Everyone with an inkling of American history knowledge knows that George Washington was America’s very first commander in chief.
Or was he?
After the American Revolution ended in 1781, with Gen. George Cornwallis surrendering in Yorktown, Virginia, the country was without an official governing body. It went from being ruled by a 10th century monarchy to a new-born government essentially starting from scratch. The Continental Congress — an assembly of representatives from the 13 colonies, including founding fathers who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence — established a temporary governmental guide called the Articles of Confederation. In this was stated that the Congress would appoint someone for a period of one year each to preside over the country while it was basically getting its act together. In fact, the Articles were the framework for the Constitution, which was written, tweaked and taken from colony to colony (or what became state to state) to become ratified. Until the Constitution could be voted on and approved by all, temporary leaders — presidents, as they were called — served the country.
The first of these presidential appointees were Samuel Huntington of Connecticut, who served for four months, and Thomas McKean of Delaware, who served for almost four months, in 1781 while the articles were being approved.
The first elected president under the Articles of Confederation was John Hanson, who represented Maryland and served from November 1781 to November 1782. Considered a true patriot and servant to the new United States, Hanson approved the Great Seal, which is still in use today, and helped organize the first Treasury Department. He died in November 1783, but not before he spent countless hours contributing in various ways to the myriad details necessary for the country’s development.
Seven other staunchly patriotic men followed in Hanson’s footsteps. Elias Boudinot was next. His major act was signing the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which officially ended the Revolutionary War.
Before succeeding Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin served in the Continental Congress, but was also aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington during the war for independence.
Richard Henry Lee came next, serving from 1784 to 1785. Both he and his brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee, signed the Declaration of Independence.
John Hancock, known forever as the boldest signer of the Declaration, was number five, while Nathaniel Gorham was number six.
Native Scotsman Arthur St. Clair was next; he came to America to fight for the British in the French and Indian War but resigned his commission, purchased land in Pennsylvania and was commissioned a colonial in the Revolutionary War to fight against the British.
Finally, the eighth presidential appointee was Cyrus Griffin, who served his new country until 1789, right up to the time the Constitution became the official framework for the United States of America.
The Constitution’s rules on electing a president to lead the country were tested when the Electoral College unanimously voted in George Washington as the first official president of the new United States of America. In his inaugural address of 1789, in the nation’s temporary capitol of New York City, he gave a nod to the patriotism of those who served before him in the great “experiment” that was to become America. Those one-year-appointed presidents, though often overlooked by historians, helped lay a firm foundation for the highest office in the land.