John Hancock (1737-1793) was president of Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted; he signed the document with a large signature in the center, supposedly saying:
“There, I guess King George will be able to read that!”
There is no contemporary evidence that Hancock said anything when he signed the Declaration. “There! John Bull can read my name without spectacles“ was cited in print in 1841. “There, now, the King (King George III—ed.) can read that without his spectacles” was cited in 1856.
[This entry was prepared with research assistance from the Quote Investigator.]
Wikipedia: John Hancock
John Hancock (January 23, 1737 [O.S. January 12, 1736] – October 8, 1793) was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence, so much so that the term “John Hancock” became, in the United States, a synonym for signature.
Signing the Declaration
Hancock was president of Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. He is primarily remembered by Americans for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration, so much so that “John Hancock” became, in the United States, an informal synonym for signature. According to legend, Hancock signed his name largely and clearly so that King George could read it without his spectacles, but the story is apocryphal and originated years later.
10 July 1841, Public Ledger (Philadelphia, PA), pg. 1, col. 5:
Revolutionary Anecdotes—It is well remembered that a reward of (pound sign—ed.) 500 was offered for the head of John Hancock. When he signed the Declaration of Independence, he did it with a bold hand, in a conspicuous manner, and rose from his seat, pointed to it, exclaimed, “there John Bull can read my name without spectacles, he may double his reward and I put him at defiance.”
31 August 1841, New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, NH), pg. 2, col. 2:
Revolutionary Anecdote. It is well remembered that a reward of (pound sign—ed.) 500 was offered for the head of John Hancock. When he signed the Declaration of Independence, he did it with a bold hand, in a conspicuous manner, and rising from his seat, pointed to it, exclaimed, ‘there! John Bull can read my name without spectacles—he may double his reward, and I put him at defiance.’
20 September 1844, Daily Atlas (Boston, MA), pg. 3, col. 6:
In allusion to Hancock remark in relation to his signature of the Declaration of Independence—that it was “so large that John Bull can read it without his spectacles”—...
9 December 1847, Indiana State Sentinel (Indianapolis, IN), pg. 3, col. 1:
Anecdotes of the days of the Revolution.
JOHN HANCOCK.—A large reward was offered for the head of this first President of the American Congress by the British Government. When he signed the Declaration of Independence, he did it with a bold hand, in a conspicuous manner, and rising from his seat and pointing to it, exclaimed: “There, John Bull can read my name without spectacles; he may double his reward and I put him at defiance.”
27 July 1854, The Youth’s Companion, “The Event We Celebrate,” pg. 54, col. 3:
“There! Johnny Bull can read that without spectacles; let him double the reward—I defy him!”
Our Countrymen: or, Brief Memoirs of Eminent Americans
By Benson John Lossing
New York, NY: Ensign, Bridgman & Fanning
With a hand as firm as his heart, he affixed that signature to the Declaration of Independence, saying, “The British ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward.”
28 December 1855, Washington (PA) Examiner, “Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” pg. 1, col. 2:
It was in allusion to this, when, having in such mammoth characters affixed his name to the Declaration, he (John Hancock—ed.) threw down his pen with the remark: “There! Johnny Bull can read that without spectacles; let him double the reward—I defy him!” His grateful country is, and ever will be proud of him.
4 August 1856, True American (Steubenville, OH), pg. 1, col. 1:
Hancock is said to have observed, without much facetiousness, immediately after affixing his name to the Magna Charta of our rights, “There, now, the King can read that without his spectacles.”
28 August 1890, Demcoratic Northwest (Napoleon, OH), pg. 1, col. 6:
Then there is Hancock, he it was who when it was a question whether or not it would cost the lives of the men who did it, signed the Declaration and said: “There, I guess King George can see that without his spectacles.”
15 November 1899, Willmar (MN) Tribune, pg. 1, col. 1 ad:
John Hancock wrote his name in big letters, then he looked at it with pride and remarked:
“King George will be able to read that signature without spectacles.”
(Roise & Qvale, The Big Store.—ed.)
19 January 1930, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Throng Sees Pageant at New Auditorium,” pg. 14, col. 4:
John Hancock rose and sharpened his quill and announced that he would write his name so King George wouldn’t have to put on his spectacles to read it, and the congressmen crowded to the table.
3 July 1936, Richardson (TX) Echo, “Millions Yearly View Declaration,” pg. 2, col. 4:
“I’ll write it large so King George can read it without his spectacles.”
30 October 1939, The Times Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Answers to Questions” by Frederick J. Haskin, pg. 10, col. 7:
Q. Why is a signature called a John Hancock? C. H. L.
A. “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” was the remark of John Hancock on signing the Declaration of Independence. His was the first signature and it was written in so bold a hand that the expression “John Hancock” became the synonym for signature.
The Quote Verifier:
Who Said What, Where, and When
By Ralph Keyes
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
“There, I guess KING GEORGE will be able to read that!”
Verdict: Patriotic apocrypha.
Last updated: 3 July 2014
John Hancock and Bull Story
Claim: When John Hancock affixed his famously large signature to the Declaration of Independence, he proclaimed, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!”
Example: [Collected via the Internet, June 2013]
Independence Day Quotes From America’s Founding Fathers
by KERRY PICKET 4 Jul 2014, 10:12 AM PDT
Signing the Declaration of Independence was not without its costs. Below are quotes are from some of the signers of America’s Declaration of Independence.
There, I guess King George will be able to read that. - John Hancock
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • Friday, July 04, 2014 • Permalink