John Hancock’s signature


Hancock’s signature in the Declaration of Independence

Hancock’s iconic signature revealed his status in society. In the eighteenth century much importance was given to elegant scripts and sophisticated handwriting. It was said that “a good hand was the sign of a good man”.

The most famous signature in American history is John Hancock’s in the document of the Declaration of Independence, the most cherished symbol of liberty. Why did John Hancock sign his name proportionally larger than the rest of the delegates?

John Hancock’s signature in the Declaration of Independence. Click image to enlarge


The most common legend is that he signed his name bigger than everyone else’s so that the “fat old King could read it without his spectacles”. The fact is that as the president of Congress he was the first person to sign the document and because he was the leader of Congress his signature was centered below the text. According to the National Archives it was customary that other delegates began to sign at the right below the text in geographical order according to the states they represent. The northernmost state, New Hampshire began and ended with Georgia, the southernmost.

Another myth reinforced by the Trumbull’s painting of the Declaration of Independence which is now located in the United States Capitol rotunda  is that the declaration was signed by all delegates on July 4, 1776. The fact is that signing started August 2 and was not completed until late November.


Back to John Hancock Homepage