A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Was George Washington not the first U.S. president?

Dear Straight Dope:

Who was the first president of the United States of America? I read somewhere that George Washington would technically be the 8th president.

The following information is taken from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader:

Washington was the first president of the United States under the Constitution of 1789... but the United States declared its independence 13 years before that. In 1777, the Congress adoped the Articles of Confederation, which were ratified by the states in 1781. Later that year, this new legislative body convened and elected John Hanson "President of the United States in Congress Assembled." Hanson had been a member of the Maryland assembly and the Continental Congress, where he played a key role in convincing Maryland to adopt the Articles of Confederation (Maryland was the only state opposed.) Washington sent Hanson a letter of congratulations on his "appointment to fill the most important seat in the United States."

There were seven other Presidents who served under the Articles of Confederation, now forgotten by all except the most trivial of historians.

In May of 1787, a convention met in Philadelphia with the task of amending the Articles of Confederation; the Articles had proved unworkable. Instead of mere amendment, the convention exceeded its authority by drafting up a whole new document, the Constitution. In March of 1789, Washington was elected first President; John Adams, with the second highest number of votes, became Vice President.

With good justification, we tend to view that the country really "started" under the Constitution and the subsequent Bill of Rights, so we start counting from Washington.

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