A History of the Presidency - Earliest presidents

The designation president had long been familiar to Americans; it was used in the colonies and then in the states to denote the chief executive, or chief magistrate, as he was often called. By 1800, though, in all the states the title of president had given way in popular usage to governor. It had not seemed remarkable that from the First Continental Congress in 1774 to the last session of the Second Congress in 1789, the chairman was "President of the Congress" and under the Articles of Confederation from 1781 on, "President of the United States in Congress Assembled." In those fifteen years, fourteen men had held the title, because the term of service was fixed at one year. Perhaps the best remembered of these original presidents is John Hancock, whose famous signature is an ornament of the Declaration of Independence. Still, all of them were mere instruments of the congresses that chose them. Although they took on administrative duties of various kinds because there was no other agency to fulfill them, their powers were not defined; as delegates to the Congress they simply were first among equals. The idea of a separation of power between the executive and the legislature was not yet on the American political horizon.

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