By Richard Samuelson
According to legend, John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence with a signature so large that the King of England could see it without his spectacles. That bit of bravado has long been a staple of American history classes. I must have heard it several times growing up, and even in college. Yet I never got the joke until many years later. To repudiate the king was an act of treason. Should Hancock have been caught, the signed Declaration would have been the first and only necessary piece of evidence in his treason trial. The extra-large signature was the exclamation point on the sentence.
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Hancock’s signature is not the only legendary piece of gallows humor from the Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin famously said that "we must all hang together or surely we shall all hang separately." Less well known is the, probably apocryphal, story of Benjamin Harrison, a big burly Virginian, turning to Elbridge Gerry, a pipsqueak of a man from Massachusetts and saying, "I will have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead."
As we celebrate this, the two hundred fortieth anniversary of America's Declaration of Independence, it is worth remembering and paying honor to our ancestors who risked "their lives, fortunes, and their sacred honor" for the liberty of our country.