History has a strange way of reinventing itself, sometimes because a gap needed filling, and sometimes even when no gap existed.
Take, for example, the case of one John Hanson. I recently received an email from an uncle of mine, suggesting that George Washington was not actually the first president of the USA. In my uncle’s words, “…not many peeps realize the pre-Washington history of the presidency”. His statement was founded upon the claims made here.
I found the claim intriguing, and decided to do some research in to the matter. What I learned was that this claim was essentially untrue, but I also learned a little more about US history and – more specifically – why the US came to be.
The “Hanson as original President” argument is based upon his appointment as President of the Confederation Congress in 1781. However, if one follows this argument further, even HE was not the first “President”, but rather the first ELECTED President, as Samuel Huntington and Thomas McKean had served before him in that office, after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
However, I think one has to clarify the difference between the President of the Confederation Congress (which was the title these three men, and their annual successors, held), and the “President of the United States”: the former served when the US had no Executive Branch, and served largely in a ceremonial capacity only. Actually, to be specific, the United States did not even exist yet, so how could he be “the first President of the USA”?
Here an excerpt from Snopes:
“It is important to note that although both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation used the phrase “united states of America”, neither of those documents was intended to create a single, unified country out of the thirteen former British colonies. Colonial leaders feared the creation of a too-powerful national government dominated by factions and so specifically refused to create a unified nation or to transfer sovereignty to a central government, Instead, they in effect created a national Congress to whom they could subcontract administrative tasks performed on behalf of all thirteen states: conduct foreign affairs, make war and peace, deal with Native Americans living outside the states, coin and borrow money, supervise the post office, and negotiate boundary disputes. Congress could NOT, however, raise money to carry out these tasks by levying taxes on the states, nor could it raise troops in order to defend the country or wage war, or even compel the states to comply with the laws it passed. In short, the Articles of Confederation created a Congress extremely limited in authority, with insufficient power to carry out the duties assigned to it”.
The Confederation Congress failed eventually, transferring responsibility for the national debt to the states in 1787.
The key to all this being that the Articles of Confederation did not create “The United States of America”, but an alliance of thirteen INDEPENDENT and SOVEREIGN states. The failure of this partnership led to calls for establishment of a centralized federal government, and thus was drafted the Constitution. From the perspective of understanding why and how the Constitution and US came to be, it is certainly very interesting and important to know about John Hanson and the Confederation Congress. It’s going a little far, it seems to me, to suggest he was the “First President of the United States of America”, though!
So the United States did not come to be as a result of the Revolutionary War, but rather because the Confederation of Sovereign States failed to operate under their intended principles of autonomous partnership. The failure forced the drafting of the famed Constitution, centralizing authority and power, and establishing the US of A.
I love it when I learn something new!