8. Cyrus Griffin (Served Jan. 22-Nov. 2 1788)
Cyrus Griffin was the last president of the Continental Congress. He was elected during the last sessions of that body to serve as chairman. He resigned once the Constitution essentially dissolved the organization to make way for a true president with actual federal power. Griffin only served 11 months, but was re-elected to the Continental Congress that essentially did nothing between the end of 1788 and into 1789. In April 1789, Washington became the first official president of the United States. Griffin continued to serve the new nation, first working to stop a war with the Native American Creeks, then in Virginia as a U.S. District Court judge until his death in 1810.
7. Arthur St. Clair (Feb. 2-Nov. 4, 1787)
Arthur St. Clair is somewhat of a mystery man, at least regarding his early life. Born in Scotland, historians are not even certain who his parents were and they disagree about his date of birth. He started out as a soldier for the British army in the French and Indian War. After that war, he settled in Pennsylvania, amassed a lot of land and probably would have lived out his life in luxury if the events of 1776 had not happened. He joined in with the Continental Army, but found himself the focus of a court martial for failing to keep Fort Ticonderoga in New York out of British hands. Washington liked him, though, so he made St. Clair his aide. By 1783, St. Clair was serving in the Continental Congress — sometimes called the Confederation Congress — and managed to get elected its president Feb. 2, 1787. His main accomplishment was presiding over the adoption of the Northwest Ordinance that essentially annexed the region around the Great Lakes as a territory of the new nation. St. Clair went on to become governor of part of the Northwest Territory. After he fell into disfavor with President Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. government refused to pay him back all the money he loaned the fledgling county, leaving him to die broke.
6. Nathaniel Gorham (June 6-Nov. 3, 1786)
Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts was a strong Federalist, meaning he wanted a strong central government over the new nation. Serving in the Continental Congress, he was a strong advocate for his state to ratify the Constitution. He served two terms in the Continental Congress, first in 1782 and 1783, then in 1785 to 1787. He wrote that he did not believe the United States would last as a country, and went broke after buying a good chunk of western New York.
5. John Hancock (May 24, 1775-Oct. 29, 1777 and Nov. 23, 1785-June 5, 1786)
The most famous signatory of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, John Hancock also served two terms as president of the Continental Congress. Hancock was a wealthy businessman in Massachusetts before the American Revolution. Despite his high lifestyle and rich accouterments, Hancock became good friends with the dumpy business failure Samuel Adams. Legend has it that when Adams was supposed to go to the Congress to help represent his colony, Hancock had him abducted, bathed and fitted into a suit of clothes to avoid him looking shabby. Hancock became involved in the revolution largely to secure his own business interests and profits, as did many of the wealthier men of that period. During Hancock’s first term, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Hancock returned to Massachusetts after that term, but almost a decade later, after Massachusetts again elected him to the Congress, Hancock was again chosen as President of the Congress. By then, however, the Congress had little real power, and Hancock did not attend a meeting. While Hancock reportedly had aspirations of leading the Continental Army, and later had ambitions to be the first U.S. president, he served only in the Continental Congress and later as governor of Massachusetts.
4. Richard Henry Lee (Nov. 30, 1784-Nov. 4, 1785)
Richard Henry Lee was one of the first men in the Continental Congress, sent there in 1774 as a representative of Virginia. He had the distinction of presenting the Resolutions for Independence two years after his arrival. Unlike some of the others who served as president of the Continental Congress, Lee was an anti-federalist who wanted the states strong and the central government weak. Despite this and his opposition to a Constitution, Lee served as the first senator from Virginia to the U.S. Congress.
3. Thomas Mifflin (Nov. 3, 1783-June 3, 1784)
Coming from a long line of prominent Quakers in Pennsylvania, Thomas Mifflin ironically helped form the state’s military forces. When he served in the Continental Army, Washington named Mifflin as Quartermaster General because he believed Mifflin was honest. Eventually, Mifflin became part of an unsuccessful cabal that attempted to remove Washington from command of the army. The effort failed, but Mifflin resigned from the army in 1779. Despite that incident, Mifflin managed a political comeback to serve an eight-month term as president of the Continental Congress.
2. Elias Boudinot (Nov. 4, 1782-Nov. 3, 1783)
With the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, Elias Boudinot became the second president in the Continental Congress. Although born in Pennsylvania, he lived and served in New Jersey. As with many of the leaders elected to the ceremonial presidency, Boudinot served in the Continental Army first, though not for long. He was in the Continental Congress by 1777, and later, after the war returned there. Following the formal formation of the United States, Boudinot became a three-term Congressional representative. He also served as director of the national mint and was a longtime member of the board of trustees for what became Princeton University.
1. John Hanson (Nov. 5, 1781-Nov. 4, 1782)
John Hanson was the first man elected as president of the Continental Congress following the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. One of those who voted for him was George Washington. Following the unanimous election, Washington wrote Hanson a letter congratulating him for being “elected first president of these United States.” It’s true that Hanson, like the others who followed him, had little power, but his position as president of the Continental Congress of the new nation should get more recognition than it does. He and the other presidents as well as delegates helped to write the Constitution and form the United States as it is known today. Hanson, from Maryland, probably was a compromise candidate, but still served and deserves his place in history.