George Washington - Fifteenth President of the United States

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Was George Washington The First President of the United States?

Ramona Cook
S.S. Fair Project
Ms. Gnann's Class
December 2005

Also see:

Was George Washington the First President?

When you ask most people who the first president of the United States
was they will respond "George Washington!" What most people do not
know is that the United States had fourteen presidents before George

Peyton Randolph

The list of leaders of the United States began with Peyton Randolph
of Virginia on September 5, 1774, [fifteen] years before George
Washington took the oath of office under the Constitution in 1789.
When the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on September
4, 1774, all colonies were represented except Georgia and each colony
had a vote. A Declaration of Rights was adopted by the Continental
Congress on October 14, 1774, and claimed that the assembly of each
colony had the right to make laws governing everything in their
colony except foreign trade. On October 20, 1774 the Continental
Congress voted to stop trading with Great Britain and the West
Indies. It also voted to discontinue the slave trade and stop consuming
foreign products. Peyton Randolph resigned as president on October 21,
1774 due to poor health.

Henry Middleton

The second president was Henry Middleton of South
Carolina who served from October 22, 1774 until May 10, 1775. The
Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775
and Peyton Randolph became president again but only served until
May 23, 1775 due his poor health. Peyton Randolph died on Oct.
22, 1775 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775,
not quite a month after the battles at Lexington and Concord and
adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. They then
wrote the Articles of Confederation which were the operating basis
for government during the Revolution. The Articles of Confederation
were not fully ratified until February, 1781 due to disagreements
over the boundaries between the states.

John Hancock

The third president was John Hancock of Massachusetts from May 24,
1775 to October 30, 1777. Hancock promoted resistance to England.
In 1775, Gen. Thomas Gage issued a warrant for Hancock's arrest, but
he escaped. Hancock was president of the Continental Congress twice.
First from 1775 through 1777 and again 1785 through 1786, but the
second time he never actually served due to continued illness.

Henry Laurens

The fourth president was Henry Laurens of South Carolina from
November 1, 1777 to December 9, 1778. Laurens was captured by the
British in 1780 and imprisoned in the Tower of London until he was
exchanged for General Cornwallis in 1783 as part of the prisoner
exchange following the Battle of Yorktown.

John Jay

John Jay of New York was the fifth president from December 10, 1778
to September 27, 1779. In 1783 he was Secretary of Foreign Affairs,
which is the same as the office now called Secretary of State, and
he was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington from Connecticut was the sixth president and he
served from September 28, 1779 to July 9, 1781 when he resigned
due to illness.

Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean of Delaware was elected the seventh
president on July 10, 1781 to complete the Huntington's term
which ended on November 4, 1781. McKean was in office when the
British surrendered at Yorktown. He was a supporter of the Articles
of Confederation, which he signed. McKean was the only person to
serve in Congress from its start in 1774 until the peace treaty
was signed in 1783.

The Articles of Confederation were in force from March 1, 1781
until the Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789. The
Articles state that "The United States in Congress assembled shall
have authority to appoint ... one of their members to preside,
provided that no person be allowed to serve in the office of
president more than one year in any term of three years ...."
A starting date for the office of president was not defined in
the Articles of Confederation and many resigned before completing
a full year in office.

John Hanson

The eighth president, John Hanson from Maryland was elected on
January 5, 1782 and served the first full one-year term under the
official Articles of Confederation from November 5, 1781 to November
3, 1782. Since he was the first President to serve under the Articles
of Confederation, Hanson is sometimes referred to as the first
President of the United States. He was an anti-Federalist and
opposed the proposed Constitution until his death in 1783.

Elias Boudinot

Elias Boudinot of New Jersey served a full term as the ninth
president from November 4, 1782 to November 2, 1783.

Thomas Mifflin

Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania served as tenth president from November
3, 1783 to November 29, 1784. As president he signed the treaty
with Great Britain that formally ended the war.

Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia served as eleventh president from
November 30, 1784 to November 22, 1785. He was also vigorous in
arguing for independence and wrote the resolution approved July
2, 1776 "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to
be, free and independent states". He later wrote the Northwest
Ordinances, which provided for the formation of new states from
the Northwest Territory. As a member of the Continental Congress
from 1774 through 1779, he promoted a non-importation agreement.
Lee was a member of the committee that placed George Washington
in command of the Continental Army. Lee served again in the
Continental Congress from 1784 through 1787. He opposed the U.S.
Constitution because he feared that it would destroy states' rights.

