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King Hancock

The Radical Influence of a Moderate Founding Father

Brooke Barbier

ISBN 9780674271777

Publication date: 10/10/2023

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A rollicking portrait of the paradoxical patriot, whose measured pragmatism helped make American independence a reality.

Americans are surprisingly more familiar with his famous signature than with the man himself. In this spirited account of John Hancock’s life, Brooke Barbier depicts a patriot of fascinating contradictions—a child of enormous privilege who would nevertheless become a voice of the common folk; a pillar of society uncomfortable with radicalism who yet was crucial to independence. About two-fifths of the American population held neutral or ambivalent views about the Revolution, and Hancock spoke for them and to them, bringing them along.

Orphaned young, Hancock was raised by his merchant uncle, whose business and vast wealth he inherited—including household slaves, whom Hancock later freed. By his early thirties, he was one of New England’s most prominent politicians, earning a place on Britain’s most-wanted list and the derisive nickname King Hancock. While he eventually joined the revolution against England, his ever moderate—and moderating—disposition would prove an asset after 1776. Barbier shows Hancock appealing to southerners and northerners, Federalists and Anti-Federalists. He was a famously steadying force as president of the fractious Second Continental Congress. He parlayed with French military officials, strengthening a key alliance with his hospitable diplomacy. As governor of Massachusetts, Hancock convinced its delegates to vote for the federal Constitution and calmed the fallout from the shocking Shays’s Rebellion.

An insightful study of leadership in the revolutionary era, King Hancock traces a moment when passion was on the side of compromise and accommodation proved the basis of profound social and political change.

Praise

  • A concise and highly readable biography…[Hancock’s] legacy is very much worth our remembering.

    —William Anthony Hay, Wall Street Journal

Author

  • Brooke Barbier is a public historian and independent scholar with a doctorate in American history from Boston College. The author of Boston in the American Revolution: A Town versus an Empire, she founded and operates Ye Olde Tavern Tours, a popular guided outing along Boston’s renowned Freedom Trail.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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