President's Day: America's Forgotten Presidents

Lynette Kittle

iBelieve Contributors
Updated Feb 13, 2023
President's Day: America's Forgotten Presidents

But did you know there were eight men who served as president before George Washington? Many Americans aren’t familiar with this fact.

With our nation at odds over our present leadership in the White House, it’s good to “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:1).

Whether we voted for the current President or not, Romans 13:1 urges us to “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

For many Christians with strong feelings of opposition to who is sitting in our land’s highest office, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Still, as believers in Jesus Christ, we want to be obedient to God, honoring what His word instructs us to do with our words and attitudes toward our appointed leaders.

The History of President’s Day

President’s Day began in 1800, following the death of George Washington in 1799. After his passing, his birth date of February 22nd became a yearly day of remembrance.

There are four United States Presidents who were born in February, including President Abraham Lincoln on February 12th; William Henry Harrison on February 9th; Ronald Reagan on February 6th; and, of course, George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd.

Hailed at the time as the most highly regarded figure in American history, along with the 1832 centennial of his birth date and the 1848 construction of the Washington Monument, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate Washington's birth.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring February 22nd as a day to honor and celebrate Washington. Not until 1879 did it become a Federal holiday officially passed into law and honored in Washington, D.C. Then, in 1885, it was extended to all federal employees worldwide.

During the late 1960s, Congress proposed a measure named Uniform Monday Holiday Act, seeking to rearrange several federal holidays away from their specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays, creating three-day weekend holidays.

This Act included a provision to combine Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln's February 12th birthday, which was a state holiday in Illinois and other places. Passing in 1968, it officially took effect in 1971 following President Richard M. Nixon’s executive order. 

America’s Forgotten Presidents

But did you know there were eight men who served as president before George Washington? Many Americans aren’t familiar with this fact.

Before the United States Constitution, our nation was run by the Articles of Confederation, created on November 15, 1777 and ratified on February 2, 1781. It was the first frame of government created by our Founding Fathers, serving as the first constitution of the United States.

As the first formerly written document establishing the national government functions after achieving independence from British control, it served from March 1, 1781, until 1789, when our present-day Constitution became active.

During this time, as the Providence Forum’s latest documentary, “We the People,” written and produced by Executive Director Dr. Jerry Newcombe discusses, there are eight men who each served as United States President for one-year terms before George Washington. These eight are often forgotten or overlooked when it comes to celebrating our nation’s presidents.

The Eight Men Before Washington

John Hanson was officially the first President of the United States, serving from November 5, 1781, to November 4, 1782. He served in the Maryland State House for nine terms from 1753-1773. As well, he founded a gun-lock company and played an important role in helping to recruit troops for the Revolutionary War’s Continental Army. Additionally, he served in the Continental Congress from 1780-1782, and during his one-year presidential term, he approved the Great Seal of the United States, which is still in use today. He also helped to establish the U.S. Treasury Department, the first Foreign Affairs Department, and Secretary of War offices. As president, he was responsible for signing all laws, regulations, letters, and official papers.

Elias Boudinot served from November 4, 1782, to November 3, 1783, as the second President of the United States. A lawyer who grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, next door to Benjamin Franklin, he served as a Princeton College board, trustee on the Continental Congress and signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783, officially ending the Revolutionary War. After election, he directed the U.S. Mint and also as the American Bible Society President, based on his devout religious opposition to slavery and support of Native American rights.

Newcombe considers Boudinot one of the Constitution’s forerunners, noting his quote, “If the moral character of a people once degenerate, their political character must soon follow…These considerations should lead to an attractive solicitude…to be religiously careful in our choice of all public officers…and judge of the tree by its fruits.”

Thomas Mifflin, the third U.S. President serving from November 3, 1783, to June 3, 1784, grew up wealthy in Philadelphia and graduated from the College of Philadelphia (University of Philadelphia). He served in the Continental Congress and as a Major and Chief-de-Camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. He was appointed in 1775 as Quartermaster General until disagreeing with Washington’s military strategy and attempting to replace him with General Horatio Gates. He went on to serve as Pennsylvania State Speaker of the House and representative delegate to the state Constitutional Convention that ratified the Federal Constitution in 1787. He also served as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1790-1799.

Richard Henry Lee was elected fourth President, serving from November 29, 1784, to November 23, 1785. He and his four brothers were all politicians. Educated privately by tutors in England, he served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses, as a state legislator, senator, and in the national Congress as a supporter of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He strongly opposed British rule and was an ally of Patrick Henry.

John Hancock was elected fifth President, serving from November 23, 1785, to June 6, 1786, ending his term early because of poor health. Born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1737, he was orphaned and adopted by his wealthy uncle, Thomas Hancock. He served on the Continental Congress and was president when the Declaration of Independence was adopted. King George III considered him, along with Samuel Adams, the most wanted men in the colonies. He also served as a Revolutionary War Major General, Governor of Massachusetts, and is considered one of America's original Founding Fathers.

Nathaniel Gorham, the sixth U.S. President in office from June 1786 to November 13, 1786, had minimal education. He served as a merchant’s apprentice in New London, Connecticut, before going on to serve in Massachusetts' colonial legislature and the Congress of Confederation. Heartbreakingly, the British destroyed much of his property during the Revolutionary War. Later, he served on committees supporting a new constitution that could control interstate commerce, promote a strong international trade base, and regulate paper money. At age 58, his life tragically ended amid a financial land deal crisis.

Arthur St. Clair, the seventh U.S. President, served from February 2, 1787, to October 29, 1787. Born in Scotland in 1737 and brought to America during the French Indian War by the British Army, he helped with the British capture of Quebec and Louisbourg. After resigning from the military, he settled on the Pennsylvania frontier, earning the rank of Major General while fighting with the Pennsylvania Regiment during the Revolutionary War. Although almost court-martialed in 1778 for letting Fort Ticonderoga be recaptured by the British, he was elected to the Continental Congress (1785-87), going on to become Governor of the Northwest Territory in 1789. A defeat by the Miami Indians on the Ohio frontier led him to be removed as Governor. 

Cyrus Griffin became the eighth President in office from January 22, 1788, to March 4, 1789. Virginia-born and Scotland-educated, he married Christine Stewart, daughter of Scotland’s sixth Earl of Traquair. After the Revolutionary War, Griffin presented a plan to reconcile with England, but it was rejected. Serving as a Virginia legislator with the Continental Congress and as commissioner to the Creek Nation, he helped pave the way to forming a national court system through his service as a U.S. District Court of Virginia judge. 

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Rene Deanda

Lynette Kittle is married with four daughters. She enjoys writing about faith, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. Her writing has been published by Focus on the Family, Decision, Today’s Christian Woman,,,, and more. She has a M.A. in Communication from Regent University and serves as associate producer for Soul Check TV.