United Colonies of America
George Washington: March
1, 1781 - December 23, 1783
John Hanson of Maryland was elected President of the United States, in Congress
Assembled on November 5, 1781 serving until November 3, 1782. He was born in
Mulberry Grove, near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland on April 3, 1721
before the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar which now adjusts the
date to April 14, 1721 (See Dr. Edward Papenfuse's
Hanson Biography). Hanson's parents were Samuel (1685-1740) and Elizabeth
Story Hanson (ca. 1688-1764). Samuel Hanson was a farmer who owned more than
1,000 acres and held a variety of political offices, including serving two terms
in the Maryland General Assembly. There is much debate about John Hanson's
ancestry with camps claiming he was descended from Swedish Royalty while the
other group claiming he was a black Moor. Neither of the assertions have merit.
John Hanson received a common colonial education and pursued, along with his
family, agriculture. Hanson was married to Jane Contee in 1743, a French
Huguenot from Rochelle Maryland. Her family immigrated, first to England, during
the reign of Louis XIV before settling in the Maryland colony. Together, they
had eight children with three sons, Alexander Contee Hanson, Peter Contee
Hanson, and Samuel Contee Hanson who would serve as officers in the
The first record of a political John Hanson occurred in 1750 as sheriff of
Charles County serving until 1753. In 1757 he was elected for his first one year
term in the Maryland Assembly. Hanson would remain a member of the
assembly for nine terms. His political involvement in the revolutionary movement
can be traced back to the 1765 Stamp Act. It was Hanson who chaired the
committee that drafted the instructions for Maryland's delegates to the Stamp
Act Congress. Hanson was also a leader in the Association of Maryland Freeman
that was formed in protest of the Townshend Acts. Hanson was a signer of the
1769 nonimportation resolution that boycotted British goods until the Townshend
Acts were repealed on April 12, 1770.
In 1769, John Hanson resigned his seat from the Maryland Assembly at the
beginning of the second session because he received the appointment of Deputy
Surveyor of Frederick County which, at the time included all of Western
Maryland. The post required the sale of his Charles County farm and the
relocation of his family to Frederick Town on 108 W. Patrick Street.
Founded in 1745, Frederick was on the frontier of the Maryland Wilderness and
flourished in the colony's expansion becoming a major communication route for
western settlers. As Deputy Surveyor, Hanson was responsible for surveying all
colonial land transfers in Western Maryland before a land patent was issued.
This proved to be a very active post for the 48 year old who was constantly
surveying parcels in Maryland’s wilderness where settlement was just beginning
to take place.
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
Maryland, thanks to John Hanson, Daniel Carroll, James Madison, Samuel
Huntington and others brokering land cessions from the states, finally passed an
act to empower their delegates to subscribe and ratify the Articles of
Confederation on January 30th, 1781. On February 2, 1781 Governor Thomas Sim Lee
signed the empowerment into law. On February 20th, Daniel Carroll, after
presenting Maryland’s ratification of the Articles to Congress, took a moment to
write Charles Carroll of Carrollton:
The United States in congress assembled, on November 5, 1781, remembered
Hanson's work in bringing his state around and elected him President:
“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]
Jones. Their credentials being read,
Congress proceeded to the election of a President; and the ballots being taken,
the honble. John Hanson was elected."
John Hanson is often referred to as the first US President due to his ancestors'
success on convincing the Maryland Legislature that he was the first President
to serve under the Articles of Confederation. The Hanson Family lobbying effort
was so complete, that in 1903 Maryland included his statue, as one of two,
allocated for each state in the US Capitol's Statuary Hall. Books like the
one below written by Seymour Smith perpetuated the Myth which was even picked up
in 2003 by the Smithsonian.
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.
Smithsonian’s imprimatur of the Maryland and Smith claim that the Articles
of Confederation’s Presidency began on November 5th, 1781 and not March 1,
1781 is specious.
the U.S. Continental Congress was convened with delegates who had all been
elected after the 12 of the 13 states had ratified the Articles of
Confederation. Only Maryland, who held out until the states released their
Northwest Territorial land claims to the USCA, had failed to ratify the
Articles of Confederation.
Maryland ratified the Constitution
of 1777 on February 2nd, 1781 and then sent the two delegates, who
exacted the federal land from the states that winter, to assemble with the
other state delegations to form a federal government. On February 20th,
1781, Daniel Carroll, after presenting Maryland’s ratification of the
Articles to Congress, took a moment to write Charles
Carroll of Carrollton:
first day of my appearing in Congress, I delivered the Act empowering the
Delegates of Maryland to Subscribe the Articles of Confederation &c.! It was
read, & entered on the Journals.
22, 1781, it was unanimously resolved by Congress that:
delegates of Maryland having taken their seats in Congress with powers to
sign the Articles of Confederation: Ordered, That Thursday next [March 1,
1781] be assigned for compleating the Confederation; and that a committee of
three be appointed, to consider and report a mode for announcing the same to
the public: the members, [Mr. George] Walton, Mr. [James] Madison, Mr.
Journals of Congress showing Maryland's Delegates Articles of
Ratification on March 1, 1781 - Stan Klos Collection
noon on March 1, 1781, after four long years of ratification consideration,
the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress as
the first U.S. Constitution. By virtue of this ratification, the ever fluid
Continental Congress ceased to exist. The elated Minister of France was the
first to address Samuel Huntington as “His Excellency the President of the
United States, in Congress Assembled."
