John Hanson – First President of the United States


Who was the first president of the United States? Wrong. It wasn’t George Washington, but it was a friend of his.

John Hanson, the representative from Maryland to the Continental Congress in 1781 and elected as the first president from 1781 to 1782.

The First Black President?

And he may have been black, according to Alexander Wilson on the Web site The author claims Hanson was a Moor. He delves into questions about Hanson including why he is not listed a signer of the Declaration of Independence and why there doesn’t appear to be a body.

Some of this has been refuted. According to, “John Hanson was born in Charles County, Maryland in 1715 and died in Oxen Hills, Prince George County, Maryland on November 22, 1783. There is much debate about John Hanson’s ancestry with one camp claiming he was descended from Swedish Royalty while the other group claiming he was a Moor. Neither of the assertions have merit. John Hanson received an English education, and was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates nearly every year from 1757 until 1781.”

Many have tried to debunk the claim of him as the first president because the final version of the United States didn’t exist until the adoption of the Constitution in 1787.

George Washington’s Pal

Yet his actual title was President of the United States in Congress Assembled. George Washington, in a letter congratulated Hanson on being “elected first president of these United States.”

Certainly, he did not have the powers Washington or his successors did, but he was the first nominal head of the nation following the American Revolution.

According to, Hanson helped organize soldiers for the war, helped give Washington power to negotiate with the British and basically kept the nation together during the first year of the transition following the Revolution.

He served largely as chairman of the Continental Congress for one year with several following him.

According to “Six other presidents were elected after him — Elias Boudinot (1783), Thomas Mifflin (1784), Richard Henry Lee (1785), Nathan Gorman (1786), Arthur St. Clair (1787), and Cyrus Griffin (1788) — all prior to Washington taking office. Why don’t we ever hear about the first seven Presidents of the United States? 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.”

It also is true that two men preceded Hanson in his position, too, but he was the first elected following the defeat of the British.

Seymour Wemyss Smith wrote a book about him in the early 20th century called John Hanson — Our First President. It is where the debate first began about Hanson and his role in the post-Revolutionary period.

Some Remember

Maryland celebrates April 13 as John Hanson Day and made his home into a museum. There also is a school named after him as well as a highway.

It is far too easy to teach children the clichés of American History. There’s a a lot more to this nation than is covered in the average text book.