The Many U.S. Presidents Before George Washington

Today I found out about the presidents before the U.S. Constitution went into effect.

Schools in the United States teach children from an early age that the first president of the United States was George Washington. But teachers often forget to mention a small, kind of important detail- George Washington was the first U.S. president under the current United States Constitution, but he wasn’t the country’s first president.

Before the U.S. Constitution came into being, the Articles of Confederation served as the glue which held all thirteen states together as a single country. (See: The Articles of Confederation: The Constitution Before the Constitution) The Articles went into effect in 1781, and they established a loose alliance among the states. The Articles also defined the role of Congress to oversee the national needs, as well as the office of the president.

Due to the fear of giving too much power to one person, the office of president was extremely limited in power and scope, and was not even a paid position.  Rather, the primary roles of the president at this time were simply to preside over meetings and handle various state correspondence. The president was also the one who signed official congressional documents.

So who were these individuals who served such a lackluster position as the office of president?

John_HansonThe first president of the United States under the Articles of Confederation was John Hanson from Maryland. His term began in 1781 and ended in 1782. He at first attempted to resign directly after being elected (with so little power given to the office and no pay to boot, few wanted the position over political offices in their home states). However, ultimately a quorum could not be reached to name a successor, so he decided to stay on as president. Being the country’s first full-term president under the Articles of Confederation meant that he oversaw programs that helped to establish daily life in the new country. For instance, Hanson held the position of president when the government started on the road to creating what would become the U.S. Post Office and the National Bank. The government also established a single, uniform currency throughout the states under his mostly powerless watch.

Elias_BoudinotElias Boudinot of New Jersey became the second president, serving from 1782 until 1783. His presidency coincided with the official end to the American Revolutionary War. Boudinot presided over the country when the Treaty of Paris was signed in Paris on September 3, 1783. However, the Treaty of Paris did more than simply end the war; it required that the United States be recognized as an independent country and no longer a part of the British Empire. Besides being president, Boudinot was also noteworthy for his era for advocating for the rights of both Native Americans and black people, as well as directly sponsoring various youth among these groups so that they could receive an education.

Thomas_MifflinThomas Mifflin became the president for the term of 1783 until 1784. He oversaw the ratification of the Treaty of Paris during his presidency. Originally from Pennsylvania, he served under General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. That former position, and Washington’s later significance as the first president under the U.S. Constitution, made it somewhat ironic that president Mifflin accepted George Washington’s resignation as Commander in Chief.

Richard-Henry-LeeRichard Henry Lee of Virginia served as the country’s fourth president from 1784 until 1785. His presidency might have been pretty uneventful, but his political career afterwards was not. He became a vocal opponent of the now current U.S. Constitution out of the fear that it would create a centralized government too similar to the government that the colonies lived under as British citizens. He also hesitated because the document lacked a Bill of Rights, though many of his later suggestions were incorporated into the United States Bill of Rights.

John-HancockJohn Hancock, most famous for his large signature on the Declaration of Independence, held the position of the president from 1785 to 1786. His life in politics began long before the presidency, and he even helped to fund the American effort during the Revolutionary War. His life in politics continued after his tenure as president under the Articles of Confederation. He was reelected as Governor of Massachusetts—a position he resigned due to health before becoming president—and even ran against George Washington in the first U.S. presidential election under the Constitution. He did not expect to win, but had hoped to finish second so that he could become vice president. Ultimately that post went to John Adams.

Nathaniel_GorhamNathaniel Gorham, also from Massachusetts, served as the president under the Articles of Confederation from 1786 until 1787. Like many other presidents during the time, his presidency was simply another item on his long list of political accomplishments. He began his career as a public notary who quickly won election to the colonial legislature during the Revolutionary War. He served as a member of the legislature, became a judge even though he lacked legal training, and even attended the Constitutional Convention where he supported the new U.S. Constitution.  As for Gorham’s family, his sister was the wife of John Leighton, an ancestor of the second wife of Theodore Roosevelt, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt.

