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- This article is about the American historical figure. For other people of the same name, see John Hanson (disambiguation).
John Hanson (April 3, 1715—November 22, 1783) was a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland. He has been called the First President of the United States because he was the first man to serve a full term as President of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and 1782.
Hanson is one of the most enigmatic figures in American history. He is frequently mentioned in connection with the claim that he was the first president. But fewer facts are clear about his life and accomplishments than is the case with most of his contemporaries. One of the difficulties this caused was that several writers in the 19th century filled in the blanks with fiction. This article presents only those aspects of the man and his character that are either clearly documented or almost universally agreed upon. For a review of some of the additional stories surrounding his life, see John Hanson (myths).
John was the third generation of his family in Maryland. His grandfather (also John) came from England. He was born near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland on April 3, 1715; his parents were Samuel (1684-1740) and Elizabeth Story Hanson (1689-1764) who owned a farm there. He had no extended formal education, but read broadly in both English and Latin. He followed the family tradition as a planter, extending and improving his holdings.
In 1744 he married young Jane Contee (born 1728) in Annapolis. They would remain together until his death, and had a large family. Jane survived her husband, and died on March 21, 1812 in Frederick County. Their children included:
- Catherine (1744-1767) married Philip Alexander.
- Jane (1747-1781) married Dr. Philip Thomas and moved to Frederick County.
- Peter (1748-1776) enlisted in the Continental Army. In November of 1776 he was stationed at Fort Washington, and was killed in action while defending Fort Washington.
- Alexander (1749-1806), known as Alexander Contee Hanson, Sr. , became a lawyer and a judge. His son, Alexander Contee Hanson became a U.S. Senator.
- The twins, John and Elizabeth (1751-1753) died as infants, as did Grace (1762-1763), while the second John (1753-1760) also died in childhood.
- Samuel (1756-1781), known as Dr. Samuel Harrison Hanson became a physician.
John Hanson was first elected to represent Charles County in the colonial assembly in 1757. He also served as their representative in 1758-1763, 1765, 1766, 1768-1769. At various times he held several positions in local government, including that of Treasurer of Frederick County.
When the colonial assembly was dismissed or prorogued in 1774, Hanson became a representative in the Annapolis Convention which replaced it as a revolutionary government. Over the next several sessions of that assembly, he gained a reputation as an outspoken supporter of moves towards revolution. His speeches contributed to Maryland's decision to support rebels engaged in the Siege of Boston.
In December of 1779 the Maryland House of Delegates named John Hanson as one of their delegates to the Continental Congress. He began those duties when he took his seat in Philadelphia on June 14, 1780. He served as a delegate in sessions from then until 1782. While Hanson was in Congress the Articles of Confederation were at last ratified by all the states. When the Congress received notice of this on March 1, 1781, he joined Daniel Carroll in endorsing them for Maryland.
Hanson as first President
When the Congress selected a new president for the 1781-1782 term, they elected John Hanson on November 5, 1781. The earlier presidents under the Articles were Samuel Huntington and Thomas McKean. Since the articles limited a President to a single one year term, on November 4, 1782 the congress elected Elias Boudinot to replace him.
While not exactly the first president, he later gained that reputation. All of presiding officers of the Congress after the Articles used the title President of the United States in Congress Assembled when dealing with foreign governments, diplomats, or treaties. Unlike the others, Hanson made a habit of appending that title to his signature on many of his letters and other documents. But, the President of the United States is an executive position, while the President of the Continental Congress was not. Additionally, the Congress was not leading a nation as we know today (federation), but rather a loose confederation of independent states.
Article 13, Section 401 of the Annotated Code of Maryland specifies that: "the Governor annually shall proclaim April 13 as John Hanson's birthday and dedicate that day to the statesman." Also, the John Hanson Highway is named in his honor.
- Einstein's Refrigerator by Steve Silverman, pages 101-104
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