow. There’s a story there, somewhere. I’m suspecting either really late marriages to a younger wife, or really young second wives. Otherwise, I can’t see how it’s possible, but Google tells me it is . . . 

    Ah. At 55, Tyler married, for the second time, 22-year old Julia Gardiner. He was 63 when he and Julia had Lyle/Lyon. Lyle/Lyon was married to his second, much younger wife, and was 71 years old when one son was born in 1924, and 75 when the second son was born in 1928. Both those sons, Lyle and Harrison, are still living, although in frail health.

    Really interesting, and a little case study of the differences in reproductive capabilities between men and women through their lives. Would not have worked without the younger wives.

    My family didn’t do second wives (because, Dunedain.) We just keep going. I figure I’ve got at least another forty years to go if I’m not to let the side down . . . 

    • #10
    • August 2, 2018, at 9:43 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. Miffed White Male Member

    She (View Comment):

    Wow. There’s a story there, somewhere. I’m suspecting either really late marriages to a younger wife, or really young second wives. Otherwise, I can’t see how it’s possible, but Google tells me it is . . . 

    Ah. At 55, Tyler married, for the second time, 22-year old Julia Gardiner. He was 63 when he and Julia had Lyle/Lyon. Lyle/Lyon was married to his second, much younger wife, and was 71 years old when one son was born in 1924, and 75 when the second son was born in 1928. Both those sons, Lyle and Harrison, are still living, although in frail health.

    Really interesting, and a little case study of the differences in reproductive capabilities between men and women through their lives. Would not have worked without the younger wives.

    The last civil war widow died in 2004. Same situation – old dude married a young woman.

    The last surviving widow of a US Civil War veteran has died – nearly 140 years after the conflict ended. Alberta Martin passed away aged 97 at a nursing home in Alabama on 31 May after suffering a heart attack. In 1927, she married the 81-year-old war veteran of the Confederate army, William Martin, when she was 21. Jun 1, 2004

     

    • #11
    • August 2, 2018, at 9:51 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. James Gawron Thatcher

    She: By the way, there’s absolutely no evidence that John Hancock ever said anything about King George, his ministers, his spectacles, or a ransom. Although variations of what he’s supposed to have said abound, there’s no proof that any of them are words that ever passed his lips.

    She,

    Yes, the Hancock quote probably was embellished after the event. However, the reality of signing the Document was accepting the possibility of being hanged if the revolution didn’t work out. That wasn’t embellished. “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

    What I find more interesting is the text itself. Did you know that over a third of the original language was struck to form the final version? The original language was confirmed in a small committee of 5 with John Adams looking over Jefferson’s shoulder (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman). Then all 13 colonies were given a chance to veto (strikeout) any language they found objectionable. The final version, much shorter, was only supported by 12 colonies and then Pennsylvania gave in. Thus “unanimous” was added.

    Just in case anyone thinks this thing was just a poem dashed off by TJ, it wasn’t.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
    • August 2, 2018, at 10:28 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The original language was confirmed in a small committee of 5 with John Adams looking over Jefferson’s shoulder (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman). Then all 13 colonies were given a chance to veto (strikeout) any language they found objectionable. The final version, much shorter, was only supported by 12 colonies and then Pennsylvania gave in. Thus “unanimous” was added.

    Fascinating. I knew some of it was changed from the “original” language, but not that it was so extensive.

     

    • #13
    • August 2, 2018, at 10:34 AM PST
    • Like
  14. James Gawron Thatcher

    She (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The original language was confirmed in a small committee of 5 with John Adams looking over Jefferson’s shoulder (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman). Then all 13 colonies were given a chance to veto (strikeout) any language they found objectionable. The final version, much shorter, was only supported by 12 colonies and then Pennsylvania gave in. Thus “unanimous” was added.

    Fascinating. I knew some of it was changed from the “original” language, but not that it was so extensive.

    She,

    Wouldn’t you like to know what got edited out when they gave it to the colonial representatives for review? Me too. Also, with Adams right on top of Jefferson as the original is being drafted this already pushes it towards a consensus view. Adams & Jefferson are definitely opposite poles.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #14
    • August 2, 2018, at 10:40 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  15. Miffed White Male Member

    She (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The original language was confirmed in a small committee of 5 with John Adams looking over Jefferson’s shoulder (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman). Then all 13 colonies were given a chance to veto (strikeout) any language they found objectionable. The final version, much shorter, was only supported by 12 colonies and then Pennsylvania gave in. Thus “unanimous” was added.

    Fascinating. I knew some of it was changed from the “original” language, but not that it was so extensive.

     

    It’s covered in 1776.

    “This is a revolution, dammit – we going to have to offend somebody!”

     

    • #15
    • August 2, 2018, at 10:54 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  16. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The original language was confirmed in a small committee of 5 with John Adams looking over Jefferson’s shoulder (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman). Then all 13 colonies were given a chance to veto (strikeout) any language they found objectionable. The final version, much shorter, was only supported by 12 colonies and then Pennsylvania gave in. Thus “unanimous” was added.

    Fascinating. I knew some of it was changed from the “original” language, but not that it was so extensive.

    It’s covered in 1776.

    “This is a revolution, dammit – we going to have to offend somebody!”

    • #16
    • August 2, 2018, at 12:54 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

     

    • #17
    • August 2, 2018, at 12:57 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. Miffed White Male Member

    My favorite scene from 1776, especially Franklin’s punchline at the end.

    • #18
    • August 2, 2018, at 2:09 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  19. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    George Ill?

    Is he related to George Will?

    • #19
    • August 2, 2018, at 6:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  20. Arthur Beare Member

    True or not, the “King George can read it without his spectacles” thing is a great story, and a rebuke to the anonymous millions running their mouths so bravely from behind their avatars on the internet. 

    This comment is not aimed at ricochetti, who may have something to fear from said anonymous millions. Anonymity encourages the worst in people.

    • #20
    • August 2, 2018, at 8:30 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. Steve C. Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    The original language was confirmed in a small committee of 5 with John Adams looking over Jefferson’s shoulder (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman). Then all 13 colonies were given a chance to veto (strikeout) any language they found objectionable. The final version, much shorter, was only supported by 12 colonies and then Pennsylvania gave in. Thus “unanimous” was added.

    Fascinating. I knew some of it was changed from the “original” language, but not that it was so extensive.

     

    It’s covered in 1776.

    “This is a revolution, dammit – we going to have to offend somebody!”

     

    I’ll speak to the printer.

    • #21
    • August 3, 2018, at 7:02 AM PST
    • 1 like