Happy Birthday, John Hancock!

Today in history, John Hancock was born (January 23, 1737).

Known by most for his large and stylish signature on the Declaration of Independence, Hancock was a prominent figure during the resistance to the Stamp Act, and later in the events that led up to the American Revolution. He was both the first and third Governor of Massachusetts as well.

Hancock, who was not present at the Philadelphia Convention, had misgivings about the Constitution’s lack of a bill of rights and what many in the opposition considered a shift of power to a central government. In January 1788, he was elected president of the Massachusetts ratifying convention, although he was was not present at the beginning due to being ill.

Due to strong opposition, the fate of the Constitution “as it now stands” in the state, and thus as a whole, was in doubt. Without recommended amendments, ratification would almost certainly fail in Massachusetts, with likely rejections to follow in New York, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Federalist supporters felt that Hancock was the ideal person to propose recommendatory amendments since he was viewed favorably by both Federalists and “Antifederalists.”

During the convention, Hancock rarely spoke, but as it drew to a close, he gave a speech in favor of ratification on 31 January 1788. Eager to hear one of the Revolution’s favorite sons, the galleries were filled with the general public.

Hancock called for the Constitution to be unconditionally ratified with nine recommendatory amendments. According to Hancock’s proposition, the Convention was to ratify the Constitution unconditionally, while recommending that the form of ratification include amendments that would be considered by the first federal Congress. The Convention, acting in the name of the people of Massachusetts, would instruct the state’s delegation to the first federal Congress to pursue these recommendatory amendments.

The first of those recommendations was a precursor to what became the 10th Amendment:

First, That it be explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several States to be by them exercised.

 

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