What’s in a Name: 3 Pieces of Legislation with Misleading Titles

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Upon winning independence, our founding fathers were wary of centralized power. They understood the corrupting nature of power, and set about creating a system meant to balance power, and reduce greed and corruption. 

Our system of “checks and balances” is supposed to ensure that the government doesn’t violate the constitution, and they were successful.. for a while.

Arguably the first erosion to this system came in 1913, when the 62nd Congress voted to pass the 17th amendment. Prior to 1913; the general population would directly elect members of their community to represent their interests in the House of Representatives, while state legislatures would pick 2 citizens of the state to serve the interests of the state at the federal level. When state legislatures picked Senators to represent their state, the Senator holds no power, if you’re not living up to your obligations, than the legislature would replace you.  Counteracting the members of the house who would stay in power by using charm to win re-election. The general population lives in an echo-chamber. If you’re a liberal, you watch MSNBC and read Slate on your phone while driving the kids to school.  If you’re a republican you watch “The Five” on Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh on your lunch break. When you think about it, it’s incredibly easy to trigger Democrats,Republicans, and Libertarians.

For example most Democrats LOVE giving their takes on these topics:

 

  • Income inequality
  • Healthcare
  • Identity politics 
  • Environmental concerns
  • Abortion
  • Guns
  • Taxes not being high enough

 

While Republicans will lose their mind for:

 

  • Illegal immigration
  • Military spending
  • Police
  • Guns
  • Taxes
  • Christianity
  • Muslims
  • Abortion

Libertarians? We will lose our mind for just about anything, but if you want to get us going discuss:

  • Roads
  • Military
  • Public Education
  • Free Markets/Regulations
  • Entitlement Programs
  • Ron Paul
  • Government spending

 

We’re all hypocrites. Democrats care about identity politics, unless you’re a person of color who may disagree with you politically.  They want government mandated equality for every gender and race, except white guys. Republicans think we spend too much. Specifically on regulations, bureaucracy, and entitlement programs; but balk at cutting military spending, despite finding $125 billion in administrative waste, or any government spending that helps them remain in power; you’re a conservative farmer who wants to cut food stamps? Alright, how about after we cut corn subsidies? Last month I wrote about how Social Security is destroying our country and Republicans went ballistic. Libertarians are the most annoying people on the planet, nobody’s a “real” libertarian, we have a portion of the party that wants free markets, but is anti-immigration and “America first.” We have a county chair in Michigan who supports Antifa, and our Vice Presidential candidate appeared to be actively supporting Hillary. Literally no consistency.

Our general stupidity, and tendency towards hypocrisy has allowed the career politician to thrive. Knowing we react to buzz words and topics that sound sexy, they use psychology to garner support. Just look at the title of the bills they write .

The Patriot Act

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Sixteen years ago next month, on 10/26/01,  George W. Bush signed the “USA Patriot Act” into law. Passed in the aftermath of September 11th by a vote of 98-1 in the Senate, and 357-66 (it is worth mentioning that the only Republicans to vote against this bill were Robert Ney, Butch Otter, and Ron Paul) in the House, in an attempt to curb terrorism.  

To put it simply, the legislation was passed in a panic with very little debate. Former Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner introduced H.R. 3162 on October 23, 2001, the House passed it the next day, and within 72 hours we had passed legislation that massively expanded the scope of the federal government.

There is nothing “patriotic” about the “Patriot Act.”  The indefinite detention of immigrants? That violates the sixth amendment. “Enhanced surveillance?” That’s led to NSA wiretapping, a clear violation of the fourth amendment. A lot can be said about some of the shady things in our Constitution, but the most important political document in American history isn’t the Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence; it’s the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. Both collections of essays helped develop this country; while the Federalist Papers defended the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists demanded there be a Bill of Rights to protect the people from the government.

The point is, the first ten amendments to the constitution are so important that it almost tore apart this country.  And in a moment of panic, we passed laws that violate the bill of rights.

