[Ads-l] Antedating of "President" (U.S. usage)

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Mon Jan 18 16:52:58 UTC 2016

What are we looking for?  Fred is interested in a "(usually elected) head of a republican state, typically functioning as 
both head of state and head of government"). 

The "President of the Council" in Virginia in 1768 was probably only interim "commander in chief" because the governor was absent (in England, or dead).  And he would not have been elected by the people of a "republican state", let alone by the people of the colony.  The Council would have been appointed, probably by the governor (I can't speak authoritatively of Virginia, but that was the case in Massachusetts), and the President elected by the Council (or perhaps named by the governor).  And Virginia was not a republic, but a royal colony (that is, one governed by the king).  This example fits OED sense 3.a., not 4.

The President of the (1775, Second) Continental Congress doesn't quite fit OED sense 4 either.  (It could be bracketed, but the OED already has an earlier quotation, from 1774, the First Continental Congress.)  I wouldn't call Hancock a "head of state"; I suspect he had no executive powers but rather was merely the presiding officer of the Congress.  (For example, I'm sure he had no control over the armed forces -- the militia -- of the several colonies.)  The earlier bracketed quotation for this sense is ecplained by the OED: "First used in the U.S., where the title was app. carried over from its application to the officer presiding at the revolutionary congresses of the separate states held from 1774 onwards."



      From: James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM>
 Sent: Monday, January 18, 2016 11:17 AM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] Antedating of "President" (U.S. usage)
On Mon, 18 Jan 2016 00:35:22 Zone+0000 "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU> wrote:

<begin quote>
The first use in the OED for sense 4. of the word "president" ("The 
(usually elected) head of a republican state, typically functioning as 
both head of state and head of government") is dated 1784.  The 1784 
citation, from the Acts and Laws of the State of Connecticut, must be 
misdated, since it refers to institutions not yet in existence in 1784.  
The second citation is from the Constitution of the United States, dated 
1789.  Here is an earlier citation:

1787 _Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser_ 19 Sept. 2  The 
executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States of 
<end quote>


a letter dated Nov 24, 1775 is signed "The Honourable John Hancock, Efq. Prefident of the Congrefs"

This can be antedated, as Peyton Randolph as was elected "President" of the First Continental Congress in 1774. Now consider the folloowing:


In a letter dated "Virginia, May 8, 1768" from "Peyton Randolph, Speaker [of the Houfe of Burgeffes]"
page 468 second column first paragraph line 14 "Copies were delivered to the Prefident of the Council, now commander in chief..."

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