Although born into the family of a Loyalist minister, and marrying into a loyalist family, William Hooper distinguished himself as a true patriot and advocate for Independence with his life, his fortune and his sacred honor. While his life was in danger many times before and during the war, and his fortunes ran thin, Hooper lived a life worthy of his time, and he deserved the distinction to be among the Founders of the Declaration of Independence.
Moving to North Carolina after graduating from Harvard under the tutelage of James Otis, Hooper established his law practice in the southern colonies. As a young attorney in the 1760’s he found himself embroiled in the Regulator Movement, which was an uprising of zealous colonists who despised excessive fees and taxation by the “corrupted” and “ruling elite.” Perceived as one of those aristocratic leaders in the local government, Hooper was a candidate for beatings and courtroom harassments; some claim he was dragged through the streets by an angry mob. This experience accounts for Hooper’s future decisions concerning the susceptibility of Democracy to “mob rule.”
In a letter to a friend in 1773, Hooper proposed separation from England, saying that the colonies, “are striding fast to independence, and will, ere long, build an empire upon the ruins of Great Britain.” This justifiable predication later gave Hooper the label “prophet of independence.”
Elected to the first Continental Congress, William Hooper was the youngest of the North Carolina delegates but by no means the least among them. In fact, John Adams, who is known to have some harsh words for many of his fellow signers, considered Hooper one of the leading orators at Congress. Although Hooper was away at the time of the signing, he was able to pen his name on August the 2nd, along with many of the other signers of the Declaration. While Hooper was never a loyalist, he did not relish siding against them either. His reluctant views regarding a federal government, probably a consequence of his early days as an attorney in the Carolinas, also set him apart from the other signers. Up to the very end of his career, and of his life, he feared democracy and the possibility of it descending to mob rule; whether people liked his aristocratic stand or not, his patriotism and love for America never faltered.
In 1781 the British army arrived at Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina. Signing the Declaration of Independence had make him a marked man. In search for him the British burned his home and set up a man hunt. Hooper was forced to separate from his family to escape the pursuing British and live as a fugitive in the homes of friends. While on the run his health received a lethal blow when he acquired malaria; it so crippled him that he eventually died of the disease eight years later.
Serving as a state legislator, he lived just long enough to see the US Constitution ratified and died at the age of forty-eight. Never faltering in his constancy for American independence, but sadly misunderstood near the end, one historian commends his memory in these words:
As a lawyer, he was distinguished for his professional knowledge, and indefatigable zeal in respect to business with which he was entrusted. Towards his brethren he ever maintained a high and honorable course of conduct and particularly towards the younger members of the bar. As a politician, he was characterized for judgment, ardor, and constancy. In times of the greatest political difficulty and danger, he was calm, but resolute. He never desponded; but trusting to the justice of his country’s cause, he had an unshaken confidence that heaven would protect and deliver her.
And so heaven did.