Constitutional FAQ Answer #126
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Q126. "Was George Washington the first President
of the United States?"
A. This is a question that is commonly asked of students in high school -
the answer seems obvious — yes, of course George Washington was the first
President. But if it is so obvious, why is the question being asked? Is there
another answer? The short answer is, Yes, George Washington was the first
President of the United States. The long answer is a bit more complicated.
Before the United States was established under The
Constitution, there was another country called The United States. This
nation was established under The Articles of
Confederation. The two nations were geographically the same, but very
different politically. Without doubt or debate, George Washington was the
first person elected to the Presidency of the United States under the
Constitution. So was there a President under the Articles, and if so, isn't
that person the first President of the United States?
Under the Articles, there was no executive branch. So there was no President
in the way we know it today. The only branch of government established in the
Articles is the legislative, called "The United States in Congress assembled,"
or just "Congress." The Articles specified that there would be a presiding
officer elected to a one-year term from the membership of Congress. The duties
and expectations of this person are never detailed. This person was known as
the presiding officer of the United States in Congress assembled, or President
of Congress, or just as President. The President under the Articles and the
President under the Constitution are completely different offices with
completely different roles in the government. The first presiding officer of
Congress was John Hanson.
The long answer, then, is that the first President of Congress was John
Hanson, but the first President of the United States was George Washington.