America's Forgotten Presidents

By Eric Olson

September 26, 2013 Updated Sep 26, 2013 at 10:33 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Indiana---Every school kid knows it…George Washington was the first President of the United States. Well, sort of. It turns out there were 14 American Presidents before Washington and today they’re mostly forgotten.

For the full story of America’s forgotten Presidents you can come here, to Fort Wayne’s magnificent Karpeles Manuscript Museum where you’ll hear the forgotten Presidents in documents written in their hand. From 1776 when the American Revolution began to 1789 when the Constitution was ratified the country was run by the Continental Congress which also wrote the Constitution. The Congress elected a new President each year who was in fact President of the new country. John Hanson was the first President..this is his letter accepting the post. John Jay had already served as fifth President of Congress when he wrote this letter announcing he’d serve as Secretary of State under the new president, John Hancock. For 14 years these men and the Continental Congress hammered together the U.S. Constitution and horse traded among themselves to get all the colonies to agree to sign it. It wasn’t easy.

“There were several colonies that wanted to choose to be more like the German city states,” says museum director Lisa Olinger. “They wanted to have their boundaries be their boundaries and not have to make decisions with the rest of the colony’s that were out there.”

In fact this letter by Cyrus Griffin, the last President before George Washington’s election, warns friends that New York, Massachusetts and Virginia might reject the new Constitution. They didn’t. And there are some intriguing subplots in this story…this letter by the 11th President, Richard Henry Lee, Robert E. Iee’s great uncle, nominates Washington, D.C. as permanent residence of Congress. And this letter by 6th President Samuel Huntington, announces that Thanksgiving 1782 would be observed on April 26th. These men were truly the Fathers of our country, risked their necks rebelling against Great Britain, then sat down to design and build a government..a task for which they were celebrated at the time…only to be forgotten by nearly all of us today. It’s nice to know they’re remembered in at least one dignified corner of 21 Country. Eric Olson reporting.

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