Until last Thursday, I knew for sure who the “father” of the United States was.
An honourable and principled man who, as a child, chopped down a cherry tree with his new hatchet and when his father asked who had done it, replied, “I cannot tell a lie.”
That, of course, was George Washington–the first president of the United States.
But now, I’m not so sure.
While researching the origins of U.S. Thanksgiving Day, I stumbled across some websites, including an encyclopedia, that cast doubt on my belief.
Those sources said that the first president of the United States was not George Washington but John Hanson, who took office in 1781—eight years before Washington. And those sources also said there were six subsequent presidents before Washington was sworn in as president in 1789.
It seems to depend when you think the United States became a country.
The new country actually was formed on March 1, 1781 with the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. The document was proposed on June 11, 1776 but was not adopted until March 1, 1781.
It seems Maryland refused to sign the document until Virginia and New York relinquished some of their land because Maryland was afraid those states would have too much power in the new government with so much land.
Once the signing took place, a president was needed to run the country. George Washington was part of the Congress at that time, but John Hanson was chosen unanimously. Hanson was so respected by Congress that all other potential candidates refused to run against him.
Thus, Hanson became our first “forgotten” president.
Gen. Washington served under President Hanson, and eight years later Washington became the first president to serve under our current constitution. Hanson’s official title was “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.”
Hanson served only one year because at that time the Articles of Confederation only allowed a president to serve a one-year term during any three-year period.
For a one-year president, Hanson accomplished a lot!
President Hanson was well-prepared for the highest office. As a very self-motivated child, he began reading the classics and political philosophy of the great leaders of the Reformation. He also came from a long line of American patriots.
His farm, Mulberry Grove, was just across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, Washington’s residence.
Hanson, who took office just as the Revolutionary War ended, boldly ordered all foreign troops to leave and also demanded all foreign flags be removed. Among his other accomplishments, he established the Great Seal of the United States, which all presidents have since been required to use on official documents.
He created the position Secretary of War and established the first Treasury, Foreign Affair,s and Post Office departments. He also chartered a national bank, designed a system of universal coinage, and planned for a national census.
But one of the most important things Hanson did (at least it would seem so at this time of year) was to declare the fourth Thursday of every November to be Thanksgiving Day. And Americans still do to this day!
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.visit-snider.com
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