John Hanson 3rd
President of the United States
in Congress Assembled
November 5, 1781 to November 4, 1782
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. He moved to
Frederick County in 1773 and was an energetic patriot, who in 1775 became
treasurer of the county. About that time he was commissioned by the Maryland
convention to establish a gun-lock factory at Frederick.
On October 9th, 1776 he was part of a
committee empowered to call on the Maryland Troops in New Jersey, "with power
to appoint officers and to encourage the re-enlistment of the Maryland militia"
as General Washington's military losses in New York and New Jersey were
substantial and desertion was rampant.
John Hanson was elected a delegate to
the United States in Congress Assembled in 1780 and served until his death in
1783. On September 11th the Freshman Delegate wrote this letter to Charles
Carroll of Carrollton, Signer of the Declaration of Independence:
"I have been Confined to my Room a
fortnight, and was so unwell When the last post set out, that I was not able to
Write, I am now on the recovery, and hope to be able to attend Congress in a day
or two. I inclosed you Some time ago a Curious Historical Annecdote, delivered
in may last, by sir John Dalrymple, to the Court of Spain. As you have Said
nothing about it, am afraid it has not Come to hand.
Congress received a letter by
Express from General Gates dated Hillsborough August 20th giving an Account (tho'
a very Confused one) of His unfortunate Defeat near Camden, on the 16th. He says
he marched about 10 oClock in the night of the 15th, to possess himself of an
advantageous piece of Ground about Seven miles from Camden. About 2 oClock in
the Morning His light Horse was attacked by those of the Enemies but were
repulsed. Upon this he halted the Army, and nothing more happened till about
break of Day, When he was attacked by the Whole furie of the Enemy. His Army was
drawn up with the Virginia Militia on the left, the North Carolina militia in
the Center and General Gist on the right-General Smallwood was in the rear, as a
Corps De'reserve. The Militia to a man fled the first fire, and left our brave
regulars to Sustain the Whole force of the Enemy. General Gates went of[f] with
the Militia, endeavouring to rally them, but to no purpose, and while he was
thus engaged. He Says the firing between the two Armies Ceased, by which he
Concluded all was over, and therefore made the best of his Way to Hillsborough
Where he arrived the 19th performing a Journey of 196 miles in less than four
days. He Knows nothing of What became of the Regulars, but says he should
immediately Send off a flag to gain the necessary information.
Saturday last an Express Arrived
from Governor Nash dated the 26th Advising that Generals Smallwood, And Gist,
had bravely Cut their Way thro' the Enemy With about 400 men-that the Militia
were again Collecting, that they had got together between two and three
thousand, regulars included. This day another letter has been received from
General Gates with a list of the Officers that are Safe to Wit Generals
Smallwood and Gist, Colonels Williams, Gunby and about 700 privates. The list
also Contains the Names of those officers that are missing, but I have not Seen
it, neither Can I procure a Copy to Send you by this Opportunity. Baron de Calmb
is Dead of His wounds. Our loss on the Whole about 500 and that of the Enemy as
many. We have also lost all our Baggage Waggons and Eight pieces of Cannon.
Our main Army is in the greatest
distress for want of provisions Were Without meat from the 21st to the 26th and
Some have not had one day With another not one third allowance. The general
moved into the neighborhood of Fort Lee with a View of Stripping that part of
the Country of the remainder of its Cattle Which after a most rigorous exertion
afforded only two or three days supply and this Consisting of milch Cows and Calves
of one or two years old. This manner of procuring is very distressing and
attended With ruin to the morals and discipline of the Army, during the five
days. Which small parties
were Sent out to procure provisions for themselves, the most enormous excesses
were Committed. It has been no inconsiderable Support to our Cause to have had
it in our power to Contrast the Conduct of our Army With that of the Enemy, and
to convince the Inhabitants, that While their rights were Wantonly Violated by
the British Troops, by ours they were respected. This distinction must now
unhappily Cease, and we must assume the Odious Character of the plunderers
instead of the protectors of the people, the direct Consequence of Which must be
to Alienate their minds from the Army, and insensibly from the Cause-in short,
if this method of procuring provisions for the Army is not very speedily
prevented, by an exertion of the States in Sending forward Supplies the Army
must disband, and we are undone. It is reported and Credited by many that a
french fleet of 18 Ships of the line and some frigates are on the Coast. They
were Seen it is Said Some days ago to the Northward of our Capes. Our new raised
Battalion is ordered by the general to the Southward. My Compliments to the
family And Am with the most Sincere respect, Dr. sir, your most hble Servt, John
Delegate Hanson had indeed come to
Congress in one of the the most challenging periods of the revolution. The
southern ports of Savannah and Charleston were controlled by the British, Arnold
had defected, General Gates the hero of Saratoga was routed in Camden and
Washington's troops were in mutiny. Times were dark indeed but in one year,
with Victory at Yorktown and Independence all but won, Delegate Hanson would
become the 3rd President of the United States of a Confederation government that
presented a more daunting challenge, self-government under a defective U.S.