Arthur-St.-ClaireThe seventh president of the United States was a man from Ohio named Arthur St. Clair. He held the position between 1787 and 1788. He left Congress after finishing his term. He then received the appointment to governor of the Northwest Territory, a position where he often faced off with the Native Americans who claimed they, in fact, owned the land. Despite once being enormously wealthy, St. Clair ultimately died poor, with much of his wealth used to support the American Revolution and young government. Late in life, he gave away the little money that remained of his once vast fortune.

Cyrus-GriffinCyrus Griffin of Virginia had a background in law before he became the eighth and final president of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. He helped to put the country’s new judicial system on the path to becoming what we know today as the modern American court system during his work at the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture. He continued to contribute to the new country’s court system after his presidency when he went on to become a judge with the District Court of Virginia.

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  • There were also presidents before the presidents under the ratified Articles of Confederation.  These were Peyton Randolph, who served from 1774-1775 before taking a leave due to poor health; Henry Middleton, who served in Randolph’s absence; John Hancock, who served for two years at this point (and would later serve again, as noted above); Henry Laurens who ultimately resigned over a controversy concerning diplomat Silas Deane; John Jay, who also served as Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court at the same time he held the office of president; Samuel Huntington, who ultimately resigned due to health problems (including smallpox), but has the distinction of being the president when the Articles of Confederation were finally ratified; Samuel Johnston, who refused the office of the president when elected; and Thomas McKean, who ultimately resigned after the British surrender at Yorktown. McKean is notable as being the first president elected after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, but is generally not considered the first president due to failing to serve a full year term as specified under the Articles of Confederation. (McKean only served for three months.) A few weeks after his resignation, in November of 1781, Congress met as specified in the Articles of Confederation (“the first Monday in November”), with John Hanson being elected president.
  • John Hanson’s grandfather paid his way to America from England by becoming an indentured servant in the mid-17th century. By Hanson’s time, the family had rose significantly in wealth, allowing Hanson to help fund the revolution both via general fundraising and often paying soldiers out of his own pocket.
  • The three branches of the American government that we know today—the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Branches—came about with the Constitution. Under the Articles of Confederation, only the legislative branch existed.
  • Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress couldn’t tax the states. It needed to ask them for money to run the government.  Needless to say, the government under the Articles was more than a little cash-strapped.  See: A Brief History of Taxes in the United States and Why They’re Due on April 15th
  • The Articles allowed members of Congress to have freedom of speech and guaranteed they would not be arrested if they committed certain petty crimes.
  • Confederate General Robert E. Lee was a descendent of the fourth president, Richard Henry Lee.
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  • These men did have the title of “president”, but the word meant things very different back then. They were nothing more than the “presiding office”. It was a clerical position. The clerks of congress have more influence today than they had in their president capacity. That had influence, but was because of their personal influence and was in spite of the office, but because of it.

    • Still would’ve been nice to know that this happened in history, and that these gentlemen existed in the forming of our nation… Instead of being left out in history class, to be forever forgotten… I feel that something sinister behind the omission

      • Right because now everybody confused.

      • There were Presidents in Congress even before the Presidents under the Articles of Confederation.
        Generally speaking their term in office if i remember correctly last as long as Congress was in session.
        The president of the Congress was elected to the position by his fellow delegates , there were no Senators or Representatives back then the Congress was a Unicameral Congress , that had no taxing authority, they relied upon the 13 colonies to collect tax money to fund the national government.

      • They did not form a ‘nation’, but a REPUBLIC. In terms of political economy and international law, two very distinct categories, as Madison pointed out in Federalist 39:

        “Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a federal, and not a national constitution.”

        It’s worse than mere ignorance to refer to these united States as a ‘nation’; learn why in this article:

    • The responsibilities of the job were different because the nation was different. Different demands on a birthing nation in a world where there was negligible global commerce. Once upon a time, women could not be secretaries because the job involved working with a machine (typewriter). So… because the position of president was somewhat different 250 years ago makes it no less important, just because you might not have known about it until 2014. The only REAL difference between the Continental President’s position and the Constitutionally nominated and elected president was the establishment and passage of that Constitution. It is only the grade school history books which failed to fully teach American history that failed. Continental presidents from Hanson to Griffin were just as important to the formation and stabilization of the United States as all of those who have come after the passage of that Constitution.

