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Second Continental Congress

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Second Continental Congress
EstablishedMay 10, 1775; 243 years ago (1775-05-10)
DisbandedMarch 1, 1781 (1781-03-01)
Preceded byFirst Continental Congress
Succeeded by1st Confederation Congress
SeatsVariable; ~60
Meeting place
Independence Hall Clocktower in Philadelphia.jpg
mainly at Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
from December 1776 to July 1778 various locations,
see below
There were about 50 members of the Congress at any given time, but it was the colonies themselves that had voting privileges so there were effectively only 13 seats.

The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting in the spring of 1775 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia between September 5, 1774, and October 26, 1774. The Second Congress managed the Colonial war effort and moved incrementally towards independence. It eventually adopted the Lee Resolution which established the new country on July 2, 1776, and it agreed to the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Congress acted as the de facto national government of the United States by raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties such as the Olive Branch Petition.[1]

The Second Continental Congress came together on May 11, 1775, effectively reconvening the First Continental Congress. Many of the 56 delegates who attended the first meeting were in attendance at the second, and the delegates appointed the same president (Peyton Randolph) and secretary (Charles Thomson).[2] Notable new arrivals included Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and John Hancock of Massachusetts. Within two weeks, Randolph was summoned back to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses; he was replaced in the Virginia delegation by Thomas Jefferson, who arrived several weeks later. Henry Middleton was elected as president to replace Randolph, but he declined. Hancock was elected president on May 24.[3]

Delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies were present when the Second Continental Congress convened. Georgia had not participated in the First Continental Congress and did not initially send delegates to the Second. On May 13, 1775, Lyman Hall was admitted as a delegate from the Parish of St. John's in the Colony of Georgia, not as a delegate from the colony itself.[4] On July 4, 1775, revolutionary Georgians held a Provincial Congress to decide how to respond to the American Revolution, and that congress decided on July 8 to send delegates to the Continental Congress. They arrived on September 13.[5]

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  • ✪ History Brief: The Second Continental Congress and the Olive Branch Petition
  • ✪ Liberty's Kids 108 - The Second Continental Congress
  • ✪ The 2nd Continental Congress
  • ✪ The First and Second Continental Congress
  • ✪ 1 Olive Branch Petition


King George III refused to consider the concerns colonial leaders had mentioned in the Declaration and Resolves, and in May of 1775, delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met again in Philadelphia for what became known as the Second Continental Congress. What did the delegates discuss there? Although far from unified, the delegates had several pressing issues to deal with. Some called for war with Britain, while others insisted that peace should still be sought. Once again, compromise would be needed. While they did not vote to openly rebel against the Crown, the representatives expressed their growing dissatisfaction with George III and Parliament. The delegates decided to request that each of the 13 colonies draft a new state constitution, and the large militia besieging Boston was declared the Continental Army. Since the "soldiers" were all New Englanders, many argued that someone from New England should be named commander. John Hancock felt he should be given command since he was one of the wealthiest and most respected men from the area, but John Adams saw the importance of naming a non-Yankee General. He was determined to name a stout, engaging militia leader from Virginian to be the commander. First, Adams' candidate was 43. He wasn't too old to function, but not too young to command respect. He had been a leading figure in the colonial resistance for several years and had substantial military experience during the French and Indian War. In fact, he had more military experience than any other American. Finally, he was Virginian. His selection would show that the struggle wasn't merely a Boston or New England thing, but something all of the colonies supported. Upon being nominated, the Virginian left the room so the others could discuss openly. After the debate, George Washington was unanimously voted the leader of the Continental Army. In July, Congress sent the Olive Branch Petition to George III as a final attempt to avoid conflict. It blamed Parliament for the war and asked George III to call off the fighting for peace talks. John Adams was disgusted by the document but signed it anyway. George III refused the petition and sent the Royal Navy to blockade the colonies. He also authorized Parliament to hire 18,000 German Hessians from Europe. These professional soldiers for hire, known as mercenaries, had a particularly ruthless reputation, and the king believed the Hessians would "bring the colonists to their knees." When word of the king's agreement with several German princes reached the colonies, many argued that the act was solid proof that George III was an enemy of American liberty. As General Washington began to put his staff together in preparation to depart for Boston, news of a major battle and British atrocities in and around the city began to trickle in. Benjamin Franklin, who had left Britain to take a seat in Continental Congress, wrote one of his companions back in London: Mr. Strahan: You are a Member of Parliament and one of that majority which has doomed my country to destruction. You have begun to burn our towns and murder our people. Look upon your hands! They are stained with the blood of your relations! You and I were long friends. You are now my enemy and I am Yours, B Franklin



The First Continental Congress had sent entreaties to King George III to stop the Coercive Acts; they had also created the Continental Association to establish a coordinated protest of those acts, putting a boycott on British goods. The Second Continental Congress met on May 10, 1775 to plan further responses if the British government had not repealed or modified the acts; however, the American Revolutionary War had already started by that time with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the Congress was called upon to take charge of the war effort.