One year before his Presidency,
Delegate Hanson believed that "The great neutral powers of Europe seem to regard the present
War, as an event favorable to the augmentation of their Commerce". In a December 11th letter Hanson
requested Charles Carroll of Carrollton join him in the Continental Congress to
address this and other political challenges. Hanson writes:
"Your favour by the last post, I
am much obliged to you for. I am very Sorry to be informed, that the principal
object of the meeting of the General Assembly has not yet been taken into
Consideration, I mean that of procuring Men and Supplies for the Army; yet from
the good Opinion I entertain of the present leading Members of each House, I
flatter my self every thing of importance Will be Attended to, before you rise.
The Trustees having protested our Bills Will be favourable to the Veiws of those
Who are for Confiscation.
Immediately on the receipt of your
letter, Which was late this afternoon, I went to Mr. Morris's to make the
enquiry you desired me, but Mr. Morris was too ill to be Spoke With, Which
prevents my giving you the information you Want, at present.
Advices from Spain and France of
the 25th September, and 15th October say, that General Clinton had requested to
be recalled, unless a reinforcement of 10,000 men, was immediately Sent him-that
a vessel had Sailed from England, With dispatches Containing assurances, that
the King entirely Approved of His Conduct-that he Should be Aided With all the
Supplies in their power, And that orders were given for raising Nine regiments
of foot, And one of Horse, to be Sent out Early in the spring. That nine Sail of
the line and a number of Transports, With 4000 Troops, would Sail from Brest in
a day or two, destined to reinforce Admiral Ternay. The King of Spain is much
pleased With the Resolution of Congress, permitting the Exportation of flour for
the use of His fleets and Armies, in the West Indies, and desired that his
thanks might be Conveyed to Congress, for Such a proof of their friendly
disposition, And the Minister gave the strongest Assurances, that his majesty
Would never Consent to a pacification With England which did not include the
Interest of America.
Measures for Sending Commissioners
from G B to treat with Congress, is under Consideration of the Privy Council,
And it is thought would be adopted. Mr. Cumbaland Still remains at Madrid-the
Abbe Hussey, his Coadjutor has received A Passport to go to Lisbon, and from
thence to London, And return With the Ultimatum of that Court. (Is it not
Something Mysterious that a Secretary to Lord George Germain one of the King of
G B Ministers Should be permitted to reside at the Court of His most Christian
Majesty in time of war?). England hath not yet Completed her last years Loan.
All the powers will find it difficult to procure money to Carry on the War.
France hath already begun to Tax, and it is probable must Continue to do so. The
great Neutral powers of Europe Seem to regard the present War, as an Event
favorable to the Augmentation of their Commerce, and Will probably do so until
one or other of the Contending parties, appear to have a decided Superiority.
Portugal it is Said Seems better disposed to the Allies than heretofore.
The Combined fleet at Cadiz, Consists
of 45 Sail of the line besides frigates &c-the Count DEstaing Commands the
French part of the Fleet, and the Whole was ready to put to Sea. Mr.Laurence was
taken on his passage to Holland and Conveyed to London, And is Committed to the
Tower on a Charge of High Treason.
The Main Army is gone into Winter
Quarters. My Compliments to Mr Carroll and the Ladies, And Am with the greatest
regard Dr sir Your most hble Servt, John Hanson [P.S.] It would give me great
pleasure to see you here."
