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This illustrious patriot, than whom perhaps not one of all his contemporaries enjoyed in his time, a higher place in the consideration of the American community, was born within the precincts of the pleasant town of Quincy, a place which has had the honor of furnishing, not only two of the seven chief magistrates of the Union, but no small number also of other remarkable men, well and favorably distinguished in the history of their native land. Quincy was, at the time of HANCOCK's birth, in the year 1737, a part of the large and ancient town of Braintree, (which comprised likewise the modern territory of the same name, together with a part of the township of Randolph, in addition to Quincy ;) and hence the apparent inconsistency in the statements of different writers who have noticed the life of the subject of this memoir.
The grandfather and the father of HANCOCK were both clergymen, and men of very considerable reputation. The former resided for half a century at Lexington, in the county of Middlesex ; a spot which subsequently became hallowed ground, in conjunction with Concord, the adjoining town, by having witnessed the first battle of the American revolution, and where the writer has seen within the current year, in the wood-work of the old houses around the green, which “still stand as they stood that day," the traces of bullets discharged at our militia men from the guns of the advancing enemy.
The father of HANCOCK, of the same name with himself, has received no little eulogy for the services which he rendered to the cause of learning, as well as religion, in his native province. One of the brothers of this gentleman, however, is still better known by merits of a similar discription, as well as by the recommendation of having elevated himself from an humble and obscure condition of life, by his industry, intelligence, and energy, to the rank of the most eminent merchant in the northern states. He was for several years honored with high situations in the political departments of the province; and what is more to his lasting praise, he appropriated a liberal portion of his well earned revenue to the establishment of a professorship in Harvard University, and to the increase of the library of that institution, where his name, in golden letters, may be seen to this day over one of the alcoves.
At this seminary-now become so celebrated for the great names it has introduced to the history of the country, and still more the subject of public regard, in the period of HANCOCK's youth, as not only the oldest, but far the most learned and most amply endowed literary institution among us—the subject of our memoir received, under the charge of the paternal uncle just mentioned, his collegiate education. His father had deceased during his infancy, and he was thus, perhaps not very unfortunately, cast upon the kindness of a relative who seems to have been as cheerfully disposed, and as well qualified, as he was abundantly able by his means at command, to bestow on his young protégé, all the expense and exertion which were deemed subservient to his comfort and promotion.
He was graduated at Harvard, in the year 1754, at the early age of seventeen. With what honors he came off at his commencement, or what reputation as a scholar he acquired, during his course of study in the institution, we are not now enabled to ascertain; but the intelligence, as well as the ambition and the application, which he afterwards manifested on frequent occasions of as much interest to his countrymen as to himself, give us reason to believe that his character must have received at this early period, no inconsiderable weight from the development of the same virtues and powers that finally raised him to the highest place in the confidence of the American people.
That the indistinct and incomplete account which has reached us of this portion of his career, supplies no glowing description of any precocious and prodigious display of genius on the part of the youthful aspirant, is a mischance which other great men have participated with himself; and on the other hand, the assertion advanced by occasional writers, that his college career was passed chiefly in indolent insignificance, or at best in mediocre regularity, is believed to be without the slightest foundation in truth, as it is in proof. He who searches, at this day, among the documents of HANCOCK's own time, and especially of the period of his political advancement, for the opinions which his contemporaries entertained, or professed to entertain, in regard to his true character, must cautiously discriminate between the statements of indifferent testimony, and the aspersions of rancorous political rivals and foes. The remark applies to the case before us, with perhaps scarcely less force than to those of even Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton themselves. No statesman in this country, of however exalted renown, has been so fortunate as to receive the reward of his patriotism at the hands of the public, without a mixture of bitter accusation and violent attack, blended therewith, from time to time, quite sufficient to satisfy the most inordinate appetite for the excitement of popular contest. In this connexion it is well observed, too, by Sanderson, that the imputation of dulness, and even of stupidity has been attached, during the rudiments of their education, to some of the brightest ornaments of literature; and many have excited the admiration of the world by a youthful pregnancy of genius, whose names have perished before the hour of parturition.
For six years subsequent to the conclusion of his academical course, Hancock was engaged most of his time as a clerk in the counting-house of his uncle, who was then at the height of his commercial prosperity. In 1760 he visited the mother country, and during that period was present at the funeral of George II., and the coronation of his successor-a monarch with the principles and policy of whose administration he then little anticipated the serious conflict which subsequently occurred.
After his return to his own country, at the age of twenty-seven, the decease of his uncle put him, by the will of that generous patron, in possession of a munificent fortune, reputed to have been the most ample property held by any individual in the province, and probably little inferior to any other American estate.
This accidental and fortunate advantage, though it has never been pretended that the proprietor used it with other than a spirit of the most noble liberality, proved, under circumstances which have been already alluded to, another fruitful occasion of ungenerous remarks upon his conduct and motives. It certainly enabled him to live in a style which differed materially from that adopted by his great rival, Samuel Adams. The latter was in moderate circumstances, and was obliged to conform in his manners and habits to the somewhat severe republicanism of the times. But Hancock had been edu. cated in the home of elegant hospitality, and his revenue was abundantly adequate to the gratification of the most liberal taste. He kept a splendid equipage, riding, upon public occasions at least, with servants in livery, and six beautiful bays, while his apparel was sumptuously embroidered with gold or silver lace, and all the other fashionable decorations of the day. He was fond, also, in later life, of dancing, music, concerts, routs, assemblies, card parties, rich wines, social dinners, and festivities of every description, which he supposed unobjectionable, and which were popular with a very considerable class of the population of Boston.
We come now to the consideration of the political career of Mr. Hancock, and it cannot fail to be the most obvious inference from such a review, that whatever might be the bitterness of individual opponents at different periods, and although his popularity with even the mass of his fellow citizens was occasionally, in times of high excitement, subject to eclipse, yet, on the whole, few men who have lived in this country, at any stage in its history, have enjoyed a more substantial share of political promotion or popular favor.
He was elected one of the selectmen of Boston soon after his return from England, and continued to hold that office for several years. In 1766, he was chosen, with James Otis, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Cushing, a representative to the general assembly of the province. There was at this time, as the city papers of the date above named sufficiently indicate, a good deal of excitement stirred up in the public mind relating to the measures of the British government; and this circumstance, not less than the company with whom he was associated in his office, plainly prove the high degree of confidence already reposed in both his integrity and his talents. He is said to have been somewhat indebted, for his early advancement, to the kindly offices of Samuel Adams, a gentleman with whom he subsequently found occasion to differ in political sentiment on several occasions, but it is believed not to the disparagement of the mutual respect of the parties.
In the assembly, Mr. HANCOCK, though but thirty years of age, was immediately placed in the foremost rank of the leading and working men, being not only nominated to most of the important committees of that respectable body, but upon more than one occasion of great and general interest, appointed to the chairmanship over associates of high reputation.
In the impositions attempted by the British government, in regard to the importation of foreign merchandise into this country, Mr.