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So You Think You Know American History?

Who Was the First U.S. President?

Who Was the First U.S. President?

That doesn’t look a whole lot like George Washington, does it? George became President in 1789, but the United States was already a going concern (to some extent) by 1781. So what did the country do for the intervening eight years? Did it engage in anarchy?

Not quite. Before the Constitution was adopted, the law of the land of the United States consisted of the Articles of Confederation. As students, we didn’t study that eight-year period in depth, except maybe to note that these same Articles of Confederation were a condign failure.

Yet, there were eight U.S. Presidents of the Continental Congress, and therefore of the More-or-Less-United States, serving one-year terms under those same articles. They were, in order:

  1. John Hanson of Maryland (1781-1782, pictured above), who wanted to resign immediately because he had neither any compensation or power, but he manage to stick it out.
  2. Elias Boudinot of New Jersey (1782-1783) was next.
  3. Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania (1783-1784)
  4. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia (1784-1785), who wound up disapproving of the Constitution because it concentrated too much power—an early Tea Partier
  5. John Hancock of Massachusetts (1785-1786)—he’s the one with the oversized signature on the Declaration of Independence
  6. Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts (1786-1787)
  7. Arthur St. Clair of Ohio (1787-1788), born in Scotland
  8. Cyrus Griffin of Virginia (1788 only)

Only after Griffin’s presidency did the U.S. Constitution become formally ratified and George Washington elected the “first” President under the new rules.

For an interesting discussion of these eight presidents, who have become more or less lost to history, click here.