Who was the first President? It wasn’t George.
August 2, 2013
So you write fiction.
Or maybe, even more importantly, you read fiction.
Chances are you wonder at times about the plot, the characters, the conflict, and you think: This may be a little too improbable to be plausible.
It may be a little too strange.
It may be a little too outlandish.
Nobody will believe this.
Reality is far more bizarre than anything you can make up.
Take American history, for example, and answer a simple question:
Who was the first President?
Easy, you say.
It was George Washington.
Learned it in school.
Learned it early.
John Hanson was the first President of the United States.
Did he kick George out of office without telling us?
John Hanson beat George to the office.
Sure, the United States tired of taxation without representation and fought a war with Great Britain, declaring its independence in 1776.
That’s a date we all know.
The country, however, wasn’t formed until five years later – March 1, 1781 – with the adoption of the Articles of Confederation.
Everybody step up and sign here.
We’re a new nation.
Not so fast.
Maryland refused to sign until Virginia and New York stepped up and ceded their western lands. Maryland feared those who had too much land. In those days, too much land meant too much power. Maryland only had a handful of dirt.
When the signing of the Articles did officially take place, Congress knew that they needed a President to run the country.
They agreed on the one man who had played such a major role in the revolution and had become such an influential member of Congress. He was a good man. A strong man. A wealthy man. A principled man.
The members asked John Hanson to run.
He was so popular that no one dared run against him.
Even George Washington stood and voted for him.
John was the first, and it was a good time to be President. There were no shoes – either large or small – he had to fill.
But, alas, the soldiers were tired and hungry, ragged and broke. They had just finished fighting a war and wanted to be paid. No. They demanded to be paid.
John Hanson checked the Federal treasury.
It was empty.
The soldiers revolted. They had gotten good at it by now.
And Congress bolted.
Members ran far and wide and in a hurry.
Don’t look back.
They were running for their lives.
Only one man had nerve enough to remain on the seat of power and face a swarm of angry soldiers: John Hanson.
He reasoned with the troops. He calmed them. He spent three years holding the country together with guts, gumption, and broken fingernails.
Hanson established the Great Seal of the United States. He created the first Treasury Department, nailed together the first Foreign Affairs Department, and appointed the first Secretary of War. To pay tribute to the Pilgrims who settled the New World, he even declared that the fourth Thursday of every November be officially celebrated as Thanksgiving Day.
Seven other Presidents were elected after John Hanson stepped down.
Richard Henry Lee
Arthur St. Clair
Other than Lee, do you know any of the names?
Neither did I.
They all served under the Articles of Confederation and it didn’t work well at all.
Too much debate.
Too many squabbles.
Too many fights.
No one could agree on anything.
So they Articles of Confederation were ditched, and a new document was written. Its author, Thomas Jefferson, called it the Constitution, and with a new constitution in hand, a nation elected George Washington to the Presidency.
He wasn’t the first.
But he became the first.
And John Hanson, as well as most of the other six Presidents of the United States, faded into the folds of history and were either ignored or forgotten. They may have done a good job during the hardest of times. But their one failure was a big failure.
They didn’t hire the right publicist.