The reason the Patriot Act keeps getting extended (last extended by Obama in 2011), is that no politician wants to appear weak on national security, and being against the Patriot Act means you support terrorism, so politicians continue to support it. Even though it doesn’t  work and often ruins lives.

Affordable Healthcare for America Act

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The “Affordable Healthcare for America Act,” commonly referred to as “Obamacare” was President Obama’s landmark legislative achievement. FDR had “The New Deal,” Johnson had his “Great Society,” Barack Obama has “Obamacare.”

Signed into law by the 111th Congress in March of 2010, with a single Republican voting for the legislation (Joseph Cao, Louisiana). 39 Democrats voted against the bill, bringing the final tally to 220 for, and 215 against.

The legislation is exceptionally long, and provided healthcare to 24 million uninsured Americans (at the threat of a tax for non-compliance). After surviving the Supreme Court, Obamacare premiums have continued to soar. As the “New York Times” points out;

“While fewer than 20 million Americans buy their own insurance, the tribulations of the individual market have captured most of the public’s attention. The average cost of a benchmark plan in the individual market rose 20 percent this year, according to Kaiser, as insurers tried to stem their losses. “

Although they later go on to defend the Affordable Care Act, the fact is that using the the term “affordable” is a misnomer. Being forced to pay for insurance you don’t want, that rises at a rate of 20% annually, under threat of punishment is the exact opposite of “affordable.”

The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984

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Unlike some other pieces of legislation, “The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984,” enacted by President Reagan in October of 1984, doesn’t have a flashy nickname. The name itself is straightforward and to the point. An idiot could conceive what this legislation was meant to do. When enacted it became the first comprehensive revision of the United States criminal code since 1900. Like the Patriot Act for Bush, and “Obamacare” for Obama, “Comprehensive Crime Control” was meant to be, and is, a cornerstone of Reagan’s legacy.

The name itself is brilliant. Nobody likes crime, crime is bad. We need to get rid of crime.

But what is crime?

We all have our own moral code, our own sense of right and wrong. We all define crime differently. A soccer mom from Kansas is going to have a different vision of right and wrong than a poor kid from LA.

The benign nature of the name meant most people wouldn’t pay any attention to it. The goal was if you were against crime, than the average American wouldn’t give it a second glance.

Problem is the legislation was not benign. This country was founded on a set of principles that valued the individual over the community, the community over the state, and the state over the federal government. When it came to legal affairs the founding fathers preferred to leave the punishment of citizens to locals. A soccer mom in Kansas and a poor kid in LA have different experiences, values, and ways of life, it only makes sense that there would be minimal federal oversight on criminal affairs. That was true until small government conservatives created the United States Sentencing Commission, and put them in charge of normalizing prison sentencing.  Their recommendations became the “Armed Career Criminal Act,” creating mandatory minimums. Mandatory minimums have had a jarring effect on society. Disproportionately affecting people of color, and lower economic status, hurting multiple generations. Mandatory minimums created career criminals, comprehensive crime reform just created more crime.

The legislation also reinstated the federal death penalty, increased penalties for marijuana possession and cultivation, and created the despicable act of civil asset forfeiture .

All of this was able to get through because the name was self-explanatory and boring.
How a lawmaker labels their legislation matters. These pieces of legislation affect hundreds of millions of lives. What they pass matters. Using clever, or boring names and nicknames to either attract or repel attention is manipulation that pays off in votes. We need to demand better.

 

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Independence Day, What Actually Happened on July 4th, 1776

Yesterday a good friend and I attended a political function for the announcement of Missouri’s Senate race, Austin Petersen. As we listened to the crowd cheer and scream I was beginning to wonder if most people truly understood the importance of July 4th, 1776. Having spent the majority of my life as a history lover I didn’t think much of it and went on with the evenings festivities.

On that late evening listening to the fireworks from everyone celebrating Independence Day I stumbled upon a tongue-in-cheek meme that describes what colonists were rebelling against. After reading the comments it occurred to me that in fact most people truly don’t understand the reasons behind colonial rebellion. Every comment was pointing out this day is about how we gain our Independence and how it’s a day to support our armed forces. I do not disagree with the later of those points, however July 4th, 1776 is NOT the day the thirteen original colonies gained their independence. It was the day that the 13 Colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, it had been written two days prior by the Continental Congress, July 2nd, 1776.

