A Patriot History Forgot

By Jospeh Arkin

This nation was governed by the Articles of Confederation from 1777 to 1789, from the year immediately following the Declaration of Independence until several years after the signing of a peace treaty with the British. Yet, those who served as presidents under these articles have passed into oblivion.

John Hanson, in particular, is one patriot whose name is omitted from most history books and encyclopedias. But it was this man whose administrative ability helped to mold our nation.

Hanson was born in 1715 at Port Tobacco, Md., and was descended from Swedish grandparents who helped to found the colony of Maryland. He was active in politics and served as Maryland’s delegate to the Continental Congress.

On Nov. 5, 1781, in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the Continental Congress unanimously voted Hanson to be "President of the United States in Congress Assembled."

Charles Thomas, secretary of Congress in 1781, wrote a letter to George Washington: "I have the honor to inform you that this day (Nov. 5) pursuant to the Articles of Confederation, the United States in Congress Assembled proceeded to the choice of a president and have elected for the ensuing year his Excellency John Hanson."

Washington - at this time leading the colonial forces in battle - took time off from his military duties to send a message to Hanson, saying: "I congratulate your Excellency on your appointment to fill the most important seat in the United States."

The year during which Hanson served was an important era to the young nation. It was about this time that a Department of Foreign Affairs was established, courts and the judicial system came into being, the offices of Secretary of War and Finance were created, the Consular Service was established, the Post Office with Benjamin Franklin as Postmaster was officially born, and the great seal of the United States was adopted. The Thanksgiving holiday is credited to Hanson.

The Articles of Confederation were just a stopgap measure leading to the form of government we have today. Hanson, whose name is all but lost in antiquity, has received token recognition in recent years. A 20-cent postage stamp was issued in his memory in 1981, honoring him as first President of the Continental Congress.