March 12, 1781 Treasury letter referring to Samuel Huntington a
President of the United States in Congress Assembled
On March 7,
1781 the Pennsylvania Gazette in Philadelphia reported:
pursuance of an Act of the Legislature of Maryland, intituled, 'An Act to
empower the Delegates of the State in Congress to subscriber and ratify the
Articles of Confederation,' the Delegates of the said State, on Thursday
last, at twelve o, signed and ratified the Articles of Confederation; by
which act the Confederation of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was compleated,
each and every of the Thirteen States, from New Hampshire to George, both
included, having adopted and confirmed, and by their Delegates in Congress
ratified the same.
even was immediately announced to the public by the discharge of the
artillery on land, and the cannon of the shipping in the river Delaware. At
two o clock his Excellency the President of Congress received on this
occasion the congratulations of the Hon. the Minister Plenipotentiary of
France, and of the Legislative and Executive Bodies of this State, of the
Civil and Military Officers, sundry strangers of distinction in town, and of
many of the principal inhabitants.
evening was closed by an elegant exhibition of fireworks. The Ariel frigate,
commanded by the gallant John Paul Jones, fired a feu de joye, and was
beautifully decorated with a variety of streamers in the day, and ornamented
with a brilliant appearance of lights in the night.
the first of March, 1781, be a day memorable in the annals of America, for
the final ratification of the Confederation and perpetual Union of the
Thirteen States of America --- A Union, begun by necessity, cemented by
oppression and common danger, and now finally consolidated into a perpetual
confederacy of these new and rising States: And thus the United States of
America, having, amidst the calamities of a destructive war, established a
solid foundation of greatness, are growing up into consequence among the
nations, while their haughty enemy, Britain, with all her boasted wealth and
grandeur, instead of bringing them to her feet and reducing them to
unconditional submission, finds her hopes blasted, her power crumbling to
pieces, and the empire which, with overbearing insolence and brutality she
exercised on the ocean, divided among her insulted neighbours.
Congress and the United States in Congress Assembled 1781 printing - Stan
1781 printing for March 2nd showing name change
and Samuel Huntington appearing as President - Stan Klos Collection
On March 2nd,
Secretary Charles Thomson placed the words "The United States in Congress
Assembled" at the head of the new Journal of Congress and reported:
ratification of the Articles of Confederation being yesterday completed by
the accession of the State of Maryland: The United States met in Congress,
when the following members appeared: His Excellency Samuel Huntington,
delegate for Connecticut, President...
Continental Congress dissolved and the first U.S. Constitution now in
effect, the new government of the USCA was faced with the reality that they
had to disqualify both New Hampshire and Rhode Island from voting in the new
assembly. This was particularly dicey because the day before the two
delegates, as members of the Continental Congress, voted unanimously to
adopt the Articles of Confederation as the first U.S. Constitution. Delaware
Delegate Thomas Rodney, in his diary’s March 2, 1781 entry, explains the
conundrum that was caused by the formation of the
Constitution of 1777’s Congress:
of New Hampshire and Rhode Island having each but one Member in Congress,
they became unrepresented by the Confirmation of the Confederation-By which
not more than Seven nor less than two Members is allowed to represent any
State -Whereupon General Sullivan, Delegate from New Hampshire moved -
That Congress would appoint a Committee of the States, and Adjourn till
those States Could Send forward a Sufficient number of Delegates to
represent them-Or that they would allow their Delegates now in Congress To
give the Vote of the States until one More from each of those States was
Sent to Congress to Make their representation Complete.
that it was but just for Congress to do one or the other of them-for that
the act of Congress by completing the Confederation ought not to deprive
those States of their representation without giving them due Notice, as
their representation was complete before, & that they did not know When the
Confederation Would be Completed. Therefore if the Confederation put it out
of the power of Congress to Allow the States vote in Congress because there
was but one member from each them, they ought in justice to those States to
appoint a Committee of the States, in which they would have an Equal Voice.
This Motion was Seconded by Genl. Vernon from Rhode Island and enforced by
Arguments to the same purpose.
their Arguments were ably confuted by Mr. Burke of N.C. and others, and the
absurdity of the motion fully pointed out, So that the question passed off
without a Division -But it was the general Opinion of Congress that those
members might Continue to Sit in Congress, and Debate & Serve on Committees
though they could not give the vote of their States.
unanimously agreed that the Articles of Confederation were in full force and
for a State to have a vote in the USCA, unlike the Continental Congress, at
least two delegates were required to cast the one vote for their respective
state. It was now a Constitution
of 1777 government and
Samuel Huntington was the first President, not John Hanson.
to the Samuel Huntington Presidency, the USCA Journals report that there
were two additional presidential elections before John Hanson took office on
November 5th, 1781. The first election occurred on July 9th, 1781 and
Johnston of North Carolina was elected President. The following day
Johnston declined the office. The Delegates held a second election and
McKean of Pennsylvania as the second USCA President. Unlike Samuel
Johnston, McKean accepted the office on July 10th, 1781.
1781 printing for July 9 & 10th showing showing the elections
of Samuel Johnston and Thomas McKean as Presidents - Stan Klos Collection
President Thomas McKean, like Samuel Huntington, executed numerous
resolutions, proclamations, and letters as the USCA President under the
Articles of Confederation. Additionally, John Hanson acknowledged, in a
November 10th, 1781 presidential letter, the “official thanks” of the USCA to
Thomas McKean for serving as its president
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
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
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