Hanson's position as Maryland's
Delegate was tenuous at best to the Continental Congress. The Articles of
Confederation were enacted by the Congress in November of 1777. They were
ratified July 9, 1778, by ten states; by New Jersey on the 26th of November of
the same year; and by Delaware, on the 23d of February 1779. It was Maryland,
the state Delegate Hanson represented, who for two more years was the lone
holdout in ratifying process. A ratification that would create the "Perpetual
Union" and provide the States with a
constitution and federal government direly needed to obtain foreign aid and
diplomatic acceptance. It was widely believed that France's and other European powers
would not fully commit to the cause of independence until the Articles were
ratified. Hanson’s State was the only roadblock to establishing the
Delegate Hanson understood this and
was instrumental in persuading the Maryland Legislature to ratify the Articles
of Confederation, The new Congress of November 1781 rewarded Hanson for this
service by electing him President on November 5, 1781. The Journals report::
“The following members attended
from the State of New Hampshire, Mr. [Samuel] Livermore,Massachusetts, Mr.
[James] Lovell, [George] Partridge, [Samuel] Osgood,Rhode Island, Mr. [Daniel]
Mowry, [James Mitchell] Varnum, Connecticut, Mr. [Richard] Law, New Jersey, Mr.
[Abraham] Clark, [Elias] Boudinot, Pennsylvania, Mr. [Joseph] Montgomery,
[Samuel John] Atlee, T[homas] Smith, Maryland, Mr. [John] Hanson, [Daniel of St.
Thomas] Jenifer, [Daniel] Carroll, Virginia, Mr. [James] Madison, [Edmund]
Randolph, Jo[seph] Jones, North Carolina, Mr. [Benjamin] Hawkins, South
Carolina, Mr. [Arthur] Middletown, [John] Mathews, [Thomas] Bee, [Nicholas]
Eveleigh, [Isaac] Motte, Georgia, Mr. [Edward] Telfair, N[oble] W[imberly]
Their credentials being read,
Congress proceeded to the election of a President; and the ballots being taken,
the honble. John Hanson was elected. “
The above book has created great confusion
making the founding U.S. History even more perplexing. This is
one of many historians who recognize the U.S. Presidency under the 1st U.S.
Constitution but incorrectly maintain that John Hanson was the first
President of the United States. This error is pervasive in some of our most
venerable educational institutions including the Library of Congress and the
Smithsonian Exhibit on the U.S. Presidency
incorrectly starting the lineage with John Hanson labeling him as the 1st
President of the Continental Congress. In the background is the author's
exhibit including a 18th Century printing of the Journals Of The United States
in Congress Assembled proving John Hanson was the 3rd President of the United
States under the Articles of Confederation.
During the above exhibit unveiling on January 29th, 2004 our office received a
rather frantic call from David Halaas, the Chief Historian of the Heinz History
Center which is a branch of the Smithsonian Institute in Pittsburgh. Our family
had just consigned several presidential letters of John Hancock, Thomas McKean,
Thomas Mifflin, Elias Boudinot and Arthur St. Clair as well as the first public
printing of the U.S. Constitution to the Smithsonian's traveling exhibit "A
Glorious Burden, The American Presidency,". The exhibit was due to open two
days later and the section on the Continental Congress or the early presidency
had just arrived at the museum. The Smithsonian had no account of the United
States in Congress Assembled and surprisingly had John Hanson prominently
displayed as the first President of the Continental Congress. The Smithsonian's
historians were incorrect on both accounts.
After a brief discussion on historical accuracy, Dr. Halaas said, " Are you
sure Hanson was not the first President as either you are mistaken or this
Smithsonian Exhibit (which had already has been half way around the Country) is
incorrect?" I assured him the record was irrefutable reading from the
original Journal of the United States in Congress Assembled. Dr. Halaas
responded, "I thought you were correct but needed to hear it again before I
contacted the Smithsonian."
To bolster my case I showed up the following evening with the 1781 Journal of
the Continental Congress and Journal of the United States in Congress Assembled
all in the same 18th Century printing which was added to the exhibit. Dr. Halaas
agreed to notify the Smithsonian on the 31st requesting the "Hanson" sign and
verbiage be corrected. The Smithsonian never responded and to this day
they incorrectly maintain John Hanson was the 1st President of the Continental
Congress when he never even served in that pre-Articles of Confederation
President Hanson served one year as
U.S. President under the Articles of Confederation, beginning
November 5th of that
year, and in that capacity gave General Washington the official Thanks of
Congress for the victory at Yorktown. Hanson also took the time to write an
official Thanks of Congress to Thomas McKean for his services as
President of the United States
of America in Congress
Assembled. This letter, which can be found below, is irrefutable proof that even
John Hanson recognized at least one President of the United States in Congress
Assembled before he assumed the unicameral chair.
