It was 238 years ago, on the Fourth of July 1776, when the American colonies declared their independence from the King of Great Britain. We still celebrate that hard-won, all-important independence.
Our first President? George Washington of course. Everyone knows that.
Yet Washington did not become president until 1789, thirteen crucial years after the birth of the new nation. Who ran our newborn country? Who kept it alive and independent? Obviously people of enormous talent, whom we can be proud off and should never forget.
These thirteen years are veiled in mystery. Had you ever heard of John Hanson, the first president of our new nation? I hadn’t until I stumbled across it on Google and Wikipedia. It’s indeed a little known fact that our first president was John Hanson, elected unanimously by the Continental Congress, and apparently one of the greatest patriots and statesmen the world then knew. He came from a highly distinguished family whose members had participated in the founding of New Sweden in Maryland. One had been the military secretary to George Washington, another was Governor of Maryland, still others were members of Congress, and two of his sons gave their lives while fighting in the war.
Hanson himself distinguished himself as a brilliant administrator, both in the State of Maryland and in the new Congress. When he became President, the war had just ended and the troops demanded to be paid. Since there were no funds, they threatened to overthrow the government. Yet Hanson managed to calm the soldiers and maintain peace.
He established the Treasury Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs; he created the Great Seal of the United States still used for all official documents. He ordered all foreign troops out of the country and declared the fourth Thursday in November as the nation’s official Day of Thanksgiving.
Hanson was followed by six other forgotten presidents elected by the Continental Congress—Elias Boudinot (1783), Thomas Mifflin (1784), Richard Henry Lee (1785), Nathan Gorman (1786), Arthur St. Clair (1787), and Cyrus Griffin (1788)—until in 1788 the Constitution was signed and in 1789 George Washington became the first president under the Constitution.
Thank you, John Hanson, for establishing the blueprint for the role of an American president.
We look back with pride upon the great accomplishments of all Presidents of this great Nation who have maintained our hard-won Independence.
Happy Fourth of July,