One of the most enduring arguments about United States history is who was the nation's first president.
We were taught iIn school that George Washington, the man we revere as the father of our country, was the first president. However, there is a legitimate argument that John Hanson was the first.
To understand this argument, it is necessary to go back in history to the time of the First Continental Congress. The Congress first met in Philadelphia in 1774 to determine the best way for the colonies to gain recognition of their rights and liberties. It adjourned after adopting the Declaration of Rights, to be sent to King George in England.
By 1774, war had broken out, and in an effort to restore harmony and union, the Congress issue a Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
The Continental Congress had been guided only by an unwritten agreement up to this point. Written rules were called for.
On Nov. 15, 1778, a new document - the Articles of Confederation - was completed. It required approval of all 13 colonies.
It took nearly three years before the Articles were adopted. Article I of that document stated, "The stile of this confederacy shall be 'The United States of America.'"
Article IV stated, "The united states in congress assembled shall have the authority to appoint one of their number to preside, provided that no person would be allowed to serve in the office of president for more than one year."
Under those specifications, John Hanson, one of the Maryland delegates, was elected president.
Hanson was a strong supporter of almost every movement that led to separation from England and the independence of the 13 colonies.
Under the Articles of Confederation, Hanson was named president of that body, the United States of America in congress assembled."
During his year in office, Hanson was responsible for a number of acts, signed in the name of Congress, including acts that:
Organized the Post Office department;
Established a consular service;
Established the first national bank;
Led to the first U.S. census;
Recommended the establishment of a U.S. mint;
Standardized uniforms for federal troops;
Established the Great Seal of the United States; and
Designated the nation's first official day of Thanksgiving.
The Articles of Confederation provided the governing guidelines for the nation from 1781 to 1788, during which time seven men, including Hanson, served as president.
Discontent with the Articles began early. By 1786, their weaknesses were so obvious that the need for change became urgent.
For example, while the Articles provided for "a firm league of friendship," they lacked the strength needed to back a workable central government.
Article II contained crippling restrictions. It read, in part, "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in congress assembled."
So while the power to establish a Post Office was granted, the power to tax was not. This forced Congress to obtain loans to pay for its operation.
A Constitutional Convention was called for on May 14, 1787, to strengthen the Articles of Confederation.
It soon became apparent that the Articles could not be made workable. A new document was needed, and the result was the Constitution of the United States.
It was submitted to the states for approval. Unlike the Articles of Confederation, which required approval of all 13 states, the Constitution needed the approval of only nine.
On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth to approve the new document. The new Constitution provided guidelines for the selection of presidential electors in January 1789, selection of the president in February, and his inauguration in March. The new Congress also would take office in 1789.
The first president of the United States under the provisions of the new Constitution was George Washington.
Thus the argument was born. According to the wording of the two documents, both men - Hanson and Washington - bore the title of president. Based on that fact, there are many people in the United States who insist that Hanson was the nation's first president.
In 1903, officials of the state of Maryland placed a statue of John Hanson in Statuary Hall in the Capital of the United States. Whether Hanson qualifies as the first president of the United States is an argument that may never be settled.
The Continental Congress was the first national government of the United States. It comprised two successive bodies of representatives of the 13 colonies. The first Continental Congress met from Sept. 5 to Oct. 26, 1774. The second met from May 10, 1775, to the ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781.
Each session of Congress selected one member to act as president. Fifteen men served in that capacity during those years.
The first was Peyton Randolph, who served two terms but was forced to step down after a few weeks due to ill health. He was followed by Henry Middleton and then Randolph served a second term.
Then came John Jay, John Hancock, Henry Luens, Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, Hanson again, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, Hancock again, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair and Cyrus Griffin.
Hancock, as president of the Continental Congress when the members approved the Declaration of Independence, was first to sign the document. Hearing comments from the other members about the boldness of his signature, it is reported that he said, "I want King George to be able to read it without his glasses."
In any event, his name stands out, not only on that document, but though history, as well.
Those men were truly the forefathers of this country. They helped to shape our Constitution and guide our country through the terrible times of the Revolutionary War.
They were great men, and they helped shape our great country.