Chris Landers: Maryland Statesman John Hanson Helped Create Thanksgiving Holiday

Roundup: Talking About History

As area residents tuck into their traditional Maryland crab cakes and sauerkraut this Thanksgiving Day, they might want to take a moment away from all the palaver about pilgrims and Plymouth Rock to reflect on the Maryland statesman who really created the national holiday celebrated Thursday - John Hanson of Charles County.

Or so say Hanson supporters. Actually, there is considerable disagreement among historians on who established the holiday.

Hanson served as "President of the United States in Congress Assembled" under the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and '82. The Articles preceded the U.S. Constitution as an organizing document among the colonies.

Some claim Hanson, and not George Washington, was the first president of the United States. Detractors point out that, before the Constitution, there really wasn't an office of the president or, for that matter, a country to be the president of.

Whatever his presidential status, Hanson did issue a proclamation declaring Thursday, Nov. 28, 1782, "a day of solemn Thanksgiving to God for all his mercies."

"It's very clear that [Hanson] was the first one to do the tradition we have now," according to Stanley Klos, author of President Who? Forgotten Founders, on the presidents of the United States under the Articles of Confederacy. "He really was a great man."

By first, Klos means that Hanson put the holiday at the end of November, on a Thursday. There were other Thanksgivings before and since. Klos, by the way, lists Hanson as the third president, making George Washington the 11th.

"George Washington is the father of Thanksgiving," according to George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens spokeswoman Melissa Wood. Wood points to an article in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser describing Washington's declaration designating the last Thursday in November a "day of public Thanksgiving."

Unfortunately for Washington, though, his Thanksgiving declaration was for Nov. 26, 1789, seven years after Hanson's.

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