George Washington was _not the “first president of the United States”; he was the first president under the Constitution. Before Washington took office in 1789, the United States had sixteen “presidents”—the presidents of the Continental and Confederation Congresses.
Of course, these men did not have the power and prestige of modern presidents; they were elected annually by the Congress to serve as chairman of the sessions of Congress. Nor did the office have the high reputation of the modern presidency. During his term as president in 1785-1786, for example, John Hancock didn’t bother to show up for a single session. Another man, who was in poor health, asked a friend’s advice when he was offered the position. The friend replied that he should take it because it was “the Easiest in the Union for an invalid."
The list below gives the names of these presidents and the dates of their election. Some of them (such as John Hancock, John Jay, or Richard Henry Lee) are justly famous in their own right. Others are almost unknown, sometimes deservedly so. None of them, however, gained any lasting fame through office, with the possible exception of John Hancock, who, as president of Congress in 1776, was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Perry Randolph (September 5, 1774)
Henry Middleton (October 22, 1774)
Peyton Randolph (May 10, 1775)
John Hancock (May 14, 1775)
Henry Laurens (November 1, 1777)
John Jay (December 10, 1778)
Samuel Huntington (September 28, 1779)
Thomas McKean (July 10, 1781)
John Hanson (November 5, 1781)
Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782)
Thomas Mifflin (November 5, 1783)
Richard Henry LeeNovember 30, 1784)
John Hancock (November 23, 1785)
Nathaniel Gorham (June 6,01786)
Arthur St. Clair ( February 2, 1787)
Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788)
Note, however, that neither the office nor at times the men who filled were held in high esteem.