Washington wasn't the first president?

What’s the deal with this guy and why have we forgotten him?


He was the president of the Continental Congress. Since this system was before the Constitution (which outlines our present system) he is not the first president of the country we know today, but the last president of a previous government.

Grrrr… that of course should be “first president of a previous government”

Yet, technically, he was the first president of The United States of America. Right?

John Hanson was technically the first President of the United States of America IMHO. However, his job as president was poorly defined and his term only lasted a year. To me, it is not so much the fact that he served under the Articles of the Conferation but that the term president as used today refers to a different set of duties than he was charged with. I do think that the history books have been a little bit unfair in recognizing him and the six other presidents that served prior to the Constitution (this may be the understatement of the year). In any event, this is a good bit of trivia that you can use to win a bar bet some day.

I was about to post a comment about there not being any such entity as “The United States of America” until the current constitution took effect. But then I decided to look up the Articles of Confederation and discovered that Article I says "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be “The United States of America”. So much for being a smart-ass. :frowning:

Nevertheless, who cares? It’s just a game of semantics. We also start numbering Congresses (107th meeting right now, IIRC) from the first meeting under the current Constitution. Are we supposed to be outraged by that too? As for why we’ve forgetten the first six “presidents,” that’s easy: the office was utterly inconsequential.

Who has forgotten him? His presidency is the source of innumerable junior high and high school trivia contests/discussions.


I never used the word outraged, and the fact is, I don’t really care, I was simply curious.

Note to self: Remove hyperbole before pressing “Submit.” :slight_smile:

At the time of George’s innaugaration, did they consider him the “First President” of their new country? Or did history books mess this up later? Was the common thought (that Washington is the first president) the same then as it is now?

I bet back then all the papers were headlined “General Washington to be first president.” Maybe there was so much hoopla over the whole constitution thingy, that everything after it had to be the official ‘first’. First president, first congress, first VP, first intern… They wanted the new election and the new president to be as significant as possible. (Kinda like all the Millinium stuff sold last year- everyone knew it wasnt really the first year of the new milinium, but they wanted jan 1, 2000 to be all important. Afterall, not many people know who William Henry Harrison is anymore.

Perhaps the reason why no one prior to Washington is popularly remembered as a President of the United States is because those individuals weren’t democratically elected, but rather, were elected by the Congress. I know that with the Electoral College system we don’t have a true democracy even now, but election by Congress is much more similar to a parliamentary-style Prime Minister position than to our current system of choosing a president.

This is probably headed for GD, but Washington was the first President of the United States. The United States started in 1789, with the adoption of our current Constitution. Before that, the colonies were united under the Articles of Confederation, but it is, IMO, improper to consider the Confederation a sovereign state in itself. Even if it is, the Confederation is not the same thing as the USA.

That’s because they weren’t Presidents of the United States. They were presidents of the Congress of the United States. They were not in an executive role like the current presidents. They were merely the chairmen of the Congress, the equivalent of the Speaker of the House and/or President Pro Tem of the Senate.

Here is a link to the Articles of Confederation.

Article IX, paragraph 5:

That is the only mention of “president” in the whole document. It merely states that “A Committee of the States” (the states in congress [the act of coming together, meeting] assembled) has the right to designate someone as the chairmen, to organize and run the meetings. Notice this person has no authority to act on his own, to make treaties or to suggest budgets or to lead military action or to appoint law enforcement or do anything. His role is simply to conduct the meetings of the congress of states, determine who speaks when, and make sure things flow in an orderly manner during the sessions. He is not a President of the country in any fashion. He is the person presiding over the Committee of the States.

It is disengenuous to refer to these people as “Presidents of the United States”. They are no more President of the United States than the Attorney General is in charge of the Army. Only know-it-alls and smart-asses try to pull off this ploy to win bets and act snooty.

See also:

From http://www.marshallhall.org/hanson.html

This is a misrepresentation.


http://www.hazelwood.k12.mo.us/~cdavis01/webquests/kpw/#THE STORY

Until then, national days of Thanksgiving were declared by the President upon his discretion, and the annual fall celebration of the Pilgrims was unofficial.

In the OP, the linked article says,“Lastly, he declared that the fourth Thursday of every November was to be Thanksgiving Day, which is still true today.” I thought Lincoln did this (or someone else) about 100 years later…is this true??

Somewhat belatedly, here’s a mailbag article on this topic. But it doesn’t make any points not already made in this thread.

Correct me if I’m wrong:
-The USA under the Articles of Confederation was a grouping of thirteen independent States.
-The ‘president’ under the AoC was simply the presiding member when the States met in congress every so often.
-Hello, Opalescent Feline. :smiley:
-The Constitution created one State with thirteen administrative divisions also called ‘states’.
-The government of that single State had a President, Congress, etc. as we would know them.
-It is therefore meaningless and misleading to call the presiding member of the congress of States provided for by the AoC a President of the USA.

This is the third or fourth time in less than twelve months this question has appeared on this board. I keep thinking we should create a FAQ section for people to peruse before posting questions. :wink:

From the staff report:

So there! I personally didn’t know that the Continental Congress had several presidents until I read the staff report.

Darleth, you’re exactly right. That pretty much sums it up.

“The most trivial of historians” - yup, that’s me

John Hanson
Elias Boudinot
Thomas Mifflin
Richard Henry Lee
Nathan Gorman
Arthur St. Claire
Cyrus Griffin