What the Founding Fathers’ Signatures Say About Them
On this July 4th we celebrated America’s Independence from England. We often think of the Founding Fathers as powdered-wig-wearing, well-read and traditional people — devout Christians who often wrote about humility before God.
But what do their signatures say about them?
Yes, it’s still a relatively unscientific science, but signature analysis has been used to decode personality traits for years. It’s been used by officials and police, namely because your brain often crafts the shape of your signature subconsciously to reflect what is most comfortable for you.
That means size, curvature, thickness, alignment, punctuation marks and spacial factors all say something about you.
So what can we learn about the men who signed the U.S.’s most historically significant document?
There are seven major categories to classify a signature. These are:
3. Use and size of names (placement, contrast, etc.)
5. Size of the first letter
6. Loops/backward strokes
Let’s first take the signature of Mr. Hancock, the name most prominently shown in the Declaration of Independence.
Firstly, we must note that his signature is in the center of the page, larger than that of everyone else. Usually, this might suggest he thought himself worthy of such a spot and believed himself above others in some aspect.
We know from history, however, that Hancock was the first man to sign the Declaration, and so he, naturally, signed in the center of the margin below the text, probably without correctly guessing how many other names would fit at the same size.
That in and of itself tells us something about him: In his eagerness to sign something he knew would be monumental, he likely neglected to consider how many others stood alongside him in the new America.
But other things stick out as well.
Notice the tail of the “J” — in typography, this is called a “descender.” It is the most obvious of the many flourishes, which also include the ornate underline after he had signed his name.
Traditionally flourishes such as these — think of them as decorations on a boring signature — suggest sentimentality and a person with ties to the past. Smaller flourishes, such as the brackets at the top of the “C” and “N”, show an attention to detail.
You’ll also notice the signature seems very well connected. There is vertical overlap of letters because of the slant, and it appears very much as a whole, with many letters even connecting. This indicates that he believed himself a focused and complete man and wanted to be understood as such.
The strong right slant on the letters indicate a person who is responsive to his world and wants to be understood.
Lastly, you’ll notice his letters are much thinner than that of many of his co-signers. This indicates a certain level of insecurity — cautiousness perhaps — and willingness to squeeze his written identity into a smaller space.
From this, we can definitely gather that John Hancock was a focused, lavishly decorated, serious man who wanted to present himself as more manly than he may have seemed. He also seems somewhat insecure at the point in time of the Declaration’s signing, and perhaps a bit selfish, which could explain the tendency to sign a large name without considering the many others who would need to fit on the page.
The next well-known name on the Declaration is that of Benjamin Franklin.
From his signature, we can see he is a well decorated man, but his writing is noticeably rounder or more rotund than that of Hancock. While he’s known to have been “more rotund” himself, the writing speaks volumes about his personality.
A rounder, fuller letter, as you see with loops and circular shapes, often signify some kind of sexual tones. In this case, we know sexuality had a large role in Franklin’s life, including a “love” for women that leads him to an affair (and an illegitimate son), and a constant flirtatious personality when it comes to the ladies.
As with Hancock, there is a strong rightward slant, which indicates he was someone always looking for a “next step” to progress, and that he wanted to contribute his own meaningful ideas to the world.
You’ll also notice that Franklin fails to dot either the “J” or the “I” in his name. This is almost always a key element in assessing someone’s attention to minute details. While Franklin certainly was a brilliant man, he was not the most well-organized or orderly.
Usually men of this era like to speak their minds and share ideas, but surprisingly, Jefferson’s signature suggests something different.
Notice the sloppy, almost illegible signature. For a man who wrote constantly from the time he was a child, and enjoyed writing letters, he does not write very neatly (compare that with his hand-written letters, which are quite easily legible).
This is an example of a man who wants to be seen, but does not want to be truly noticed or known in this circumstance.
The only other plausible takeaway from this signature is that he signed a great many autographs and was in a rush, or did not care to pay any attention. Given the regard for which he held for the early American Colonies, this seems unlikely, so it’s probable that Jefferson was uncomfortable signing the Declaration. (Something that history would support.)
But undoubtedly, the uniquely formed letters and unusual shapes of basic letters show a fast thinker with a certain amount of carefree individuality.
The “T” is much more well defined than the rest of the signature, including the “J,” which shows that he held himself as a truly fresh thinker, apart from his surname (and therefore family). While he still signs his full surname, it appears he may have had some disregard for his father, a surveyor who was often away on trips and had fathered nine of Jefferson’s siblings.
What’s more, you’ll notice Jefferson does not underline his signature at all. This is often a sign that the writer doesn’t want to emphasize his name. While many men did underline their own names, it seems Jefferson held a notable humility, as did John Adams and Ben Franklin.
What is so striking about the signature of John Adams is it’s uniformity.
While ugly and shaky, it is undoubtedly steady. The “middle zone,” the area in between the peak of the lowercase “O” and “M” is remarkably consistent.
This area often represents the personal side of one’s life, and from a signature like this we could gather that he viewed his life more as a straight, unbending road than a curvy roller coaster. Given the family tragedy in his life, this may be surprising, but he was also a man who put tremendous faith in God and constantly strived to grow spiritually.
The shakiness of the lines certainly stand out as well. These suggest a very slow signing, and a deep thinker (as opposed to Jefferson, the fast thinker). Adams was a ponderer, and a man who valued the steadiness in life.
Unlike Franklin, Adams’ loops are flat and lack any robustness. This was a man who was either somewhat insecure about himself and his manhood, or extremely shy about his sexuality (but weren’t they all). Brilliant as he was, he certainly didn’t have the best sex life.
He appears to be a private man as well, indicated by the space between first and last name. He clearly values his time at home, and tries not to let the worlds blend together.