John Hanson's letter to former
President Thomas McKean reads:
"It is always a pleasing task to
pay a just tribute to distinguished Merit. Under this impression give me leave
to assure you, that it is with inexpressible satisfaction that I present you the
thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, in testimony of their
approbation of your conduct in the Chair and in the execution of public
business; a duty I am directed to perform by their Act of the 7th instant, a
copy of which I have the honor of enclosing.
When I reflect upon the great
abilities, the exemplary patience and unequalled skill and punctuality, which
you so eminently displayed in executing the important duties of a President, it
must unavoidably be productive of great apprehensions in the one who has the
honor of being your Successor. But the Choice of Congress obliges me for a
moment to be silent on the subject of my own inability: And altho' I cannot
equal the bright example that is recently set me, yet it shall be my unremitting
study to imitate it as far as possible; and in doing this the reflection is
pleasing that I shall invariably pursue the sacred path of Virtue, which alone
ought to preserve me free from censure.
I have the honor to be, with the
highest sentiments of respect and esteem, Sir, your most obedient And most
John Hanson Presidt."
John Hanson Letter as
the 3rd President of the United States in Congress Assembled
congratulating Thomas McKean for his service is irrefutable proof that he
was not the 1st president of the United States or the 1st President of
Continental Congress as maintained by the Smithsonian Institute in their
Presidential Exhibit - Courtesy of the Author
When I discovered this Hanson letter
in the archives of the Library of Congress, like a little child, I rushed to the
librarian in the special collections room and stated that "I found
irrefutable proof in his own hand that the John Hanson knew he was not the first
President of the United
States in Congress Assembled." The librarian looked-up at me like I
was nuts and said "Of course he isn't, he was the first President of the
Continental Congress." I shook my head and smiled assuming the learned man
believed the United States
in Congress Assembled was the joint body of the current U.S. Senate and House of
Representatives. Since the House and Senate's formation in 1789 both have
jointly referred to themselves as the United States in Congress Assembled.
Perhaps, I thought, that someday this Congressional Librarian would read “President
Who? Forgotten Founders” and catch this very brief account of my discovery.
The nation under the Articles, in
1781, had no Supreme Court or Executive branch. It was entirely a unicameral
body, an entirely different entity from the Continental Congress or the two
current U.S. legislative bodies. Unfortunately Paul Smith, the Library of
Congress scholar who compiled the "Letters of the Delegates" was retired
so I celebrated the “find” by re-reading his scholarly notes on Hanson::
"It is also appropriate to note at
this first of the John Hanson presidential letters a significant change in the
character of the presidential correspondence. The change had actually begun with
the professionalization of the boards of war and admiralty and the appointment
of full-time commissioners to those offices in 1779 and 1780, but the
implications of this shift were not fully realized until the creation of the
executive departments in 1781, when principal responsibility for financial,
foreign and military affairs became the concern of the superintendent of
finance, the secretary for foreign affairs, and the secretary at war.
Reviewed statistically, the volume
of presidential correspondence had crested at slightly over 50 letters per
month during the presidency of Henry Laurens, remained relatively constant at
about 40 letters per month during the terms of his successors John Jay and
Samuel Huntington, and dropped off to about 30 letters per month with President
Thomas McKean. But Hanson apparently chafed at even this modest level of
presidential responsibility, and on January 28, 1782, secured adoption of a
congressional resolution transferring to Secretary Charles Thomson primary
responsibility for communicating Continental policy:
'In order that the President may be
relieved from the business with which he is unnecessarily incumbered.'
Accordingly, the flow of presidential
letters immediately slowed to a trickle. Hanson wrote about three dozen
presidential letters during his first three months as president, but only 18
survive from his last nine months in office, distributed as follows: February1,
March-6, April-0, May-1, June-3, July-2, August-2, September-I, and October-2.
