I’m sure that George Washington was your best guess. After all, no one else comes to mind.
But think back to your history books — The United States declared its independence in 1776, yet Washington did not take office until April 30, 1789.
So who was running the country during these initial years of this young country?
It was the first eight U.S. Presidents.
In fact, the first President of the United States was one John Hanson.
I can hear you now — John who?
John Hanson, the first President of the United States.
Don’t go checking the encyclopedia for this guy’s name — he is one of those great men that are lost to history. If you’re extremely lucky, you may actually find a brief mention of his name. (It’s in the Encyclopedia Britannica.)
The new country was actually formed on March 1, 1781 with the adoption of The Articles of Confederation.
This document was actually proposed on June 11, 1776, but not agreed upon by Congress until November 15,1777.
Maryland refused to sign this document until Virginia and New York ceded their western lands (Maryland was afraid that these states would gain too much power in the new government from such large amounts of land).
Once the signing took place in 1781, a President was needed to run the country.
John Hanson was chosen unanimously by Congress (which included George Washington). In fact, all the other potential candidates refused to run against him, as he was a major player in the revolution and an extremely influential member of Congress.
As the first President, Hanson had quite the shoes to fill. No one had ever been President and the role was poorly defined. His actions in office would set precedent for all future Presidents.
He took office just as the Revolutionary War ended. Almost immediately, the troops demanded to be paid. As would be expected after any long war, there were no funds to meet the salaries. As a result, the soldiers threatened to overthrow the new government and put Washington on the throne as a monarch.
All the members of Congress ran for their lives, leaving Hanson as the only guy left running the government. He somehow managed to calm the troops down and hold the country together. If he had failed, the government would have fallen almost immediately and everyone would have been bowing to King Washington.
Hanson, as President, ordered all foreign troops off American soil, as well as the removal of all foreign flags. This was quite the feat, considering the fact that so many European countries had a stake in the United States since the days following Columbus.
Hanson established the Great Seal of the United States, which all Presidents have since been required to use on all official documents. President Hanson also established the first Treasury Department, the first Secretary of War, and the first Foreign Affairs Department. Lastly, he declared that the fourth Thursday of every November was to be Thanksgiving Day, which is still true today.
The Articles of Confederation only allowed a President to serve a one year term during any three year period, so Hanson actually accomplished quite a bit in such little time.
Seven other presidents were elected after him
Elias Boudinot (1782-83)
Thomas Mifflin (1783-84)
Richard Henry Lee (1784-85)
John Hancock (1785-86)
Nathan Gorman (1786-87)
Arthur St. Clair (1787-88)
Cyrus Griffin (1788-89)
All prior to Washington taking office
So what happened?
Why don’t we hear about the first eight presidents?
It’s quite simple — The Articles of Confederation didn’t work well. The individual states had too much power and nothing could be agreed upon. A new doctrine needed to be written — something we know as the Constitution.
And that leads us to the end of our story.
George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States. He was the first President of the United States under the Constitution we follow today.
And the first eight Presidents are forgotten in history.