Lesson 3: Lost Hero: Was John Hanson Actually the First President?

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).

Guiding Questions

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

After completing this lesson in the unit, students will be able to: 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.