The flow of the presidential correspondence was of course always conditioned by
external events, but Hanson's personal responsibility for the dramatic change
that took place in 1782 seems clear from the fact that his successor Elias
Boudinot wrote over 140 presidential letters the following congressional year,
and in 1783 - 84 President Thomas Mifflin wrote at least 60 during the six
months of his presidency that Congress was actually in session."
On the same day the new President
wrote Thomas McKean the congratulatory letter he transmitted this letter to
George Washington on November the 28th:
"Sir, Philadelphia, NOV. 10th.
1781 I have the honor of transmitting to your Excellency a copy of an Act of
Congress of the 7th instant, for your information and satisfaction. Your
Excellency's letters of the 27th and 31st ult. have been received and laid
As this is the first opportunity I
have had of writing to your Excellency since Congress were pleased to elect me
to the singular honor of being their President, and as a literary
correspondence, from our mutual situations, becomes indispensably necessary
between us, give me leave to assure you, Sir, that it will not only be a
pleasure of a superior nature, but invariably my study, to render that
correspondence as advantageous and agreeable as possible. Any intelligence
worth communicating, which first reaches me, shall be related with unreserved
freedom, candor & punctuality- And permit me to hope for a similar treatment
from your Excellency. Already my knowledge of your Character leads me to
anticipate infinite satisfaction.
I cannot avoid mentioning that the
present Aspect of our Public Affairs is particularly pleasing: And so much do
we seem extricated from our perplexing difficulties, and such, I hope, is the
power and force of recent Experience, that we shall not relapse into our former
state of imbecility and distress. The events of the present Campaign will, no
doubt, fill the most brilliant pages in the history of America. May Heaven still
continue to smile on our efforts!
With the highest sentiments of
respect & esteem, believe me to be, Sir, Your
Excellency's Most obedient & very humble Servt.
John Hanson Presdt."
Thanks to Washington's Victory at
Yorktown and the rise of the Executive Departments under former U.S. Presidents
Huntington and McKean, Hanson's Presidential burdens were much more manageable
than those he served under as delegate in 1780 and 1781. John Hanson's
Presidency, despite being the first to serve over a group of Delegates entirely
elected under the new Articles of Confederation, also suffered from cavalier
attendance under the new Confederation Constitution. Hanson wrote the States
shortly after his election:
"Sir, Philadelphia, Nov. 15th.
1781. Congress feel themselves reduced to the disagreeable necessity of
directing me to write to your Excellency respecting the deficiency of a
Representation from your State. For a considerable time past only seven States
have been represented, and those merely by the essential number of Delegates.
From this information you will readily conceive, without a minute and painful
detail, the numerous inconveniencies and real dangers they are subjected to,
abstracted from every consideration of interest, honor and reputation.
The most important powers vested
in Congress by the Confederation lie dormant at this time by reason of the
impunctuality of the Delegates of six States in point of attendance, and some
of those powers too indispensably necessary to be exercised at this great and
important Crisis. Permit me, Sir, to flatter myself that it is superfluous to
urge any thing more upon this delicate but momentous subject, and to hope that
your Excellency's influence will be exerted to prevail upon your State to send
forward and keep up a full Representation in future.”
It was only two days later with
support of 21 delegates against 2 that Edmund Randolph's motion to take a
national census failed due to quorum requirements not being met. Two delegations
were divided and five states were unrepresented on November 17th so only Six
States voted YES on the census resolution. The Confederation government, despite
the Victory at Yorktown and newly elected Articles' representatives, was off to
an all too familiar shaky start in its efforts to govern the United States of
John Hanson and the United States in
Congress Assembled did not forget the superb efforts of General Lafayette
defending Virginia against Cornwallis while George Washington was preparing to
attack General Clinton in New York. John Hanson wrote to the Marquis de
Lafayette on November 24th, 1781:
"It is with infinite pleasure and
satisfaction, that I transmit to you the inclosed copy of an Act of Congress of
the 23d instant. Believe me, Sir, that Congress being sensible of your great
ability, integrity and fortitude, and your distinguished and zealous attachment
to the cause of America, have, with the greatest chearfulness, bestowed upon you
the new and great marks of confidence & esteem contained in that Act-And
certain I am they could not have bestowed them more worthily or with greater
I shall at this time only beg
leave to assure you, that it is my most sincere & ardent prayer, that you may
have a safe & prosperous voyage to your native Country; that you may receive a
gracious and welcome reception from the greatest and best of Kings; and that you
may arrive to an happy and pleasing interview with your Family; And permit me to
indulge the Hope of your speedy return to America.
