Thursday, March 01, 2007

March 1, 1781:

Samuel Huntington Becomes President...

... of the United States in Congress Assembled. On this day in 1781, the Articles of Confederation were formally adopted, and the Congress of the Confederation came into existence, replacing the Second Continental Congress. At the moment it happened, however, the shift was a matter of nomenclature, because the members of the new Congress of the Confederation were the same as the old Second Continental Congress.

The president of the Second Continental Congress, Samuel Huntington of Connecticut, thus acquired a new formal title, President of the United States in Congress Assembled, though ill health forced him to retire that summer. He was the first of ten men to hold this post, and while it's sometimes said that they were the first real presidents of the United States, it isn't so. They were the presidents of the Congress, which was the only game in town under the Articles, since an independent executive wasn't established until the Constitution was ratified.

Still, that's no reason to ignore Huntington and the others. They did their part, presumably, in the establishment of an independent United States, and for a time were the closest thing the young country had to a chief executive. According to Rev. Charles A. Goodrich in Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1856), Huntington's "talents and patriotism recommended him to public favor, and in October, 1775, he was appointed by the general assembly of Connecticut to represent that colony in the Continental Congress... In the subsequent July he voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence.

"Of the Continental Congress, Mr. Huntington continued a member until the year 1781, when the ill state of his health required the relinquishment of the arduous services in which he had been engaged for several years. These services had been rendered still more onerous by an appointment, in 1779, to the presidency of the congress, in which station he succeeded Mr. [John] Jay, on the appointment of the latter as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Madrid. The honorable station of president, Mr. Huntington filled with great dignity and distinguished ability. 'In testimony of their approbation of his conduct in the chair, and in the execution of public business,' congress, soon after his retirement, accorded to him the expression of their public thanks."

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