George Washington, as many don’t know, was not the first President of the United States. The first President of the United States was one John Hanson, and he was a black man. Or it can be said that he had African genes.
The Articles of American Confederation, the predecessor to the American Constitution, called for a president. Eight men were appointed to serve one year terms as president under the Articles of Confederation. In November 1781, John Hanson became the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled, under the Articles of Confederation.
Don’t go checking the encyclopedia for this, because you won’t find him there. He is one of those great men who are unfortunately lost to history. If you’re extremely lucky, you might actually find a brief mention of his name in some books.
During the formation of the United States of America, 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 because of their large lands.
The signing took place in 1781, and a President was needed to run the country. John Hanson was then chosen unanimously by Congress, which included George Washington. In fact, all the other potential candidates refused to run against John Hanson, as he was a key player in the revolution and an extremely influential member of Congress.
As the first President of the United States, Hanson had quite the shoes to fill. No one had ever been President and the role was not richly and adequately defined. His actions in office would set criteria for all future Presidents that will follow.
While there, he served from November 5, 1781 until November 3, 1782.
He introduced the Treasury Department, the first Secretary of War, and the first Foreign Affairs Department.
He led the flight to guarantee the statehood of the Western Territories beyond the Appalachian Mountains that had been controlled by some of the original thirteen colonies.
What’s probably most interesting is that Hanson is also responsible for establishing Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November.
It was no easy task to be the first person in this position as President of Congress. So it’s incredible that Hanson was able to accomplish as much as he did. Plus, instead of the four year term that current Presidents serve, Presidents under the Articles of Confederation served only one year. So, accomplishing anything during this short time was a great feat.
Hanson played an important role in the development of United States Constitutional History, one often not stated, but true nonetheless. Often, Hanson is regarded as the “forgotten first President.” In Seymour Weyss Smith’s biography of him, John Hanson, Our First President, he says that the American Revolution had two primary leaders: George Washington in the military sphere, and John Hanson in politics. Although one position was ceremonial, and the other was more official, there are statues of both men in the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.
He took office just as the Revolutionary War against Britain ended. And, almost immediately, the troops demanded to be paid for their services. As was to be expected after any long war like that, there were no funds and resources to pay the salaries.
As a result, the soldiers made threats to overthrow the new government and put Washington on the throne as a monarch.
All the members of Congress ran for their lives and left John Hanson as the only one running the government. He managed somehow to calm the troops down and hold America together.
If he had failed, the government would have fallen, and everyone would have been bowing to King Washington as the troops proposed. In fact, Hanson sent 800 pounds of sterling silver through his brother Samuel Hanson to George Washington to provide the troops with shoes.
As President, Hanson 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 a lot of European countries had a stake in the United States.
Hanson established and created the Great Seal of the United States, which all Presidents have since been required to use on all official documents.
The Articles of the Confederation only allowed a President to serve a one-year term/tenure during any three-year period. So, Hanson actually accomplished quite a bit in such little time.
Six other presidents were elected after John Hanson. They were Elias Boudinot (1783), Thomas Mifflin (1784), Richard Henry Lee (1785), Nathan Gorman (1786), Arthur St. Clair (1787), and Cyrus Griffin (178- all prior to Washington taking office as president.
So, what happened?
Why don’t most Americans and people of the world ever hear about the first seven Presidents of the United States?
Well, it’s quite simple – The Articles of Confederation didn’t work well. The individual states had too much power as was feared, and little or nothing could be agreed upon.
A new doctrine needed to be written – something Americans now known as the Constitution. And that is where George Washington comes in.
George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States, by principle. He was the first President of the United States under the Constitution that was later created, and which Americans follow today.
And the first seven Presidents are forgotten in history.
Hanson died on November 15, 1783 at the age of 62.
“Thus was ended the career of one of America’s greatest statesmen. While hitherto practically unknown to our people, and this is true as to nearly all the generations that have lived since his day, his great handiwork, the nation which he helped to establish, remains as a fitting tribute to his memory. It is doubtful if there has ever lived on this side of the Atlantic, a nobler character or shrewder statesman. One would search in vain to find a more powerful personage, or a more aggressive leader, in the annals of American history. and it is extremely doubtful if there has ever lived in an age since the advent of civilization, a man with a keener grasp of, or a deeper insight into, such democratic ideals as are essential to the promotion of personal liberty and the extension of human happiness. … He was firm in his opinion that the people of America were capable of ruling themselves without the aid of a king.”