With the highest sentiments of
respect & esteem, I have the honor to be &c. J. H."
John Hanson's Congress granted
Lafayette leave to return to France commending him in a formal resolution for
his conduct during his command in Virginia. They also directed the Secretary for
Foreign Affairs to prepare a letter for the King of France of thanks to be
carried by Lafayette on his return home.
1781's business concluded on Monday,
December 31 with the passage of Robert Morris's very important plan for the Bank
of North America with the following ordinance:
"An Ordinance to Incorporate The
Subscribers to The Bank Of North America.
Whereas a National Bank, properly constituted, governed and Conducted, will be
of great advantage to these United States; and whereas a Subscription for a
National Bank has been opened, and the Subscribers deserve the Protection,
encouragement and assistance of the public: And whereas it is proper and
necessary that the Subscribers to this Bank should be incorporated in order to
carry into full effect the good ends proposed by it. Whereas Congress on the
26th day of May last did, from a conviction of the support which the finances of
the United States would receive from the establishment1 of a national bank,
approve a plan for such an institution submitted to their consideration by
Robert Morris, esq. and now lodged among the archives of Congress, and did
engage to promote the same by the most effectual means; and whereas, the
subscription thereto is now filled from an expectation of a charter of
incorporation from Congress, the directors and president are chosen, and
application hath been made to congress by the said president and directors for
an act of incorporation: and whereas, the exigencies of the United States render
it indispensably necessary that such an act be immediately passed:
Be it therefore ordained, and it
is hereby ordained, by the United States in Congress assembled, that those who
are, and those who shall become subscribers to the said bank be, and forever
after shall be, a corporation and body politic to all intents and purposes, by
the name and stile of 'The President, Directors and Company of the Bank of North
And be it further ordained, that
the said corporation are hereby declared and made able and capable in law, to
have, purchase, receive, possess, enjoy, and retain lands, rents, tenements,
hereditaments, goods, chattels and effects, of what kind, nature or quality
soever, to the amount of thirty ten millions of Spanish silver milled dollars
and no more; and also to sell, grant, demise, alien, or dispose of the same
lands, rents, tenements, hereditaments, goods, chattels and effects.
And be it further ordained, that
the said corporation be, and shall be forever hereafter, able and capable in
law, to sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded, answer and be answered unto,
defend, and be defended, in courts of record or any other place whatsoever; and
to do and execute all and singular other matters and things that to them shall
or may appertain to do.
And be it further ordained, that for
the well governing of the said corporation and the ordering of their affairs,
they shall have such officers as they shall hereafter direct or appoint:
Provided nevertheless, that twelve directors, one of whom shall be the president
of the corporation, be of the number of their officers.
And be it further ordained, that
Thomas Willing be the present president, and that the said Thomas Willing, and
Thomas Fitzsimmons, John Maxwell Nesbit, James Wilson, Henry Hill, Samuel
Osgood, Cadwallader Morris, Andrew Caldwell, Samuel Inglis, Samuel Meredith,
William Bingham, Timothy Matlack, be the present directors of the said
corporation; and shall so continue until another president and other directors
shall be chosen according to the laws and regulations of the said corporation.
And be it further ordained, that
the president and directors of the said corporation, shall be capable of
exercising such power for the well governing and ordering of the affairs of the
said corporation, and of holding such occasional meetings for that purpose, as
shall be described, fixed and determined by the laws, regulations and ordinances
of the said corporation.
And be it further ordained, that
the said corporation may make, ordain, establish, and put in execution such
laws, ordinances and regulations as shall seem necessary and convenient to the
government of the said corporation.
[Provided always, that nothing
herein before contained shall be construed to authorize the said corporation, to
exercise any powers in any of the United States, repugnant to the laws or
constitution of such State.]
And be it further ordained, that
the said corporation shall have full power and authority, to make, have and use,
a common seal, with such device and inscription as they shall think proper, and
the same to break, alter and renew at their pleasure.
