March 1: The First President of the United States — Samuel Huntington

 

On this day in 1781, more than four years after they were first adopted by the Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation became the supreme law of the United States after being formally ratified by all 13 states. As a result, the previous sitting President of the Continental Congress — a Connecticut lawyer by the name of Samuel Huntington — automatically became the new President of the United States in Congress Assembled. As president of Congress, Huntington became the highest-ranking elected official in the United States, and technically the first President of the United States under its first form of national government.

Samuel Huntington’s official portrait hangs in the Museum of Connecticut History in Hartford. (CT State Library)
Samuel Huntington, who had served in Congress since 1775 and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a fitting representative of the Land of Steady Habits. Born in what is now the town of Scotland, Connecticut in 1731, Huntington passed the bar exam at the age of 23 in spite of being largely self-educated, and was selected to represent Connecticut in the Second Continental Congress after serving in the General Assembly. There, he was held in high regard for his even temper, reticence, and unparalleled work ethic. He was elected to the presidency of Congress in September of 1779, and was still serving in that capacity when the Articles of Confederation went into effect on March 1, 1781.

Three months into his new post, satisfied that the new national government was working as it should, Huntington resigned as President of Congress and returned to Connecticut, where he remained active as a lawyer, judge, and politician. Back in his home state, Huntington helped draft one of the first copyright laws in the United States, served as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, and twice held the post of Lieutenant Governor before being elected the 18th Governor of Connecticut in 1786. He was re-elected annually (as Connecticut governors served one-year terms until 1875) nine more times and eventually died while in office on January 5, 1796. Out of all the titles he amassed throughout his lifetime, his role as the first President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation was perhaps the most noteworthy — and most unexpected — for the accomplished lawyer who hailed from the Land of Steady Habits.

Further Reading

Samuel Huntington, Governor of Connecticut, 1786 – 1796,” Museum of Connecticut History

Huntington Homestead museum website