Originally printed in the March 24, 2004 edition of the Illinois Valley News
In every war there are always different groups of people involved on both sides. There are those who are actively in favor and willing to participate. On the other hand there are people who oppose the war and work hard toward halting the action. In between are all the possible levels of support or non-support, including the ones who publicly express one opinion but in private work for the opposite side. In the very middle are the people who do not care at all and do nothing to support or oppose. The leaders who support war and make the difficult decisions are often strongly criticized, even by their own followers, because some of the decisions have negative results.
During the Revolutionary War George Washington was the commander of the army but the members of the Continental Congress had to make many crucial and difficult decisions. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence put themselves at the head of the list to be criticized by the citizens and possibly executed by the British army.
John Hancock was the President of the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 when he signed the Declaration. By March 1,1781, the name “United States in Congress Assembled” was the official name of the body and Samuel Huntington was the president. Huntington was the last president of the Continental Congress and had been instrumental in having the Articles of Confederation ratified unanimously by the congress. Under the Articles of Confederation, the president could only serve for one year. Huntington also suffered from some health problems and so resigned. Thomas McKean was the first elected president of the United States in Congress Assembled. He served from July 10, 1781 until Nov. 4, 1781 when John Hanson, from Maryland, was elected president. McKean was a representative from Delaware and the only member that had served in congress continuously from the beginning in 1774 until the end of the war.
There are some people who would like to see the Presidents of the Continental Congress elevated to the same status as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the presidents. It must be remembered that they were not elected by the people but by the delegates to conduct the meetings. They had no authority over the country. It was not really a country but a confederation of 13 separate countries and would remain so until the constitution went into effect in 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the constitution.
Thomas Mckean, born 19 March 1734 in Philadelphia, Penn.,was educated as a lawyer. He had been elected to represent Delaware during the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and was involved in opposing the Stamp Act. He also worked very hard to encourage separation from England as an independent country. He had voted for the Declaration of Independence and then left Philadelphia to command a battalion of troops at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. It is not recorded when he actually signed the document but it was after Jan. 17, 1777. It was in 1777, while also serving as President of the colony of Delaware, he had to move his family six times in four months to protect them from the British and Indian activity supporting the British. McKean was president of Congress in 1781 when dispatches from General Washington arrived announcing the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, which brought an end to most of the military action of the war.
Thomas McKean later served as Governor of Pennsylvania but turned down an offer to serve as Vice President under Thomas Jefferson. He continued to remain active in politics and in the legal profession. Honorary degrees were presented to him by Dartmouth, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania. He died in 1817. McKean was truly one of the founders of the United States of America, an outstanding patriot for the cause of freedom, and a good example of a citizen.