And be it further ordained, that this
ordinance shall be construed, and taken most favorably and beneficially for the
said corporation. Resolved, That it be recommended to the legislature of each
State, to pass such laws as they may judge necessary, for giving the foregoing
ordinance its full operation, agreeably to the true intent and meaning thereof,
and according to the recommendations contained in the resolutions of the 26th
day of May last."
This was another step in the
evolution of the watering down the duties and power of the Presidency. Power
that was willingly delegated to a host of various executive departments and
committees. Many of these new committees and positions, such as the Minister of
Finance, were formed under Presidents Huntington and McKean to relieve the
presidency of what became an almost unbearable task during the campaigns of 1780
and 1781. President John Hanson followed their lead, despite being relieved of
the pressures of war, when he successfully proposed the removal of the
voluminous correspondence tasks from his office. On January 28th, 1782 Congress
passed Hanson's resolution transferring the "signature" and other
communication duties to the Secretary of the United States,
"Resolved, That it shall be the
business of the Secretary 1st. To transmit to the Superintendant of finance, all
papers referred to him by Congress; as well as an authenticated copy of every
act, ordinance and resolution of Congress touching the finances of the United
States and particularly of those which relate to supplies, the expenditure of
public money or the settlement of public accounts: to the Secretary at War, all
papers referred to him by Congress; as well as an authenticated copy of every
act, ordinance and resolution touching his department and particularly of those
which relate to military preparations or the land forces of the United States
and: to the Secretary or agent of marine, or to the person entrusted with the
duties of the office of Secretary or agent of marine, all papers referred to him
by Congress; as well as an authenticated copy of every act, ordinance or and
resolution touching his department and particularly those which relate to naval
preparations and maritime matters: and to the Secretary for foreign affairs, all
papers referred to him by Congress; as well as an authenticated copy of every
act, ordinance and resolution of Congress touching his department and
particularly of those which relate to the intercourse between the U. S. and
foreign nations or which it may be necessary to communicate to the Ministers of
these United States at foreign courts.
2nd. To return such answers as
Congress shall direct to be given to the memorials petitions and communications:
To keep a daily register account of all memorials, petitions and communications
received by Congress, noting therein their object and the steps taken respecting
them; and lay the said account or register every day, on the table of Congress
for the inspection of the members.
3rd. To return such answers as
Congress shall direct to be given to the memorials, petitions and
communications, except where Congress shall judge it proper that the same be
given by their President, or where it shall be the duty of any of the executive
departments to return such answers:
4th. To attend Congress during
their sessions, and, in their recess, to attend the committee of the states, to
read the public despatches, acts, ordinances and reports of committees, and to
make the proper entries in the journals; to authenticate all acts and
proceedings not specially directed to be authenticated by their President; and
to keep a register of all treaties, conventions and ordinances:
5th. To cause to be made and laid
upon the table for every State represented in Congress, a copy of every
ordinance or report upon a matter of importance, and not of a secret nature, for
the consideration of which a day is assigned:
6th. To keep the public seal, and
cause the same to be affixed to every act, ordinance or paper, which Congress
7th. To superintend the printing
of the journals and publications ordered by Congress: 8th. To keep a book in
which shall be noted in columns, the names of the several members of Congress,
the State which they represent, the date of their appointments, the term for
which they are appointed, and the date of leave of absence.
Resolved, That so much of the act
of 22 March, 1777, as directs that attested copies of resolutions coming within
the purview of this act, be sent to the President, to be transmitted by him, be,
and hereby is repealed.
Resolved, That the salary of the
Secretary of the United States in Congress assembled, be three thousand dollars
On February the 18th, 1782 the United
States in Congress Assembled authorized George Washington broad powers to
negotiate directly with Great Britain over the fate of Cornwallis and his army:
"Resolved, That the Commander in
Chief be, and he is hereby authorised to negotiate a cartel or cartels, either
general or special, with the enemy; stipulating for the subsistance, safe
keeping, exchanging, liberating, and better treating of all prisoners of war,
whether of land or sea, in such manner, and on such terms as he shall judge
expedient and beneficial for the United States; and also to include therein all
citizens not found in arms, who have been or hereafter shall be captured by
either power, so that citizen shall be exchanged for citizen in all cases of
their capture to take such measures for the liberation of citizens who have been
captured not in arms, as may seem expedient; or to negotiate any seperate treaty
concerning such citizens, for the mutual prevention of any future captures'
provided such cartel, cartels and agreement, establish rules for the similar
treatment of prisoners of war and citizens captured by either power in all
That the Commander in Chief be
also empowered to take measures for settling all past accounts respecting
prisoners, and that all former resolutions relative to the exchange of prisoners
by the Commander in Chief be repealed.
