Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8
Curriculum Unit

Who Was Really Our First President? A Lost Hero (3 Lessons)



The Unit


From 1781 to 1782 he was “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” under the Articles of Confederation. As the presiding officer of Congress, Hanson was responsible for initiating a number of programs that helped America gain a world position.
John Hanson Statue on the website The Architect of the Capitol, a link from the EDSITEment resource CongressLink

At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as “His Excellency.” Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Though the proper form of address represents only a small detail, defining everything about the Presidency was central to the idea of America that was a work-in-progress when the nation was young.

In this lesson, students look at the role of President as defined in the Articles of Confederation and consider the precedent-setting accomplishments of John Hanson, the first full-term “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.”

Guiding Questions

  • How was the role of “President” defined in the Articles of Confederation?
  • What important developments occurred during John Hanson's term as the first full-term “President of the United States in Congress Assembled”?
  • How did they affect the future of the U.S. and the office of the President?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the role of “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” under the Articles of Confederation and explain how the President was elected.
  • Describe some of the actions of John Hanson in his role as “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.”
  • List some of the problems and accomplishments that occurred under the Articles of Confederation.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • Students with an understanding of the fears of the Founders regarding a powerful executive will benefit the most from this lesson. When discussing the structure of the Executive sketched in the Articles of Confederation, it is useful to refer back to the complaints of the colonists as summarized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Help students understand why and how the Founders were cautious. Consult the following EDSITEment lessons for grades 6-8 for more information on:
  • On March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation, which had been passed by the Continental Congress in 1777, finally came into force with ratification by Maryland. On October 19 of the same year, British General Cornwallis surrendered a large army to General George Washington, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. Days later, the Continental Congress elected John Hanson of Maryland the "President of the United States in Congress Assembled" with no dissenting votes. On paper, the role was largely ceremonial, with its only specified duty being presiding over the Congress; however, some people believe Hanson was integral to a number of important actions. Many of the initiatives begun during Hanson's term in office were realized later when Washington was Chief Executive (for example, the census and Postal Service).
  • The EDSITEment reviewed website Digital Classroom offers The Declaration of Independence: A History and The Constitution: A History for background on those fundamental documents as well as the Articles of Confederation.
  • Unless otherwise specified, historic documents referred to in the lesson plan are available on the EDSITEment resource Avalon Project at the Yale Law School.
  • The handout "Documents for John Hanson's Term as President of the United States in Congress Assembled," on pages 3-8 of the PDF file (see download instructions, above), uses very brief excerpts from the records of the Continental Congress. The documents are intended to represent a sample of the problems and accomplishments of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation during John Hanson's tenure as President. The interesting but relatively inconsequential question about Hanson's place in history serves in this lesson as a hinge into the more important question of the problems with the Articles of Confederation that eventually led to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

    The records of the Continental Congress are presented to students in their original language. Some difficult terms, indicated by underlining, are defined in parentheses. Some grammar and spelling has been standardized. In many classes, students will be able to understand the text sufficiently for the requirements of this lesson; some classes will benefit by simply going through a few (or all) of the documents as a whole class. The passages are all short but vary in length; if students will be looking at them in groups, assign groups and passages accordingly. There are 12 documents; use all of them or choose those most appropriate for your class. Some representing defects in the Articles and accomplishments of the Congress are marked.
  • For further reading, consult the Recommended Reading List provided here as a PDF.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level


Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > U.S. Constitution
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Using primary sources