John Hancock | Biography, Education, Declaration of Independence, & Facts | Britannica

John Hancock, American statesman who was a leading figure in the Revolutionary War and the first signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He hoped to become commander in chief of the Continental Army, but George Washington was selected instead. Hancock served as the governor of Massachusetts.

Source: John Hancock | Biography, Education, Declaration of Independence, & Facts | Britannica

John Hancock, (born January 12, 1737, Braintree (now in Quincy), Massachusetts—died October 8, 1793, Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.), American statesman who was a leading figure during the Revolutionary War and the first signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

After graduating from Harvard (1754), Hancock entered a mercantile house in Boston owned by his uncle Thomas Hancock, who later left him a large fortune. In 1765 he became a selectman of Boston and from 1769 to 1774 was a member of the Massachusetts General Court. He was chairman of the Boston town committee formed immediately after the Boston Massacre in 1770 to demand the removal of British troops from the city.

In 1774 and 1775 Hancock was president of the first and second provincial congresses, and he shared with Samuel Adams the leadership of the Massachusetts Patriots. With Adams he was forced to flee Lexington for Philadelphia when warned in April 1775 that he was being sought by General Thomas Gage’s troops, approaching from Boston. Hancock was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1780; he served as its president from May 1775 to October 1777. He hoped to become commander in chief of the Continental Army, but George Washington was selected instead.

Hancock was a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1780 and in the same year was elected governor of the state. He served in Congress under the Articles of Confederation in 1785–86 and then returned to the governorship. He presided over the Massachusetts Convention of 1788 that ratified the federal Constitution, although he had been unfriendly at first toward the document. Hancock died while serving his ninth term as governor.

In Memoriam: Lawrence Brooks (1909-2022) | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans

The National WWII Museum is saddened to hear of the passing of Lawrence Brooks, who died today. At age 112, he was the oldest known living US veteran.

Source: In Memoriam: Lawrence Brooks (1909-2022) | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans

One of 15 children, Brooks was born on September 12, 1909, and was raised in Norwood,  Louisiana, a small village about 40 miles north of Baton Rouge. He was drafted into the US Army at the age of 31 and spent World War II in the predominantly African American 91st Engineer Battalion. He was stationed in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Classified as service personnel, he cleaned and cooked for three of the battalion’s white officers and attained the rank of Private 1st Class.

Returning home after the war, Brooks worked as a forklift operator for four decades, retiring in his seventies. His wife, Leona, died in November 2008, and he is survived by five children, 13 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren.

Since 2014, The National WWII Museum has hosted Brooks’ birthday parties—he turned 105 that year—and his good humor and enthusiasm at these celebrations made him a much beloved figure on the Museum’s New Orleans campus. Due to the pandemic, the Museum hosted his 111th and 112th birthday celebrations socially distanced at his New Orleans home with a car and Jeep parade, the Victory Belles singing troupe, and even a military flyover and a New Orleans jazz band. In 2020, the Museum launched a birthday card drive for him that generated an outpouring of affection, with Brooks receiving over 21,500 cards from all 50 states and nearly 30 countries.

“The Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers at The National WWII Museum will forever cherish the memories we shared with Lawrence Brooks,” said Stephen J. Watson, Museum President & CEO. “He was a beloved friend, a man of great faith and had a gentle spirit that inspired those around him. As the nation’s oldest known living veteran, he proudly served our country during World War II, and returned home to serve his community and church. His kindness, smile and sense of humor connected him to generations of people who loved and admired him. We send our sincerest condolences to his daughter Vanessa and the entire Brooks family.”

Despite having what was considered a fairly safe assignment during World War II, Brooks had several close calls. On one flight to pick up supplies between Australia and New Guinea, an engine failed on Brooks’ plane while flying over the ocean. The soldiers had to throw cargo out of the plane to compensate for the loss of power. When asked by another soldier why he was standing near the cockpit, Private Brooks replied that the pilots were the only ones with parachutes, and if he saw them running by he was going to hang on as they went out the door. In another instance, a soldier near him was killed by a Japanese sniper, and the unit was pinned down.

