Fully thirteen years passed after the Declaration of Independence before George Washington became President—first under Congress, then under the Articles of Confederation. It's a famous trivia fact that John Hancock was “president of the United States” before George Washington, but surely he couldn’t have been that for thirteen years.

WHO were the other chief executives (presidents of Congress) of the United States between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and what was their legal status?

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    @called2voyage I'm asking who were the presidents of the united states before Washington; the question you brought up asked was he the first President or not. There's a difference. Besides, that question is closed. Jan 17 '17 at 18:22
  • Questions can be duplicate of closed questions. Once one knows the answer to the linked question, the identities of the pre-Constitutional presidents is a trivial exercise in googling. Jan 17 '17 at 18:23
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    @called2voyage Nevertheless, although what you wrote is true, wouldn't History StackExchange benefit from having a good answer (below) about this? Why don't you write an answer down below instead of discussing whether the question ought to be closed or not? Jan 17 '17 at 18:26
  • The community consensus has been that trivial questions that are easily answered by Google should not be replicated here. If you wish to challenge that prior consensus, you should ask a new meta question. Jan 17 '17 at 18:27
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    In other words, the current rule of the community is that questions such as this one should be closed as trivial (see the close reason on the linked question). If you believe that instead it would be of value for us to have answers to these questions here, then you should propose this idea on meta, so that the community can vote on whether we change our approach to this. Jan 17 '17 at 18:29

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.

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    This is a list of Presidents of Congress. That wasn't really what we'd consider a "Chief Executive" position, more like a Chief Legislative position.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 17 '17 at 18:46
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    George Washington was the first President of the United States. The Articles of Confederation had a President of the United States in Congress and it was an appointed position. They're entirely different offices, with different powers, linked only by sharing the word "President". "President" is only used in the articles once. It's closer to Speaker of the House, but with far, far less power.
    – Schwern
    Jan 17 '17 at 19:42
  • "...nor at times the men who filled were held in high esteem." Wow, that must've been weird. Jan 17 '17 at 20:05
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    @Schwern Indeed, the 'speaker' position in the Senate is still called "President of the Senate" (a position occupied by the Vice President of the United States or, in his absence, the President pro tempore of the Senate.) This position is probably the closest current analogue of the President of Congress.
    – reirab
    Jan 17 '17 at 20:34
  • While this is a very informative answer about the period immediately preceding the Constitutional period's beginning, the opening statement is false and misleading. Washington as president of the united states was indeed the first, as the various comments have pointed out. The point of Federalism (which was of course championed by Jay, Hamilton and Monroe via the Federalist papers) was to transition from a loose confederation of states and include a central government with a chief executive ... which was utterly absent under the Articles. Jan 20 '17 at 17:35

There was no Chief Executive under the Articles Of Confederation because there was no executive. That was one of its major flaws that the US Constitution corrected.

The Presidents of the Continental Congress were "presidents" in name only. They were appointed by Congress to act as a moderator, sort of like a modern Speaker of the House, but with just about no power.

The United States in Congress assembled shall have authority to ... appoint one of their members to preside, provided that no person be allowed to serve in the office of president more than one year in any term of three years;

That's it. That's what the Articles Of Confederation have to say about the President of Congress.

The "president" was an appointed member who presides over Congress. Presiding means they're the Chairman who makes sure Congress goes about their business in an orderly fashion, but with no listed powers they had only the powers Congress decided to grant to the chair.

The list of Presidents of Congress can be found here.

  • "sort of like a modern Speaker of the House" And exactly like the modern President of the Senate. :)
    – reirab
    Jan 17 '17 at 20:32
  • @reirab Not exactly. It's true the Vice-President presides over the Senate, and that power has been neutered. However, the VP is an elected position (if an indirect election) and has the power to break ties. The President of Congress under the Articles is appointed by Congress and had no enumerated powers.
    – Schwern
    Jan 17 '17 at 20:39
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    I meant that the function of moderator is the same, but you're otherwise correct of course.
    – reirab
    Jan 17 '17 at 20:41
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    If you're familiar with Roberts Rules of Order the "president" or "chairman" or "moderator" is essentially the person who has the floor when nobody else does, and divvies up floor time as dictated by the rules to the rest of the members. Other than that, they are (theoretically) just another member with the same vote as any other. Roberts wasn't in existence yet at that time, but it was derived from the British parliamentary rules of order that were.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 17 '17 at 22:31
  • "President" just means someone who presides. In the Church of England the priest who presides over communion is known technically (for each service) as "the president". Apr 8 '18 at 13:36

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