The 1st President of USA? Not George Washington

It is mind blowing when basic facts we believed our entire lives turn out to be wrong. Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, the Earth revolves around the sun, and the first president of the USA was George Washington, right? Are you sure?


I’m sure that George Washington was your best guess. After all, no one else comes to mind.

But think back to your history books — The United States declared its independence in 1776, yet Washington did not take office until April 30, 1789.
So who was running the country during these initial years of this young country?

It was the first eight U.S. Presidents.
In fact, the first President of the United States was one John Hanson.

I can hear you now — John who?

John Hanson, the first President of the United States.

Don’t go checking the encyclopedia for this guy’s name — he is one of those great men that are lost to history. If you’re extremely lucky, you may actually find a brief mention of his name. (It’s in the Encyclopedia Britannica.)

The new country was actually formed on March 1, 1781 with the adoption of The Articles of Confederation.
This document was actually proposed on June 11, 1776, but not agreed upon by Congress until November 15,1777.

… Once the signing took place in 1781, a President was needed to run the country.

John Hanson was chosen unanimously by Congress (which included George Washington). In fact, all the other potential candidates refused to run against him, as he was a major player in the revolution and an extremely influential member of Congress.

As the first President, Hanson had quite the shoes to fill. No one had ever been President and the role was poorly defined. His actions in office would set precedent for all future Presidents.
He took office just as the Revolutionary War ended. Almost immediately, the troops demanded to be paid. As would be expected after any long war, there were no funds to meet the salaries. As a result, the soldiers threatened to overthrow the new government and put Washington on the throne as a monarch.

All the members of Congress ran for their lives, leaving Hanson as the only guy left running the government. He somehow managed to calm the troops down and hold the country together. If he had failed, the government would have fallen almost immediately and everyone would have been bowing to King Washington.

Hanson, as President, ordered all foreign troops off American soil, as well as the removal of all foreign flags. This was quite the feat, considering the fact that so many European countries had a stake in the United States since the days following Columbus.

Hanson established the Great Seal of the United States, which all Presidents have since been required to use on all official documents. President Hanson also established the first Treasury Department, the first Secretary of War, and the first Foreign Affairs Department. Lastly, he declared that the fourth Thursday of every November was to be Thanksgiving Day, which is still true today.

The Articles of Confederation only allowed a President to serve a one year term during any three year period, so Hanson actually accomplished quite a bit in such little time.

Seven other presidents were elected after him — Elias Boudinot (1782-83), Thomas Mifflin (1783-84), Richard Henry Lee (1784-85), John Hancock (1785-86), Nathan Gorman (1786-87), Arthur St. Clair (1787-88), and Cyrus Griffin (1788-89) — all prior to Washington taking office

So what happened?

Why don’t we hear about the first eight presidents?

It’s quite simple — The Articles of Confederation didn’t work well. The individual states had too much power and nothing could be agreed upon. A new doctrine needed to be written — something we know as the Constitution.
And that leads us to the end of our story.

George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States. He was the first President of the United States under the Constitution we follow today.

And the first eight Presidents are forgotten in history.


Strange but true, the first president of the United States of America (under the Articles of Confederation) was John Hanson, and John Hancock was a president of the USA before George Washington. 

… Hanson was actually the first holder of the office of president since he began serving following the first election for a full one-year presidential term once the Articles of Confederation was ratified in 1781.


What’s something else like this that really surprised you to learn? 

Leave a comment and let us know.

14 thoughts on “The 1st President of USA? Not George Washington

  1. What surprised me, though not as powerful as your story, was to learn that author Alexandre Dumas based his main character in the Count of Monte Cristo on Dumas’ own grandfather, who was an expert swordsmen and general in Napoleon’s Grand Armee. The Grandfather also was the son of a slave woman (in what is now Haiti) and a French nobleman. Tom Reiss writes about this in his book, The Black Count … .

      1. I posted a piece related to The Black Count. It’s the one called ‘A Story of a Library – Napoleon’s Institute of Egypt.’ I was impressed by the “learned men” Napoleon secretly added to his crew when he went to invade Egypt and that the outcome was a library!

  2. How interesting, and how sad that the first 8 are not openly acknowledged for the work they did. My discovery is from this morning’s paper. Researchers have discovered that household dust motes piggyback toxic particles from air fresheners, detergents and other household stuff that then gets into our cells. Another good reason to use natural, non-toxic products.

    1. The chemical air freshers bug me, but I do like (a particular company’s) oils in a diffuser for mood at times. Some of those essential oils also act against toxins.

      1. I use (a particular company’s) oils exclusively. They are quality guaranteed, 100% pure therapeutic grade. Antifungal/bacterial/viral – amazing stuff. Best to use an ultrasound diffuser – it creates a cold ‘steam’ of microdroplets so the therapeutic action of the EO’s is retained.

  3. I had to edit to avoid having google think this was a spammy thing. Both companies have all pure therapeutic grade. A stay at home mom with a microbiology degree has posted some anti-microbial tests. My diffuser puts out a lovely cold microdroplet steam. I recommend a blind smell test for EOs if choosing between brands. The nose knows 🙂

    1. We got independence in 1776, so it wasn’t Washington. He was years later.

      “On this day in 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the independence of a new United States of America from Great Britain and its king.”

      The inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States was held on April 30, 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, New York”

      1. True. As a kid we trust text books and teachers and doctors and priests and parents and news to tell us the truth, but sometimes all of those sources are wrong about some things. Not always, but sometimes. Making discoveries is the fun of science.

        If you learn you can trust you own research and logical thinking over what others say, you could do well in science. This is the kind of mind that gave us great inventions like electric lights, microscopes, antibiotics, and the Internet. Think independently, ask the right questions, do experiments and you will learn much. You could even save people’s lives.

        The hard part about this type of thinking is that some people will not like you at times. They will call you a troublemaker, eccentric, a heathen, a truther, or a conspiracy theorist. Most people bend to peer pressure. They prefer to be accepted by “the herd” of other humans, to “fit in” over being correct.

        If a dogmatic teacher, for example, wants you to write that 2 + 2 = 5 on a test or they will fail you from the class, but you know 2 + 2 = 4, what would you do?

        Maybe complain to your parents or the principal, right? But what if everyone you try to talk to agrees with 2 + 2 = 5? Is that correct then? No, but you might humor them (not argue, but know you are right) to graduate. 😉

        Thanks for the comments.

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