The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress elected by the delegates to the congress. After the Articles of Confederation were adopted on in March 1, 1781 the office was known as the President of the United States in Congress Assembled.
Though the United States was an independent country at the time the office was established, the early president of the congress was not yet America's full Head of State. The position is perhaps best likened to a presiding chairman, and its occupants held very little power for only brief terms.
Because of the title of "president" (at the time still quite unusual) many naturally draw a connection between the office of the Congressional President and the modern-day office of the President of the United States (see below).
While all of the delegates to the congress are worthy of note, two have gained a unique place in the consciousness of many Americans. John Hancock was president when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. His large and bold signature on the declaration has led to his name becoming a slang term for a signature. John Hanson has sometimes (incorrectly) been called the First President of the United States, for his service as the President of the congress.
List of Presidents
The following men served as the President of the Continental Congress:
Peyton Randolph (September 5, 1774 – October 21, 1774) and
Henry Middleton (October 22, 1774 – October 26, 1774)
- Peyton Randolph (again) (May 10, 1775 – May 23, 1775)
John Hancock (May 24, 1775 – October 31, 1777)
Henry Laurens (November 1, 1777 – December 9, 1778)
John Jay (December 10, 1778 – September 27, 1779)
Samuel Huntington (September 28, 1779 – March 1, 1781)
The following men served as President of the United States in Congress Assembled:
Samuel Huntington (March 1, 1781 – July 9, 1781)
Thomas McKean (July 10, 1781 – November 4, 1781)
John Hanson (November 5, 1781 – November 3, 1782)
Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782 – November 2, 1783)
Thomas Mifflin (November 3, 1783 – October 31, 1784)
Richard Henry Lee (November 30, 1784 – November 6, 1785)
John Hancock (November 23, 1785 – May 29, 1786)
Nathaniel Gorham (June 6, 1786 – November 5, 1786)
Arthur St. Clair (February 2, 1787 – November 4, 1787)
Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788 – November 2, 1788)
†On March 1, 1781 the title of the office changed, but Samuel Huntington remained in the chair.
Style of the name
The adoption of the Articles of Confederation changed the authority of the Congress and its relation with the states. There were also some changes in the names of institutions and offices, including that of President. Throughout the earlier sessions there had been minor changes in the way congress described or named itself. Now, through the articles, three names became standard:
- The United States of America was the name of the Confederation or country.
- The United States, in Congress Assembled became the normal name for the Congress.
- The full name of the Congress, rarely used, was The United States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, in Congress Assembled
It may be useful to compare the naming of these entities with the naming of entities in the United Kingdom Parliament (which operates a similar system), for example The Honourable The Commons in Parliament Assembled.
President under the Articles
Adjusting to the style changes of the government the formal title of the presiding officer became The President of the United States, in Congress Assembled. Except for John Hanson, most of the Presidents used this title only for treaties and on the diplomatic credentials for ministers. As an office, the Articles gave the president no powers at all. The only reference was to limit the term of the delegate elected the presiding officer to one year out of three. When Congress was not in session, a 'Committee of the States', consisting of one delegate from each state, would act as the government.
The view that the office of President was a precursor to that of President of the United States is still held by some, but appears to be limited when contemporary documents are examined. The Congress as a whole was the Government. It embodied legislative, judicial, and executive powers. In practice, this system of Government proved flawed, and as a result the United States Constitution separated the powers, and defined the powers of the President.
Last updated: 05-16-2005 06:17:36
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04