In his work, Unger uses newspaper articles and letters as well as first-hand accounts by Hancock and other preeminent Americans. His writing provides a straightforward, rich and satisfying biography of John Hancock that only looks at modest success. Unger’s writing involves an incision of the human element and its correlation to revolutionary politics in the 18th century. Unger accomplishes this by placing majority of his focus on the private life of John Hancock and the Boston Tea Party. Other than the normal belief and history taught in classes today, Unger goes deeper into the history of the environment at the time by referring to letters from preeminent individuals such as John Hancock himself. Despite the accuracy of his sources, Unger’s work portrays a few instances of preconception which as highlighted in this paper. Other than his signature on the declaration of independence, only a few people know much about John Hancock and his role in the birth of America. Unger’s work provides a profound and in-depth account of the events leading up to the establishment of the Boston Tea Party and its subsequent result into the American Revolution which contrasts with some common beliefs and present-day teachings. Given its profound nature, Unger’s work is crucial to historians and high school students.
Based on events in the 18th century, Unger’s writing looks at the nature of events leading up to the end of the Revolutionary War. His work highlights a struggling America and a tense relationship with its British colonists. Unger portrays the events and controversies that were part and parcel of John Hancock’s life. For instance, the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, and the Stamp Act; events that culminated during the Revolutionary War. The rise of the Boston Tea Party and its significance to the period Unger details the aristocracy of the British rulers in America and how it manifested in American independence. “Indeed, many [Boston merchants] were ready to sacrifice their honor as human beings—and the blood of innocents….” (Unger, 28). According to Unger, John Hancock was a successful merchant and accomplished politician. Unger provides further information such as Hancock’s electoral victory as the president of the continental congress resulted in his attribution to the first signatory of independence. At the time, most American goods were manufactured in England. As such, most products were taxed and this would come to affect the wealthy statesmen at the time. Following the initial protests against the British, most states were reluctant to oppose British rule. However, as the president of the Continental Congress, the governor of Massachusetts was able to spread messages that incited the populace to take action against the British and demand their right to self-governance.
Unger describes the physical and social environment that makes up Hancock’s life. Samuel Adams, James Otis, and King George are the major characters represented in Unger’s work. Unger describes how Hancock’s influence over his city and people in his life resulted in his political success. According to Unger, there is a very close relationship between Hancock’s wealth and his political success. Unger believes that this success was a result of his trait as a “merchant king” who gave more to his city. For instance, he provided fire engines, city parks and many other gifts to serve the common people in his city. Unger describes Samuel Adams as a “sinister”. He states that “Hancock had become enamored of his gold-braided colonel’s uniform” (Unger, 219). He goes further to render him “power hungry” as well as noting that the Revolution only benefited the rich. Unger also describes King George’s desperation to raise government revenue to meet the costs of the government and military in America. Nonetheless, Unger portrays both Hancock and Adams as individuals interested in their own self-interests. “Warren had gone to Bunker’s Hill to warn the commander of ammunition shortages and then joined the troops at a makeshift fortification on Breed’s Hill” (Unger, 222). No other party leaders portrayed the same commitment portrayed by Warren. “He thus became the only leader of the Tea Party Patriots to jump into the trenches and fire at the enemy alongside the men he had incited to go to war” (Unger, 222). These interests and wealth that majorly defined both individuals are described as the major cause of unrest in the population.
One major weakness in Unger’s account of John Hancock is his bias against the patriots’ constitutional arguments during the Imperial Crisis. According to the Unger’s work, one reads that the argument by James Otis and Patrick Henry in regard to British Taxation and its constitutional viability were “fatuous.” This is evident as Unger states “As titular leaders of the radical majority, Otis and Adams used veiled threats of mob retaliation to gain control of every important committee in the House of Representatives” (Unger, 79). It is evident in Unger’s work that majority of the residents from Great Britain were not represented in the parliament. This meant that the colonists in North America had no special grievance. However, financial taxes levied on the common American shows otherwise. The fourth tax levied on Americans was that of tea, which marked the beginning of the protests led by Adams and Otis. This marked the initial opposition towards British monarchy. Furthermore, Unger is biased towards the perfect life of John Hancock who is depicted as being on the right. Others, such as Adams – believed to be a hero and the leader of the Sons of Liberty – is depicted as a vilified and deceitful character leads to his marginalization from the rest of the elites in Boston. Such is evident in his conflict with Hancock over the leadership of the Boston Tea Party which seems to lean mainly towards Hancock as the good character and Adams as the villain. Their difference in approaches prior to the Revolution is a clear indication of the deep divisional strategies for addressing the issues addressed at the time. It is also evident that John Hancock is Unger’s favorite. As one of the Founding Fathers, Hancock is portrayed as an image of success throughout the setting despite some of his failures.
Unger leaves readers to argue out the facts provided. His work is a thought-provoking work that challenges traditional beliefs surrounding the Revolutionary War as well as providing overlooked insight and thought from some individuals at the time. Nonetheless, Unger’s work points out to the notion that financial self-interest was the major cause of the American Revolution. At the beginning of his work, Unger states “The turmoil stripped tens of thousands of Americans of their dignity, homes, properties, and birthrights—all in the name of liberty and independence” (Unger, 3). This is a clear indication of his thought on the Revolution and the events leading up to it as a struggle for wealth guised as “…struggle for wealth as a quest for liberty for the common man” (Unger, 28). Throughout Unger’s work are instances of self-interest and their alignment with the outcome of events. For instance, Hancock who initially served the King, was reluctant to join the Patriots’ given their tactics and methods. However, due to mounting pressure resulting from the tax tariffs, Hancock was forced to join the Patriots, a move that adamantly increased his popularity among the people. This contrasts with school teachings which majorly depict anger by Americans over tea taxes.
Unger, H. (2002). John Hancock: Merchant King and American Patriot.
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