The American Revolution had in fact began April 19th, 1775 in Concord, MA. This was the first of many battles to come, and also marked the beginning of the American people rebelling against their tyrannical king, King George III. During the next 8 years the American people would experience The Stamp Act, Sugar Act, Townshend Acts, and numerous other acts against the American people by the British Crown. After 8 years of war and numerous deaths, the 13 Colonies would gain their Independence on September 3rd, 1783. Yes, you’ve read that right, no matter what your calendar at work says, September 3rd, 1783 is our true Independence Day, not July 4th, 1776.

All that being said I hope at minimum this provides you a bit a history refresher, as all of us learned these things as 6th Graders, but have forgotten. So come September 3rd I am going to assume you’ll be drinking Jack Daniels and slamming back a cold Yuengling.

 

Five Forgotten Founding Fathers: John Jay

 

John Jay was not among the 56 delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence. At that point in time his duties as a New York Congressman prevented him from voting on, or signing the Declaration.  Despite not being at Independence Hall on August 2nd, 1776 to sign the document, few men had as great an impact on American History as John Jay.

Unlike Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whose legacies have been honored by beer and financial services companies, the name “John Jay” was most recently in the news earlier this week after a fight broke out at his namesake high school, resulting in 2 people being stabbed, and one being bitten in the chest. The first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court deserves better.

Early Life

Born to a prominent, wealthy family in New York, John Jay was rather unique among the Founding Fathers in the sense that he had no British ancestry. His father’s family descended from France, while his mother’s family was Dutch.

In 1685 John’s grandfather, Augustus Jay, moved to New York from France to escape religious persecution.  Once in New York, Augustus became a successful merchant, passing his business on to his son, Peter.  The success of the Jay family allowed Peter the opportunity to marry Mary Van Cortland, whose father Jacobus twice served as mayor of New York City.  

John’s childhood was rather bland. Spending most of his time studying, Jay would go on to receive his law degree from what is now Columbia University.

Politics and Revolution

As a successful young lawyer, Jay fought for property rights, and preserving the rule of law. His beliefs got him selected as a delegate to the First, and Second Continental Congresses where he was a member of the conservative faction that tirelessly resisted infringement by the British on American rights.

Although Jay initially sough reconciliation, John Jay had no ties to Britain, he had no qualms in speaking out against the crown, he saw himself as an American, not as a British subject.  

Although his duties to the state of New York prevented him from voting on the Declaration of Independence, Jay did his part, serving on the congressional committee that would monitor British actions within the state.

In 1777, as the American Revolution was going on around him, Jay drafted the New York State Constitution, which more effectively limited government than charters in other states.  Also in 1777, Jay was selected to serve as the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, experience which would help prepare him to become our nations first Chief Justice.

John Jay: Diplomat

In the fall of 1779 John Jay was named the American minister to Spain with the goal of convincing the Spaniards to give us a loan. The Spanish were not overly receptive of Jay, refusing to recognize American independence for fear that recognition would spark revolution in their own colonies. Jay did, however, convince the Spanish to loan us $170,000.

In 1782 John Jay met up with Ben Franklin and John Adams to help negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the American Revolution securing American independence. Jay negotiated one hell of a deal, from Britannica:

By the terms of the U.S.-Britain treaty, Britain recognized the independence of the United States with generous boundaries to the Mississippi River but retained Canada. Access to the Newfoundland fisheries was guaranteed to Americans, and navigation of the Mississippi was to be open to both Great Britain and the United States. Creditors of neither country were to be impeded in the collection of their debts, and Congress was to recommend to the states that American loyalists be treated fairly and their confiscated property restored. (Some of these provisions were to cause later difficulties and disputes.)