  • John Hanson was a moor ( African man) not European.

    • I’m sorry the answer is “Moops”.

    • The John Hanson you are referring to was not a Moor, he was African American, and he was not the John Hanson who served as President of the Continental Congress.

    • You are wrong. My grandmother was Ruth C Bright (married name) born Ruth C Hanson and she would tell us that our great, great, …….whatever was the first president and we ( my sister and I) would be like , ” yea your crazy grandma..whatever”. Of course not to her face but under our breath and until the internet got up and running we all thought she was full of it but the internet vindicated her but anyway he was not from Africa. Our ancestry is from Denmark and England…just saying…know ur history..everything doesn’t have to be black.

    • Good luck with finding someone who believes that.

  • These men were not “Presidents of the United States.” The Articles of Confederation did not have an executive office, they were president of the Congress. George Washington was the 1st President of the United States beginning in 1789-1797, an office specifically created by the Constitution. The founding fathers were fearful of a strong executive, like King George III, developing during the Revolutionary War and therefore did not create a person who would have the power that Washington was eventually given in Article II.


    • If we’re to consider the birthday of the United States as July 4th, 1776 then the largely unknown founding fathers who served as president from that date until Washington took office in 1789 should be recognized as such.
      There were 8 presidents under our original form of government. If we count our nation’s birthday as July 4, 1776 then we should count the presidents from 1776 until 1789. These presidents were:

      Probably, the only founding father name on here that you probably even recognize is John Hancock.…/ear…/articles-of-confederation
      What a shame that history has totally forgotten these men.
      While the Constitution was ratified September 17, 1787, George Washington didn’t take office until April 30, 1789 because the Congress of the Confederation had set March 4, 1789 as the date for the beginning of operations of the federal government under the new U.S. Constitution. That’s when the election was held and Washington took office the following month.

  • It seems folks have some strong feeling on this subject. Suffice to say, there were Presidents before George Washington. Historical fact, and good trivia question. Just like “who designed the first flag?”, it’s really unknown!

  • So many lies like all the fake mass shootings, challenger astro-nots still alive and all the masonic presidents we’ve had since Washington. Since they’ve passed H.R.5736 bill, 99% out what’s on TV now is propaganda. They’re pushing hard against the growing flat earth movement fearing an end to the 500 yr old, 1000 mph spinning ball lie.

    • I love you. Thanks for making me laugh.

    • How do you explain the astronauts who have seen this “spinning ball lie”? How would hiding a flat earth possibly benefit anyone?

      • The government is trying to indoctrinate us in believing in a spinning ball because there is a plan on a staged UFO invasion. If you believe in a galaxy, universe and planets it is easy to deceive the mass.

        • Wake up. All things in nature take on a round appearance because of the nature of spinning infinity.
          Every system you can think of from a atom to our univers is a round spinning system. And yes. So is the earth.
          I sailed around the worldm yoy just head west.
          How did I get back to where I started.
          The star systems change as you change latitudes. All that would not be as it us if this totally stupid flat earth nonsense were true.
          Yes there is a conspiracy to dumb us down. Yes the bankers rule us.
          But learn some phisics on atomic structure and the tetrahedron.
          We are all whipping through space at relativistic speeds. May the sun god bless you.

        • Didn’t you hear? The X-Files got cancelled. Sorry.

    • Jenny, do you wear an aluminum hat 24/7/365?

    • Makeety Makondo


      Thanks, havent laughed like that in a while.

    • Jenny, do the rest of us a favour and get some treatment, fer Chrissakes.

    • @Jenny spot on. A Great Deception is coming. Get right with God people. Jesus Christ is the only way. Satan is in control of this world trying to destroy God’s creation and taking as many people as he can with him to hell. Satan deceived a third of the angels in heaven who were in the presence of God, so how much more easily can he deceive us?? Hence all of the conspiracy “theories” that people laugh at, though they are truth. Satan is the father of lies. Learn the freemasonic symbols, and you’ll see them everywhere.

  • The treaty of Paris never mentiond “The United States”, but instead each of the individual 13 colonies were said to be independent soveriegn nations. The US did not start as a single country, and neither constitution made it a singular nation state. It was a confederacy of nations that morphed into a singular nation state overtime.

