Here’s an interesting tidbit of American History!
There is no doubt that George Washington was decidedly the father of our country, but was he our first president? Although he was often the glue that held the country together from the time he signed the Articles of Capitulation until the time he was sworn in as the first president in accordance with our Constitution, he was technically not the first to serve as the head of our government. There were fourteen men before Washington who held the title of “President”.
When the First Continental Congress met on September 5, 1774, Peyton Randolph as elected as “President”. That is to say, he was elected as President of the Continental Congress. Some have argued that he was actually the first president of our nation. However, unlike the leader of the Executive Branch who is the head of state, head of the government, and Commander-in-Chief of the military , the President of the Congress served primarily as a moderator. Some argue he had less power than other members of the Congress. He was elected by his fellow delegates, but could only hold the office one out of every three years. He received no salary. The President had no power over his fellow delegates and was unable to so much as write a letter without their consent. He voted last and only if his vote was needed to break a tie. He did not participate in debates. Henry Laurens actually resigned from that role so he could more actively participate in Congressional proceedings. Several of the Presidents attempted to influence the Congressional agenda or motivate fellow delegates to take action on certain affairs, but their actions took place behind the scenes. The title was generally ceremonial in nature and used with diplomats or on treaties. Many of the presidents vacated the office because of illness, to return home, or to assume other duties. Richard Henry Lee had so little interest in the role that he actually instructed his secretary to sign any necessary correspondence during a six week absence. John Hanson nearly resigned, out of frustration, after one week, but there was not a sufficient quorum to elect a replacement.
Thirteen other men, many of whom will be familiar, assumed that role after Randolph. Randolph, himself, was the first president elected by both the First and the Second Continental Congresses. He vacated the office two weeks after being elected by the members of the Second Continental Congress in order to lead the Virginia House of Burgesses. John Hancock was perhaps the most memorable of the Congressional Presidents because he led the group when the Declaration of Independence was signed. His position allowed him the opportunity to sign the document first. John Jay became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. John Hanson was the first President to be elected under the terms of the Articles of Confederation. At that time, the title of the office changed to “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.” Nathaniel Gorham and David Ramsay served in the role of “chairman” during John Hancock’s second term.
Here is a list of the men who held the title of President:
First Continental Congress:
Peyton Randolph (September 5, 1774 – October 21, 1774)
Henry Middleton (October 22, 1774 – October 26, 1774)
Second Continental Congress:
Peyton Randolph (May 10, 1775 – May 23, 1775)
John Hancock (May 24, 1775 – October 31, 1777)
Henry Laurens (November 1, 1777 – December 9, 1778)
John Jay (December 10, 1778 – September 27, 1779)
Samuel Huntington (September 28, 1779 – March 1, 1781)
United States in Congress Assembled:
Samuel Huntington (March 1, 1781 – July 9, 1781)
Thomas McKean (July 10, 1781 – November 4, 1781)
John Hanson (November 5, 1781 – November 3, 1782)
Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782 – November 2, 1783)
Thomas Mifflin (November 3, 1783 – October 31, 1784)
Richard Henry Lee (November 30, 1784 – November 6, 1785)
John Hancock (November 23, 1785 – May 29, 1786)
Nathaniel Gorham (June 6, 1786 – November 5, 1786)
Arthur St. Clair (February 2, 1787 – November 4, 1787)
Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788 – November 2, 1788)
George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States of America on April 30, 1789. Despite a few claims issued by supporters of Peyton Randolph or John Hanson, he was truly our first president.