Federalist Papers

Jay joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in writing 85 essays under the pseudonym  “Publius” in support of ratifying the Constitution.  John Jay’s support of the Constitution was based on the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, pointing out to the people of New York:

The Congress under the Articles of Confederation may make war, but are not empowered to raise men or money to carry it on—they may make peace, but without power to see the terms of it observed—they may form alliances, but without ability to comply with the stipulations on their part—they may enter into treaties of commerce, but without power to [e]nforce them at home or abroad…—In short, they may consult, and deliberate, and recommend, and make requisitions, and they who please may regard them.

Although the Federalist Papers consist of 85 essays, Jay only wrote 5 of them (2-5, and 64). In these papers, Jay lays out his reasoning for supporting a unified government.

The Jay Court

The Supreme Court is laid out in Article III of the Constitution, although the Federal Court System wasn’t laid out until the Judiciary Act of 1789. Under this act, 13 district courts, 3 circuit courts, and the Supreme Court were all officially created.  From 1789 till 1795 John Jay served as the first Chief Justice of that court, during that 6 year period, the court only heard four cases.

The 1793 case Chisholm v. Georgia was the first major Supreme Court case. During the war, Georgia had seized land from those loyal to the crown. After the war, they had refused to return the land.  The Jay Court ruled that states could be sued in federal court.

During his time as Chief Justice, John Jay traveled to Britain to negotiate what has become known as the “Jay Treaty.” The treaty helped prevent a second war between America and Britain, and resolved 3 key issues:

Tensions between the United States and Britain remained high after the Revolutionary War as a result of three key issues. British exports flooded U.S. markets, while American exports were blocked by British trade restrictions and tariffs. The British occupation of northern forts that the British Government had agreed to vacate in the Treaty of Paris (1783) as well as recurrent Native American attacks in these areas also frustrated Americans. Finally, Britain’s impressments of American sailors and seizure of naval and military supplies bound to enemy ports on neutral ships brought the two nations to the brink of war in the late 1700s.

While he may not be the most well known founding father, the role he played in the birth of America is undeniable. This Tuesday, make a toast to John Jay: America’s utility knife.

Five Forgotten Founding Fathers: Samuel Adams

 

 

With Independence Day right around the corner, I think it’s important that we celebrate the men that ensured our independence from King George. Everyone knows who John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington are, but revolution was a team effort, and much like how the Golden State Warriors wouldn’t have won the 2015 NBA Title without Andre Iguodala, America wouldn’t be possible without Samuel Adams.

The Boston native was a vital part of the independence movement who took part in some of the key moments in American history.

Early Life

Born into a wealthy family in September of 1722 to Samuel and Mary Adams, his father was a deacon in the church who used his influence in the religious community to earn himself a spot on the “Boston Caucus.”  

The term “caucus” is a distinctly American term, first appearing as “corca” in the “Boston Gazette,” which proclaimed;

“certain Persons, of the modern Air and Complexion, to the Number of Twelve at least, have divers Times of late been known to combine together, and are called by the Name of the New and Grand Corcas, tho’ of declared Principles directly opposite to all that have been heretofore known…”

The Gazette was speaking of the “Boston Caucus,” which helped shape the agenda for the “Boston Town Meeting.”  Who historians have called the “most democratic institution in the British empire.”

Being a member of the Boston Caucus would eventually cost the Adams family dearly.They faced financial ruin 1741 when the British Empire held Samuel Adams Sr, and other Boston Caucus members personally liable for certificates they issued after they had created a “land bank.”

These banks would issue out currency to people willing to use their land as collateral. The bank was popular, but the British saw it as undermining their power and dissolved the bank. They promised that all notes would be honored, and held the caucus liable.

The issues with the crown had a profound effect on Samuel Adams, who in his thesis argued that it was;

“lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved”

Later in his life Adams would further state that the lawsuits that he faced during that period

“served as a constant personal reminder that Britain’s power over the colonies could be exercised in arbitrary and destructive ways”.

 

Action Against the British

Like Hancock, Adams made a name for himself after the “Sugar Act” was passed by Parliament in 1764. Adams argued that the British could not tax colonists if they were not represented in congress. He made his views known at a Boston Town Meeting in 1764 saying

For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands? Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of? This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges, which as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our Fellow Subjects who are Natives of Britain. If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?

