There has been, over the years, a lot of controversy over the question of who was actually the first "President of the United States". Most of us, when asked this question, would quickly answer without hesitation that it was "George Washington". However some say it was "Peyton Randolph" and even others say it was "John Hanson". So ... who were these two men and why would anyone consider them the first "President of the United States" instead of "George Washington"? And ... who truly was the 1st "President of the United States"?"
I'd like to add here that I have great respect and admiration for all these men that I shall discuss here ... and I'm in no way trying to belittle their personal sacrafice for our country. They were all "great" men and deserve "great" respect! However the truth must be told about who was the first "President of the United States".
First off, lets consider the position held by some that "Peyton Randolph" was the first "President of the United States". Peyton Randolph was a former "King's Attorney" of Virginia. When the delegates first gathered in Philadelphia for the Continental Congress, they elected him as the moderator and president of their meeting. Therefore he became the first "President (or chairman) of the Continental Congress". Other's also served in this role as "Chairman" as can be seen on the page titled "President's of the Continental Congress".
However none of those elected to "chair" the meetings of the Continental Congress had any, nor were given any, power except during those meetings. In fact, their was nothing in writing saying or noting that a chairman should even be elected, nevertheless that he would have any powers. It was just assumed by those present that someone should chair the meetings and that was simply what they did ... elected someone to chair the meetings.
Thomas McKean of Delaware who was the eighth person to chair the meetings received a letter addressed to him as "His Excellency the President of the United States". Many have said that he was indeed then "President of the United States" based on this letter as were all the others before him. As our 16th President "Abraham Lincoln" once said" "A lamb has four legs and one tail. You can call his tail a leg and say that he has five legs. However he still only has four legs and one tail. Doesn't matter what you call his tail ... it's still only a tail." Thomas McKean was "President of the Continental Congress" not the "United States" reqardless of who says otherwise.
The second person that some say was the first "President of the United States" was "John Hanson". Actually he was the ninth chairman or "President of the Continental Congress". Why then do some consider him to be the first "President of the United States?"
The reason given by some for "John Hanson" being the first "President of the United States" is that he was the first person to serve as "President of the Continental Congress" after the approval by the states of the Articles of Confederation. However, where as the first eight served without any wording noting them serving as "Chairman" or "President" Hanson served with the following note as written in the Articles of Confederation: "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;"
To "preside" over what? The "United States in Congress" not the "United States" itself. Again, no power was extended to the "President" except during the meetings. This hardly makes one the "President of the United States". The only difference between "Peyton Randolph's" role and the role of "John Hanson" was that Hanson had it in writing that he was to preside over the meetings ... Randolph didn't.
So why has there been so much to do about who was the first President? My only answer to you is ... "It sells books."
The United States Constitution, however, provided for the office of "President of the United States" ... a person that would serve as President 24/7, 365 days a year ... not simply President of a meeting but President all the time. The first "President of the United States" was hands down ...
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Last modified: 7/13/2007