When we think of the President of the United States, many people do not realize that we are actually referring to presidents elected under the U.S. Constitution. Everybody knows that the first president in that sense was George Washington. But in fact the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution, also called for a president- albeit one with greatly diminished powers. 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.
Many people have argued that John Hanson, and not George Washington, was the first President of the United States, but this is not quite true. Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States had no executive branch. The President of Congress was a ceremonial position within the Confederation Congress. Although the office required Hanson to deal with correspondence and sign official documents, it wasn’t the sort of work that any President of the United States under the Constitution would have done.
Hanson didn’t really enjoy his job either, and found the work tedious and wished to resign. Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation hadn’t accounted for how succession worked and his departure would have left Congress without a President. So, because he loved his country, and out of a sense of duty, he remained in office.Statue of John Hanson in the United States Capitol Building
While there, he served from November 5, 1781 until November 3, 1782, he was able to remove all foreign troops from American lands, as well as their flags. He also 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.