  • If only the presidency returned to the clerical function it was under the Articles ! Then the money would be out of the position, and we’d have men who would really serve, not the pompous asses we’ve called president the last several terms.

    • Lol, my husband says the same thing. It’s technically not supposed to be a paid position. Like taxes are actually illegal. It was temporarily imposed and then someone just left it there. Makes you wonder.

      • Taxes arent illegal it says so in the constitution that yyou cannot be taxed if there is no representation hince “Taxation withoit Representation” from Jamestown and such

  • FYI the first 8 presidents were Moors what europeans like to refer to as black people which black is not a race nor nationality and the etymology of black actually means PALE lacking color well Melanin so why all these pictures of caucasians? Which now that we know some facts maybe some europeans will stop claiming to be American and usurping our rights and land as it is very evident you all came from the Caucas Mountains/Europe so why are you all protesting for the true indigenous people to go back home when our home is here North South and Central America as well as adjoining Islands lets stop white sugar coating lies and tell the whole truth

  • John Hanson (as with every other person listed above) was the President of Congress, not President of the US. The articles of Confederation had no designated executive position, and as such no person was president of the US under the Articles.

    Sorry to burst the bubble, but the first president of the US remains George Washington.

    • But “Dee Money” I think you’re missing the point. For many years we had a country…and a declaration of independence…and later a constitution. Well, during this time and before George was elected in 1789, the Continental Congress ran all affairs related to our burgeoning nation. The person who had oversight into these affairs was the “President” of the Congress, as you so astutely noted. President of congress was an appointed position and there were several, including John Hancock, signer of the declaration of independence. To say no such person was president under the articles is totally false as we know there were 8 people with the title.

      George Washington still remains the first ELECTED President of the United States, why don’t you just grab onto that and hold on with all your might since it seems you really feel you need this victory.

  • They were the first presidents of the continental congress…… not the United States. Do your homework.

  • THAT IS NOT A PICTURE OF JOHN HANSON!!! President John Hanson was a Black Man, he alone is the reason we are a democracy and not under a monarchy. Maybe sometimes It’s nice to get off of the computer and read an actual book, because they literally can write just anything on the internet without any repercussions and wind up confusing people even more. The soldiers wanted to quit do to not getting paid and being forced to fight in unbearable conditions. He and his brother went over all budgeting and sold silver at least enough to get every soldier a decent pair of shoes. The soldiers, seeing his effort, in exchange, continued the fight. Heck the real truth is the people wanted to make George Washington the first king of America, not president. George Washington was the first president after the constitution. Before that, the first 13 UNITED states!

  • Just like Daven said these folks are confused the ones who thinks John Hanson was a black man I was wondering how many of you were there and actually met him? Funny you don’t seem to be that old. I would think that you would have actually been doing your homework to have those comments.
    To the idiots who actually believe that the Earth is flat and is not spherical in shape it is very apparent you have never left your mother’s basement and traveled anywhere, because if you have ever left the United States you would have seen for yourself in flight the circular shape of the earth. Perhaps you might even think a baseball is flat. SMH. Some people are just unlearned.

  • Please allow me to apologize over my previous statement if I hurt anyone’s feelings are caused anyone to act in any way out of anger because ethnicity is not confined to any one race of human beings as all of us belong to our own ethnic group to say that any of our previous presidents were black white or any other color due to a statement of ethnicity is absolutely Incorrect and unprovable your knowledge could differ from mine however neither of us can prove that our knowledge is absolutely correct we can only make a statement about the knowledge we were given with that being said we cannot prove for 100% actuality that either of these presidents were white black orange or green as none of us are old enough to have been there met these presidents and took a picture of us standing beside of them therefore we all only believe the knowledge that we have to be correct solely by faith.
    I must say also to those that I called an idiot who believe that this Earth is flat and not spherical in shape I apologize everyone should be equally able to have their own beliefs in this life so the only way that we could know that our belief is even close to being correct his by leaving this Earth and going to outer space our self taking off whatever mask or anything that could possibly distort our view and seeing for ourselves receiving the proper knowledge that either this Earth is flat or rather it to be spiracle and shape we cannot say for a fact that our government or anyone else has been lying to us about either flat or round it is not a conspiracy what possibly could the government or anyone else be trying to achieve by telling us or even putting in a history book one way or the other I must say to each his own you have your beliefs I have my beliefs and both of us believe solely on faith and the only knowledge that we have been given so I must say that because you believe certain things that I don’t believe that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an idiot or unlearned so please accept my full apologies on both situations as I am not completely positive on either of the issues none of us are

