Continental Congress

French engraving of the Second Continental Congress, 1782
Courtesy of Library of Congress

The nation's first governing body was the Continental Congress, established under the Articles of Confederation that were ratified in 1781. It included representatives from each state and was designed to be weak. Bills of any significance needed a two-thirds vote and changes to the Articles required unanimous consent. The states maintained a high degree of sovereignty: they coined their own money, raised armies, and erected tariff barriers.

Fearful of centralized authority, the former colonists did not create an independent executive branch. The Congress attempted to handle administrative responsibilities through committees and later through departments with appointed superintendents and governing boards.

John Hanson Pitcher
John Hanson served as an early president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation from 1781 to 1782. The Congress elected a president annually from among its members, but the position bore no relationship to the presidency established under the Constitution. When Hanson served as president of the new independent nation, it was more an honorary position than a powerful office.