- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — George Washington is facing an opponent for office, even though his term has long expired.

The title of “first president” has always belonged to Mr. Washington, but in the southeastern Connecticut city of Norwich, there’s a mounting effort to rewrite history.

The Norwich Historical Society believes the title rightfully belongs to Samuel Huntington, the Connecticut native and president of the Continental Congress when the Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781.

“We don’t do this in the spirit of anything except having history be historically correct,” said Bill Stanley, the association’s president. “The honor of first president is almost sacred. You don’t play games with things like that.”

Campaigning for Mr. Huntington’s presidency will be no easy task, especially as Washington’s portrait is an icon of American patriotism. But the society says facts are on its side. Arguing that the Articles of Confederation established the United States as a country, they say that proves Mr. Huntington was the true first president.

“One of the ways you do it is, you examine the Articles of Confederation and how they were implemented,” said Norwich lawyer John Cotter, who is helping the society build its case. “I think in many ways, that holds the key. There’s no question he was president of the Continental Congress, but what did that mean in the context of his time? That’s the issue.”

Stanley Klos, a collector of historical documents and historical-building renovator from Upper St. Clair, Pa., has been making the case for Mr. Huntington’s recognition for years.

He’s pleaded with Congress, written to the president and traveled the country with an exhibit of documents that refer to Huntington. He’s also considered taking the cause to the federal courts.

For documentation, Mr. Klos plans to offer the Norwich group journals of the Continental Congress that refer to Mr. Huntington as president. Also in his collection is a letter written from France addressed to a “president” Samuel Huntington.

Born in Winsted, Huntington was a state representative for Norwich who rose to lead the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1781. He was elected governor of Connecticut in 1786 and held the office until his death in 1796. During his term, he presided over the decision to erect a new Statehouse in Hartford.

Theories on why he and the other nine leaders of the Continental Congress aren’t given presidential status vary. One reason may be that the Articles of Confederation failed, Mr. Klos said.

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican, whose district includes Norwich, said he may push for legislation to have Mr. Huntington and his nine colleagues recognized as presidents. That would add them to the list honored on Presidents Day, and have wreaths placed on their graves on their birthdays.

But as far as securing the title of first president?

“We probably won’t go quite that far,” he said.

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