  • ever seen a lunar eclipse? roundness covers the moon. so if the earth is flat and also circular? how is it you dont get any different perspectives other than it is round? oh yeah, because it’s f’ing round, and anybody who doesnt believe that, including the worlds leading expert in mushrooms, is sadly mistaken and slightly out of their minds. no reason to apologise to them bZ.

  • Funny comments! Yes, the article doesn’t make clear that under the Articles of Confederation, the president was actually the President of Congress, and not President of the United States, but it was the closest position to POTUS under the Articles, and Americans should still have some knowledge of the U.S. under the Articles and its personages.

    Also, very funny all the people who claim that John Hanson was a Moor. But Daven cleared that up, and even Wikipedia now notes that the John Hanson of Liberia is sometimes confused with the American John Hanson. The internet is full of knowledge; use it to good advantage and you’ll be less confused and better informed than most people.

  • I really enjoy all of the comments. Thanks to each and every of the several.

  • 1st. Anyone who thinks the African American John Hanson was President needs to rethink the history of blacks in America. Who the hell is stupid enough to actually believe they let a black man be President in those times? I swear the idiocy in this country is staggering.

    2nd. The Constitution was an illegal and treasonous document drafted in secret by federalists who committed a Coup d’Etat. No had permission to create a new Constitution. The express and implied purpose of the Convention was to amend the Articles of Confederation. Now we have a federal dictatorship thanks to those assholes.

    3rd. Doesn’t anyone pay attention to stuff? Washington took the wrong oath on purpose. The Executive oath for Office of President is under Article VI, not II. idiots.

    • ‘frntncntr’, your second and third assertions are wrong. Not to say idiotic, though perhaps I could. You anonymous people usually post idiotic things with alacrity.

      As to the 1787 convention, you are partially correct, in that the delegates violated their charges and exceeded their authority. But it was not a coup d’etat, for it was ratified by the States over a very deliberative two years. And it certainly did not produce a ‘federal dictatorship’; anyone can read the law and see that in it, We The People grant only 17 limited powers to the servants, retaining all other imaginable powers in life, for ourselves.

      The fact that We The People are idiots can be only partially blamed on the criminogenic denizens of the city-state on the Potomac. Those Deep State minions could not do what they do, if We The People actually exercised our sovereign prerogatives — above all, just ENFORCING that law.

      And no, George Washington did not ‘take the wrong oath on purpose’. The oath of office for all presidents is found in Article II, Section 1, Clause 20 (final clause). The ‘no religious test’ stipulation in Article VI in not the oath of office, but only a stipulation of office.

  • Presiding Officer, a.k.a., President, makes so much more sense in the history of Washington, and even the Constitution.

    Clearly, the transitional period from Articles of Confederation and the Constitution is both important, and essential, in our national history. Why has it been dismissed as unimportant in the founding of the country. And who decided to delete it?

  • I hope a native American aka native Indian who owned the land can be the next president of US.

  • Bruce a. Quintana

    My Great Grand Father generations ago was General Athure Siclaire and my great aunts are listed in the Daughters of The Revolution, I am proud to say ge also cross the Patomic river at the battle of Waterloo. first time I got to share that.

  • Why is th ed truth about the eight presidents who were people of color, that had established and were running the country before Christopher Columbus arrived with his ship full of Caucasian slaves from the Caucus mountains.

  • Harold Williams

    Why would John Hanson be displayed as being European when he clearly was of Afrikaan descendant its ashame how you want to put the information out there but to do it and alternate the color of ones skin tone to use deception to trick the public that Barack Obama was the first black President when in fact he was the 3rd….

    • Correction Barack Obama was the 10th black President of the United States of America…