Here’s what this month’s Smithsonian magazine had to say in their “Ask Smithsonian” section about this tiresome myth, one that is vigorously promoted by the descendants of John Hanson. (For details, see Myth #88)
Q: John Hanson was the president of the Confederation Congress before George Washington was elected. Why isn’t Hanson considered the father of our country?
A: There was a substantial difference between the office John Hanson held starting in 1781 and the office George Washington was elected to in 1789. Under the Articles of Confederation, state delegates met to create and enact policies. When its members chose a “president,” they were choosing someone to moderate their debates and oversee some of their correspondence. Hanson’s role did not matter much to the average American. Compare that with Washington’s role, which was an executive position, set apart from the legislative branch by the U.S. Constitution. Washington had a significant sphere of influence. He was also the ceremonial head of state, symbolizing the unity and power of the nation. Washington, of course, had already been revered as a great leader of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Hanson held a leadership role in the Confederation Congress, but he did not lead the people of the nation. –Barbara Clark Smith, Curator of Social History, National Museum of American History