That bold proclamation became the first on record statement by a political body saying that Parliament could not legally tax colonists.

As Adams continued to make a name for himself as an outspoken Patriot, he became a scapegoat for tension within Boston.  When protests got violent in 1765, Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard blamed the violence on Adams. Bernard felt as though Adams was a master agitator, providing the protesters with propaganda.

Bernard wasn’t wrong when he called Adams an “agitator,” it was a term used to describe Adams’ involvement during the Boston Massacre in 1770, and again during the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

But perhaps the clearest indication that Adams played the role of provocateur were his actions during the British occupation of Boston.  As tensions continued to rise throughout Boston, the city found itself under occupation in 1768. During that time, Adams is believed to have wrote a series of unsigned essays on the subject,  claiming it was a violation of the 1689 Bill of Rights. These essays were published in the “New York Journal” titled “The Journal of Occurrences” they outlined what life was like during the occupation.  The essays were reprinted in newspapers all over the colonies, creating more distrust between the colonists and the British.

 

Adams will also go down in history as one of the two people Paul Revere was trying to specifically warn during his famous ride.

At the onset of the Revolutionary war, Samuel Adams was resting in Lexington, at the home of John Hancock when they received a message from Paul Revere that British troops were approaching Lexington.  At that time, Adams and Hancock escaped, deciding that they would be of better use if they were not on the battlefield. The battles at “Lexington and Concord” would later be known as the first battles of the war that pushed Congress to declare Independence from Britain on July 4th 1776.

After gaining independence, Adams would go on to serve 4 terms as Governor of Massachusetts before dying in 1802.  Samuel Adams was more than just a signatory of the Declaration of Independence; he, like Thomas Paine, utilized the power of the press to spark a revolution.

Five Forgotten Founding Fathers: John Hancock

 

With only a week before we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence; which, for our foreign readers, is an American holiday where we celebrate freedom from the British Empire by drinking a reckless amount of beer before playing with explosives, I thought it would be fun to profile some of the guys responsible for making the fourth so special.

Everyone knows who John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington are, but revolution was a team effort, and much like how the Golden State Warriors wouldn’t have won the 2015 NBA Title without Andre Iguodala, America wouldn’t be possible without John Hancock.

Most famous for being the largest signatory of the “Declaration of Independence,” Hancock was a fundamental player in the uprising of the colonies.

Early Life

Born January 23, 1737, John Hancock was named after his father, a clergyman who baptized John Adams in 1735.  The senior John Hancock, died while his son was still a child. Holding the belief that a child should have a father figure, his mother Mary sent John to live with his uncle Thomas, a wealthy merchant, and his aunt Lydia in 1744.

Thomas and Lydia had no children, and raised John as their own. Thomas soon began to groom John to take over “Hancock House,” which imported manufactured goods from Britain, while exporting rum, whale oil, fish, and other goods.  The business meant that the Hancock’s were one of Boston’s wealthiest families.

John Hancock was considered to be exceptionally smart. Upon graduating from Harvard at age 17, he went to work for his uncle, where he negotiated some exceptionally profitable trade contracts between “Hancock House” and Britain during the French and Indian War.  His success led him to spend a year living in London, where he witnessed the coronation of King George III in 1761.  

John Hancock was a man who actively sought wealth and power, joining the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew in 1762, gave him access to some of the wealthiest and most influential residents of Boston, connections he would leverage in his political career and during the revolution. In 1763, due to his uncle’s failing health, John Hancock took control of “Hancock House,” cementing his rise as an influential Bostonian.

The Hancock family had a generous history, endearing themselves to the city of Boston by giving generously to the church and the poor.  Upon his death in 1764, Thomas Hancock freed the family slaves, and there is no record of John Hancock ever trying to buy or sell slaves.

