Notre Dame ReSource: No lie, Washington was first president, says Notre Dame political scientist

Author: Dennis Brown

George Washington can rest in peace, he really is the father of our country, according to a Notre Dame expert on the history of the American presidency.

A group in Connecticut has raised questions about Washington’s rightful place in history, claiming that native son Samuel Huntington should be declared the first president of the United States.

Huntington served as the first president of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1781, during which time the Articles of Confederation establishing the United States as a sovereign nation were ratified. The Norwich Historical Society and several other individuals and organizations believe that because of his title and role in nationhood, Huntington?rather than Washington’should be considered the country’s first president.

Political scientist Peri Arnold, a presidential history scholar at Notre Dame, disagrees, saying Huntington?as well as nine others who led the Congress before Washington’s election in 1789?was more like a chairman than a president.

“The term ‘president’ was used for what we would call the chairperson of the Continental Congress,” Arnold said. “It was not a chief executive office, but rather the person selected to chair from among a group of legislative representatives. In that respect, it would be more accurate to say that the first ‘presidents’ of the Congress were more like prime minister than our president. But they even differ from what we think of as prime ministers in that they had virtually no authority over public policy.”p. Arnold specializes in the American presidency, administrative organization and its development, and policy formation. His book, “Making the Managerial Presidency,” won the 1989 Brownlow Book Award of the National Academy of Public Administration. His current work focuses on the presidency of the Progressive era.

A U.S. congressman, Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., said he may introduce legislation to have Huntington and nine other presidents of the Continental Congress recognized as presidents, which would allow for them to be honored on President’s Day and have wreaths placed on their graves on their birthdays.

Peri Arnold, professor of political science is available for interviews at 574-631-7430 or
_ The Associated Press contributed to this story. _

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