If you are like me, you were probably never taught that our nation had two governments. We are under the second one. In the 1780s, prior to the Constitutional government, we had the original government with its own constitution "The Articles of Confederation."
The first President of the United States was not George Washington but John Hanson, the only man from Maryland to serve in the nation's highest office. That is a historical fact that has been lost in American memory.
In late June 1776, twelve colonies were in on the Declaration of Independence but doubting Maryland was not. John Hanson took the lead in the Maryland Legislative body, saying they must join in on the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress was sitting in Philadelphia waiting on word from Maryland. They said they would wait until July 2 and if Maryland was not in at that point, they would go ahead without Maryland. They were sitting there that afternoon when a rider came in from Maryland saying Maryland is in and that made it unanimous. Hanson had convinced Maryland to go along and took the lead in keeping the nation whole.
At the same time the Declaration was signed, there was a motion to form a Continental Congress and have it draft a Constitution. By the fall of 1777, the committee reported in but there was not yet a government. The Second Continental Congress was a consultative body of thirteen colonies and states that were trying to form a government. They had separate governments that had declared independence from England but were thirteen separate nation-states, much as you see in the European Union today.
In late 1777, the Articles of Confederation went to the thirteen states for ratification but there was an impasse on the Western lands. Six of the colonies had been granted so-called Western Lands by the British crown. Hanson, in the Maryland General assembly, saw this would not work. Those six would outweigh the population of the seven states without land grants and run the show. It would lead to division and the breakdown of the nation. Three of these Western Land Grants extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean. If Hanson had not done his work, we would have Seattle, Connecticut; San Francisco, Virginia; and San Diego, Georgia.
The Second Continental Congress was stuck on this for five years until Hanson authored the Doctrine of Maryland saying Maryland will not join unless this is solved. The General Assembly of Maryland sent Hanson to Congress and eight months after he arrived he got all six of those states to agree to cede those Western Lands to the United States. So Hanson saved his nation the second time.
A nation does not exist until you have a government and a Head of State. That did not happen until the Articles were ratified and signed on November 5, 1781. As its first act, they elected John Hanson as the first President, unopposed.
Who was our first President? We had two governments and each government had its first President. John Hanson was the first President of the original government and George Washington was the first President of the second government. Washington himself stated that Hanson preceded him and was the actual first President of the United States. Seven more men were elected for one-year terms as President of the original government. They were Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, and Cyrus Griffin. Then in 1789, George Washington became the first President of the second government under the current United States Constitution.
Remembering John Hanson was written by Peter Hanson Michael, a descendant of John Hanson. The book is a comprehensive biography of the most-forgotten major figure in American history. I learned a lot from it that I never knew and was not taught in our American history classes.