Political Beginnings

The French and Indian War, known as “The 7 Years War” elsewhere, had historically high costs due to the location (travelling across the ocean to fight in North America), bribing Native Americans, and loss of product due to smugglers. This caused the British debt to double between 1754 and 1763. 

The 7 Years War doubled Great Britain’s debt in only 9 years.

The “Molasses Act” which had been enacted to raise funds for the war, was set to expire in 1763. Lacking funds, it was extended and in 1764 and became known as the “Sugar Act.” The tax caused outrage, especially in Massachusetts where Samuel Adams and James Otis led protests against “taxation without representation.” The argument essentially boiled down to the fact that Adams did not feel that Parliament could enact taxes against colonists if the colonists had nobody arguing on their behalf in Parliament.

Around the same time, John Hancock; the influential, wealthy, and generous merchant, was selected as one of Boston’s five “selectmen” in charge of governing Boston.  Initially Hancock looked to take a moderate stance on the “Stamp act” and resulting protests.  He wanted to maintain his standing as a loyal British subject. That began to change, and in 1765, possibly inspired by his friend John Adams, Hancock actively joined the resistance.  His popularity got him elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1766.

Igniting the Flames of Revolution

The passage of the “Townshend Acts” by British Parliament in 1767 levied new taxes on merchants in the colonies.  The acts established the “American Customs Board” as a way to catch more smugglers. Colonists rightfully felt that these acts posed a threat to their established tradition of self-government, leading to protests against “Taxation Without Representation” taking place across Massachusetts.  

These acts directly affected Hancock on April 9, 1768 when two customs agents, known as “tidesmen,” tried to board one of Hancock’s briggs, “The Lydia.” When Hancock realized they lacked a warrant, he refused them entry. Massachusetts Attorney General Jonathan Sewall ruled in Hancock’s favor. Some of Hancock’s admirers refer to this act as the “first physical resistance of British authority” and therefore credit Hancock with starting the revolution.

The “Townshend Acts” led to the “Boston Tea Party.”

Hancock came under further suspicion in 1768 when his ship Liberty  showed up to port carrying only ¼ of its capacity. Britain suspected he was unloading most of his haul in order to avoid taxes. Upon being brought up on charges, Hancock enlisted his old friend John Adams to defend him against the crown.  After a long, drawn out trial which took five months, the charges were inexplicably dropped.  

The incident with “Liberty” helped to reinforce the British decision to crack down on opposition throughout Massachusetts.

Revolution

Hancock’s political career was kicked into high gear in 1774, when  Massachusetts selected him to replace James Bowdoin at the second continental congress. On May 24, 1775, his colleagues named him the president of the Second Continental Congress.  

Hancock’s position was unique.  Not only was he the president of Congress, but Hancock simultaneously served as the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, giving him an enormous amount of power.  At the time, Massachusetts was Great Britain’s biggest problem, so by electing Hancock as their president, the Second Continental Congress was recognizing Hancock’s importance. Specifically his ability to effectively communicate with both rich moderates, and radical Patriots.

The thought of revolution made Congress a target. In April of 1775 the Lord of Dartmouth ordered British General Thomas Gage to arrest members of the Provincial Congress on charges of treason and rebellion. Feeling emboldened, on April 18, 1775 General Gage sent troops to Concord to seize military suppli

The battles of Lexington and Concord marked the first military engagements of the revolution.

es being stored by the colonists. Patriots also believed that Gage was heading to Lexington to arrest Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been resting at Hancock’s old family home. This prompted Paul Revere to ride to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams of impending danger. The two managed to escape right before the Battle of Lexington and Concord which became the first battle in the American Revolution. After the battle, General Gage issued a pardon to any colonist who would lay down their arms. The pardon excluded Hancock and Adams, which strengthened Patriot resolve.

 

John Hancock was so much more than the first signatory of the “Declaration of Independence.” He was a businessman, a philanthropist, an assemblyman, the president of the most important Congress in American history, and a rebel who would later serve as the first governor of Massachusetts. His unique position as a wealthy merchant who believed in revolution helped to energize Boston to rise up against the British.  This fourth of July, crack a cold one in honor of John Hancock.