Nathaniel Gorham

John Hancock of Massachusetts was elected to the twelfth term of
president which began November 23, 1785 but because of poor health
he was unable to complete his full term in office. Nathaniel Gorham
of Massachusetts completed Hancock's term from June 6, 1786 to
February 1, 1787. Gorham's term was several months longer than a
year because the date of inauguration was changed.

Arthur St. Clair

Arthur St. Clair of Pennsylvania served as the thirteenth president
from February 2, 1787 to January 21, 1788. He was an anti-Federalist
and feared that the proposed Constitution would allow the intrusion
of government into our private lives.

Cyrus Griffin

The nation's fourteenth president was Cyrus Griffin of Virginia who
served from January 22, 1788 until George Washington's inauguration
on April 30, 1789. Griffin started out an anti-Federalist, but he
eventually accepted the new Constitution with the promise of the
Bill of Rights as protection.

According to the information supporting that George
Washington was not the first president includes the following:

"The Journals of Congress clearly indicate that there were six
Presidents of the Continental Congress and ten Presidents of the
United States in Congress Assembled before George Washington's
Inauguration in 1789. Two of the Presidents, John Hancock and
Samuel Huntington served in both offices."

"These fourteen Presidents, aside from Secretary Charles Thomson,
were the only members of the confederation freely elected by
Congress to represent the United Colonies/States in their entirety."

"The President of the United States in Congress Assembled on
March 1, 1781 was Samuel Huntington of Connecticut who by virtue
of the Articles' ratification became the 1st President of the
United States in Congress Assembled."

"Nine more Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled
under the Articles of Confederation were duly elected after Samuel
Huntington. The Presidents on many occasions used their office to
exercise much influence on United States public affairs and

"These 10 US Presidents in Congress Assembled presided over the
unicameral government of the United States of America from 1781
to 1788 under the Articles of Confederation. The word "President"
is derived from "to preside" which was just one function of the US
Presidency under the Articles of the Confederation."

"The Presidents signed congressional laws, treaties, and military
orders. They called for Congressional assembly and adjournment.
Presidents signed military commissions including George Washington's
commander-in-chief appointment, received foreign dignitaries,
received, read, answered, and at their own discretion held or
disseminated the official mail addressed to Congress and the
President of the United States in Congress Assembled. The Presidents
each had one vote in the Unicameral Congress. The Presidents presided,
much like the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, over judicial
Congressional Cases. The current US President conducts many of the
same duties today but is not permitted, under the 1787 Constitution,
to vote, act as a presiding judge or to receive, open, and hold
Congress' mail or serve as a judiciary official of the United

"The government of the United States provided for the President's
expenses, servants, clerks, housing, and transportation. Their home
state was expected to provide for their salary."

"In 1788 the President of the United States in Congress Assembled
official duties were replaced by President George Washington
(executive branch), Chief Justice John Jay (judicial branch), President of the
US Senate John Adams and Speaker of the US House of Representatives
Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg (legislative branch) under the new US

"In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln refused to recognize the
secession of South Carolina and the other Southern States claiming they were
legally bound to the United States not by the US Constitution but by
the "Perpetual Union" they ratified under the Articles of
Confederation in 1781."

"The express plighting of faith by each and all of the
original thirteen in the Articles of Confederation, two years later,
that the Union shall be perpetual is most conclusive." – (Abraham
Lincoln's Address to Congress in Special Session 4 July 1861.)

My conclusion is that the Articles of Confederation created the
"Perpetual Union" and established the office of the President of the
United States in Congress Assembled. George Washington, who was the
1st President of the United States under the Constitution of 1787,
was not the 1st President of the United States.


Written Sources

Grant, George. The Patriots Handbook
Cumberland House, Nashville TN, 1996 pp 225ff.

"National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution Our
Forgotten Presidents" Latest changes: 99Jul23 -

"Presidents of the Continental Congresses." Infoplease.
© 2000–2005
Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease.
30 Nov. 2005

Klos, Samuel, L. President Who? Forgotten Founders

Image Sources

Boudinot, Elias

Griffin, Cyrus
Randolph, Peyton

Gorham, Nathaniel

Hancock, John

Hanson, John

Huntington, Samuel

Jay, John
Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 1995 September 25 — Updated: 2005 November 3

Laurens, Henry

Lee, Richard Henry
Maintained: Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date:
1995 September 25 — Updated: 2005 November 3

Middleton, Henry

McKean, Thomas

Mifflin, Thomas

St Clair, Arthur