Beginning in 1775, the Second Continental Congress acted as the Provisional Government and ran the operations of the war. It wielded great political and diplomatic power but had no written foundation document. However, this was an era of constitution writing, and even as the war waged, most states were busy at that task, and leaders felt the new nation must have a written constitution. On June 12, 1776, a day after appointing a committee to prepare a draft of the Declaration of Independence, Congress resolved to appoint a committee of 13 to prepare a draft of a constitution for a national union. The result was the
Articles of Confederation: America's First Constitution
which was drafted in the summer of 1777.
was among the delegates from Maryland to support the ratification of the Articles. He had been a leading opponent of the 1765 Stamp Act, chairing the committee that drafted the instructions for Maryland's delegates to the Stamp Act Congress. In protest of the Townshend Acts, in 1769 Hanson was one of the signers of a non-importation resolution that boycotted British imports until the acts were repealed. He lost a son in the war but was active in recruiting soldiers to join Washington's army. And in 1779, Maryland sent him to represent the state at the 2nd Continental Congress. There he pushed for adoption of the Articles and helped convince the Maryland legislature of its necessity. This led the adoption of the Articles by his state, the final state to do so.
The Articles called for the
Election of a President
to serve a one year term, the first national leader elected under an American Constitution. He was to be called "President of the United States in Congress Assembled." The first person to be elected and serve the one year term, and to hold the title
President of the United States
The First President of the United States
under the Constitution called the Articles of Confederation Constitution.
Hanson presided over the new nation during momentous times. He took office just a month after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. On February 21, 1782, Hanson signed a resolution creating the US Mint. The next day, his administration formed a newly reorganized Department of Foreign Affairs, which would be integral to the negotiating of peace with Great Britain.
It was at this crucial moment that Hanson & Congress stopped to reflect on the successful progress of the war, with Hanson issuing a
Pro clamation of Thanksgiving
The First Under the "Articles of Confederation"
& the first issued by a "President of the United States".
In 1789 George Washington would issue the first Thanksgiving Proclamation under "The Constitution" of the United States.
The Thanksgiving Proclamation, Signed, March 19, 1782, Philadelphia, being that very proclamation, also signed by Charles Thomson in his role as Secretary of Congress.
"Proclamation. The goodness of the Supreme Being to all his rational creatures demands their acknowledgments of gratitude and love; his absolute government of this world dictates that it is the interest of every nation and people ardently to supplicate his favor and implore his protection.
"When the lust of dominion or lawless ambition excites arbitrary power to invade the rights or endeavor to wrest from a people their sacred and inalienable privileges, and compels them, in defense of the same, to encounter all the horrors and calamities of a bloody and vindictive war, then is that people loudly called upon to fly unto that God for protection who hears the cries of the distressed and will not turn a deaf ear to the supplications of the oppressed.
"Great Britain, hitherto left to infatuated councils and to pursue measures repugnant to her own interest and distressing to this country, still persists in the design of subjugating these United States; which will compel us into another active and perhaps bloody campaign.
"The United States in Congress assembled, therefore, taking into consideration our present situation, our multiplied transgressions of the holy laws of our God, and his past acts of kindness and goodness towards us, which we ought to record with the liveliest gratitude, think it their indispensable duty to call upon the several States to set apart the last Thursday in April next as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, that our joint supplications may then ascend to the throne of the Ruler of the universe, beseeching him to diffuse a spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens, and make us a holy so that we may be a happy, people; that it would please him to impart wisdom, integrity, and unanimity to our counselors; to bless and prosper the reign of our illustrious ally, and give success to his arms employed in the defense of the rights of human nature; that he would smile upon our military arrangements by land and sea, administer comfort and consolation to our prisoners in a cruel captivity, protect the health and life of our commander-in-chief, grant us victory over our enemies, establish peace in all our borders, and give happiness to all our inhabitants; that he would prosper the labor of the husbandman, making the earth yield its increase in abundance, and give a proper season for the ingathering of the fruits thereof; that he would grant success to all engaged in lawful trade and commerce, and take under his guardianship all schools and Seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of virtue and piety; that he would incline the hearts of all men to peace, and fill them with universal charity and benevolence, and that the religion of our Devine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.
"Done by the United States in Congress assembled this nineteenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand sevent hundred & eighty two and in the sixth year of our independence. John Hanson President.
Also Signed by the Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson."
This document, acquired from the descendants of John Hanson, was the one sent to Rhode Island; it was re-acquired by the Hanson family in the 19th century. We could find record of only one other copy of this proclamation, which sold more than a decade ago to a major national institution. Thus, this may well be the only original of this proclamation in private hands.
Hanson would leave office with the signing of the preliminary Articles of Peace. During his one year in office, he approved the Great Seal of the United States that is still used today and helped establish the first U.S. Treasury Department. He led the flight to guarantee the statehood of the Western Territories beyond the Appalachian Mountains that had been controlled by some of the original thirteen colonies. Hanson's statue sits today in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
Rituals of Presidents declaring Thanksgiving days for fasting, prayer and thanks began before independence was declared. However, this is the first Proclamation of Thanksgiving given by a duly elected "President of the United States" and the immediate predecessor to the Proclamation of later that year that established November as the time in which the nation would thereafter formally celebrate the holiday.