Everything You Think You Know About the First US President is Wrong – Kinda

We all learned in grade school that George Washington was the first president. But it turns out that’s not the whole story.

By Laura RiceFebruary 20, 2017 11:51 am

The United States celebrates all U.S. presidents on the Presidents’ Day holiday. But the first U.S. president was not named “George” but “John” –  John Hanson.

Peter H. Michael literally wrote the book on the largely-forgotten leader. The “Remembering John Hanson” author answered our questions in the Texas Standard studios.

On John Hanson:

“Our nation has had two governments. We’re on the second government under the Constitution right now with, very famously, its first president, George Washington. But before that, during the 1780s, we had our original government chartered under the Articles of Confederation and its first president, John Hanson.”

On Why History Books So Often Leave Him Out:

“It’s a mystery … There never has been a history written on the ‘critical decade’ as Quincy Adams called it. So there’s a gap there and a lot of misunderstanding about that decade.”

On Dissecting the Myths from the Fact:

“On the back of $2 bill you have an engraving of the signing of the Constitution. Well, Hanson was in his grave six years by the time the Constitution was ratified so that’s a myth that he’s on the $2 bill. I would be proud if Hanson were black or part black, since my own immediate family is not just biracial but triracial. He wasn’t; he was a descendant of a prominent Englishman and he was white.”

On Why We Should Remember John Hanson:

“The reason that the founding fathers and the icons of his time: Franklin, Adams, Washington, Madison and others looked to Hanson to be their first president was because twice he had kept the nation together. The first time was in 1776 when the 13 then-colonies were asked to sign this new thing called the Declaration of Independence. Twelve were in and one, the doubting Maryland, Hanson’s home state was out … It was Hanson who persuaded Maryland to go in on the Declaration of Independence – literally at the last minute on July 2nd. Then, it took five years to form a government, so it was Hanson after all others had failed, including these icons, who persuaded the second Continental Congress and the states with western lands to cede those western lands to the new nation for dispositions into new states. And only that permitted, finally, the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and the creation of the new government and as the government’s first act the election of Hanson, without opposition, as president.”