We hold this truth to be self-evident: John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration of Independence was too big. But what if the problem wasn’t that Hancock’s signature was too large—it was that everyone else’s was unnecessarily small? What if Hancock’s only looks grandiose by comparison with the self-abnegating autographs of his fellow continental congressmen? There’s no question Hancock’s signature is the biggest, and by a wide margin. By my measurements, Hancock’s signature comes in at 1.3 inches tall and 4.7 inches wide. This makes the box needed to enclose the signature 6.1 square inches. Compare that with Sam Adams’ signature, which takes up a mere 0.6 square inches of surface area.
Every Fourth of July, some Americans sit down to read the Declaration of Independence, reacquainting themselves with the nation’s founding charter exactly as it was signed by the Second Continental Congress in 1776.