Resolved, That nothing contained
in the resolution of this date for authorising the Commander in Chief to
negotiate a cartel with the enemy be construed to authorize the exchange of
Lieutenant General Cornwallis by composition."
Washington acted quickly negotiating
the release of former President Henry Laurens from the Tower of London for Lt.
General Cornwallis on February the 23rd. Ramsay's 1789 account of Laurens
imprisonment and release gives a good indication of some of the hardships the
former President faced:
"He had been committed there, as
already related, on the 6th of October 1780, 'On suspicion of high treason,'
after being examined in the presence of lord Stormont, lord George Germaine,
lord Hillsborough, Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Justice Addington, and others. The
commitment was accompanied with a warrant to the Lieutenant of the tower to
receive and confine him. Their lordships orders were
'To confine him a close prisoner:
to be locked up every night; to be in the custody of two warders; not to suffer
him to be out of their sight one moment, day nor night: to allow him no liberty
of speaking to any person, nor to permit any person to speak to him; to deprive
him of the use of pen and ink; to suffer no letter to be brought to him, nor any
to go from him.'
Mr. Laurens was then fifty five
years old, and severely afflicted with the gout and other infirmities. In this
situation he was conducted to apartments in the tower, and was shut up in two
small rooms which together made about twenty feet square, with a warder for his
constant companion, and a fixed bayonet under his window, without any friend to
converse with and without any prospect or even the means of correspondence.
Being debarred the use of pen and ink, he procured pencils, which proved an
useful substitute. After a month's confinement, he was permitted to walk out on
limited ground, but a warder with a sword in his hand followed close behind.
Mr. Laurens' sufferings in the
tower became generally known, and excited compassion in his favour, and odium
against the authors of his confinement. It had been also found by the inefficacy
of many attempts that no concessions could be obtained from him. It was
therefore resolved to release him, but difficulties arose about the mode. Mr.
Laurens would not consent to any act, which implied that he was a British
subject, and he had been committed as such, on charge of high treason. 
Ministers to extricate themselves from this difficulty, at length proposed to
take bail for his appearance at the court of King's-Bench. When the words of
the recognizance, "Our Sovereign Lord the King," were read to Mr. Laurens, he
replied in open court "Not my Sovereign," and with this declaration he, with Mr.
Oswald and Mr. Anderson as his securities, entered into an obligation for his
appearance at the court of King's-Bench the next Easter term, and for not
departing thence without leave of the court. Thus ended a long and a painful
farce. Mr. Laurens was immediately released. When the time of his appearance at
court drew near, he was not only discharged from all obligations to attend, but
was requested by lord Shelburne to go to the continent, in subserviency to a
scheme for making peace with America. Mr. Laurens, startled at the idea of being
released without any equivalent, as he had uniformly held himself to be a
prisoner of war, replied that
'He durst not accept himself as a
gift, and that as Congress had once offered Lieut. Gen. Burgoyne for him, he had
no doubt of their now giving Lieut. Gen. Earl Cornwallis for the same purpose.'
Born in Charles County, Maryland, on April 3, 1715, John Hanson became one of
the strongest colonial advocates of independence. While serving in the Maryland
Assembly from 1757 to 1773 he was active in raising troops and providing arms.
Hanson served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1779, where he helped
to resolve the western lands issue, thereby facilitating the ratification of the
Articles of Confederation.
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
American gain a world position. During his tenure the first consular service was
established, a post office department was initiated, a national bank was
chartered, progress was made towards taking the first census, and a uniform
system of coinage was adopted. As "President," Hanson also signed a
treaty with Holland affirming the indebtedness of the United States for a loan
from that country. In addition, he signed all laws, regulations, official
papers, and letters.
Hanson died on November 15, 1783, at the age of 68. His contributions to the
government under the Articles of Confederation were absorbed by the new federal
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