He remained proud of his military service for the rest of his life, although his memories of those days were mixed. “I had some good times, and I had some bad times,” Brooks once said. The violence of war did not come easy to him. “My mother and father always raised me to love people,” he remembered, “and I don’t care what kind of people they are.”

During World War II, the US military was still segregated by race, as were virtually all areas of American life, and African Americans faced pervasive discrimination and racism. Looking back at this time in Australia, he remembered, “I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people. I wondered about that.”

In Jim Crow America, however, Brooks’ story was typical. Of the 16 million Americans who donned a military uniform, no fewer than 1.2 million were African Americans. They served loyally and heroically but were treated as second-class citizens at home. The late historian Stephen Ambrose identified the great American paradox of the era: the United States fought the world’s worst racist, Adolf Hitler, but did so with a segregated army. Brooks didn’t talk about these issues with his fellow soldiers. “Every time I’d think about it, I’d get angry,” he said, “so the best thing I’d do is just leave it go.” Racial segregation within the military ranks survived World War II, and it was not until 1948 that President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981officially desegregating the armed forces.

Over the years, Brooks was asked countless times for advice and the secret to his longevity, and his answer remained consistent: “be nice to people.”

His passing underscores the urgency and importance of the Museum’s mission to preserve stories of the men and women who served in World War II for future generations. Of the 16 million US veterans who fought in World War II, approximately 240,000 remain alive, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

The entire National WWII Museum team mourns the loss of Brooks and remembers him fondly. We extend our deepest sympathies to his friends and family, and are honored to have his oral history in our collection as a permanent tribute to his service.

This Day in History: Happy Bill of Rights Day!

Source: This Day in History: Happy Bill of Rights Day!

On this day in 1791, Virginia ratifies the Bill of Rights, making those ten constitutional amendments the law of the land. The Bill of Rights, of course, includes protections for such things as freedom of speech, the right to a trial by jury, and the right to keep and bear Arms.

Ratification of the Bill of Rights couldn’t have been too surprising. The country had been stewing over the idea for years, ever since the Constitution was first proposed to the states in September 1787.

At the time, anti-Federalists were quick to denounce the proposed document, partly because it lacked a bill of rights. On the other side, pro-Constitution Federalists such as James Madison argued that a bill of rights was unnecessary. The national government created by the Constitution was one of limited powers. It had ONLY the power specifically given to it by the Constitution. Why create a list of things that it cannot do? Creating such a list might cause confusion about the limited nature of the new national government.

Nevertheless, the agitation for a bill of rights continued. Many states ratified the Constitution, but also sent recommendations for amendments to the 1st Congress.

As for James Madison, his position changed over time. At the Constitutional Convention, he seemed unconcerned when a bill of rights was not included in the Constitution. Nevertheless, he was wavering after about a year. In October 1788, he told Jefferson that he generally favored a bill of rights—assuming it did not give the national government new powers by implication—but he “never thought” that omission of these amendments was “a material defect” in the Constitution. Instead, he viewed a bill of rights as a mere “parchment barrier.”

In other words, a bill of rights was simply words on paper. The *real* protection for people’s rights lay in the structure of the Constitution—a structure with separation of powers and other checks and balances.

By June 1789, Madison’s position had evolved still more. By then, he was an active advocate for a bill of rights, and he presented a set of proposed amendments to the Congress. Madison gave a long speech to the House in which he explained his reasons. He still worried that a bill of rights, because it “enumerat[es] particular exceptions to the grant of power,” might cause some to assume that any rights “not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government.” However, he thought the Congress might write the amendments in such a way as to guard against that problem. And he thought that adoption of a bill of rights might assuage some concerns among the public. If amendments can be adopted that “will not injure the Constitution,” even as satisfaction is given “to the doubting part of our fellow-citizens,” then Madison believed that the effort was worthwhile.

By September 1789, the Congress had approved 12 amendments that it sent to the states. Ten of these were approved as the Bill of Rights that we celebrate today.

What do you think? Was Madison right the first time, in 1787? Or was his new position in 1789 better?

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