For the first few months of the war, the Patriots carried on their struggle in an ad-hoc and uncoordinated manner. They had seized arsenals, driven out royal officials, and besieged the British army in the city of Boston. On June 14, 1775, the Congress voted to create the Continental Army out of the militia units around Boston and appointed George Washington of Virginia as commanding general.[6] On July 6, 1775, Congress approved a Declaration of Causes outlining the rationale and necessity for taking up arms in the Thirteen Colonies.[7] On July 8, they extended the Olive Branch Petition to the British Crown as a final attempt at reconciliation; however, it was received too late to do any good. Silas Deane was sent to France as a minister (ambassador) of the Congress, and American ports were reopened in defiance of the British Navigation Acts.

The Continental Congress had no explicit legal authority to govern,[8] but it assumed all the functions of a national government, such as appointing ambassadors, signing treaties, raising armies, appointing generals, obtaining loans from Europe, issuing paper money (called "Continentals"), and disbursing funds. The Congress had no authority to levy taxes and was required to request money, supplies, and troops from the states to support the war effort. Individual states frequently ignored these requests.

1876 Currier & Ives printing of Washington being promoted to commanding general
1876 Currier & Ives printing of Washington being promoted to commanding general

Congress was moving towards declaring independence from the British Empire in 1776, but many delegates lacked the authority from their home governments to take such a drastic action. Advocates of independence moved to have reluctant colonial governments revise instructions to their delegations, or even replace those governments which would not authorize independence. On May 10, 1776, Congress passed a resolution recommending that any colony with a government that was not inclined toward independence should form one that was. On May 15, they adopted a more radical preamble to this resolution, drafted by John Adams, which advised throwing off oaths of allegiance and suppressing the authority of the Crown in any colonial government that still derived its authority from the Crown. That same day, the Virginia Convention instructed its delegation in Philadelphia to propose a resolution that called for a declaration of independence, the formation of foreign alliances, and a confederation of the states. The resolution of independence was delayed for several weeks, as advocates of independence consolidated support in their home governments.

The Assembly Room in Philadelphia's Independence Hall where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence
The Assembly Room in Philadelphia's Independence Hall where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee offered a resolution before the Congress declaring the colonies independent. He also urged Congress to resolve "to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances" and to prepare a plan of confederation for the newly independent states.[9] Lee argued that independence was the only way to ensure a foreign alliance, since no European monarchs would deal with America if they remained Britain's colonies. American leaders had rejected the divine right of kings in the New World, but recognized the necessity of proving their credibility in the Old World.[10] Congress formally adopted the resolution of independence, but only after creating three overlapping committees to draft the Declaration, a Model Treaty, and the Articles of Confederation. The Declaration announced the states' entry into the international system; the model treaty was designed to establish amity and commerce with other states; and the Articles of Confederation established "a firm league" among the thirteen free and independent states. These three things together constituted an international agreement to set up central institutions for conducting vital domestic and foreign affairs.[9]

The present-day replica of City Tavern in Philadelphia, the delegates' favorite place to eat and meet informally[11][12]
The present-day replica of City Tavern in Philadelphia, the delegates' favorite place to eat and meet informally[11][12]

Congress finally approved the resolution of independence on July 2, 1776. They next turned their attention to a formal explanation of this decision, the United States Declaration of Independence which was approved on July 4 and published soon thereafter.

The Congress moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore in the winter of 1776 to avoid capture by British forces who were advancing on Philadelphia. Henry Fite's tavern was the largest building in Baltimore Town at the time and provided a comfortable location of sufficient size for Congress to meet. Its site at the western edge of town was beyond easy reach of the British Royal Navy's ships should they try to sail up the harbor and the Patapsco River to shell the town. Congress was again forced to flee Philadelphia at the end of September 1777, as British troops occupied the city; they moved to York, Pennsylvania and continued their work.

Congress passed the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777, after more than a year of debate, and sent them to the states for ratification. Jefferson's proposal for a Senate to represent the states and a House to represent the people was rejected, but a similar proposal was adopted later in the United States Constitution. One issue of debate was large states wanting a larger say, nullified by small states who feared tyranny. The small states won and each state had one vote.[13] Congress urged the individual states to pass the Articles as quickly as possible, but it took three and a half years for all the states to ratify them. The State Legislature of Virginia was the first of the Thirteen States to ratify the Articles on December 16, 1777, and the State Legislature of Maryland was the last on February 2, 1781.

Dates and places of sessions

See also


  1. ^ Cogliano, Revolutionary America, 1763–1815, p. 113
  2. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, pp. 64–67
  3. ^ Fowler, Baron of Beacon Hill, p. 189
  4. ^ Worthington C. Ford; et al., eds. (1904–1939). Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. Washington, DC. pp. 2:44–48.
  5. ^ ibid. pp. 2:240.
  6. ^ Cogliano, Revolutionary America, 1763–1815, p. 59
  7. ^ Find Documents: Results[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Bancroft, Ch. 34, p. 353 (online)
  9. ^ a b The Declaration of Independence in World Context, Organization of American Historians, Magazine of History, Volume18, Issue 3, pp. 61–66 (2004)
  10. ^ Howard Jones, Crucible of power: a history of American foreign relations to 1913
  11. ^ Staib, Walter. City Tavern Cookbook: 200 Years of Classic Recipes from America's First Gourmet Restaurant, pp. 5, 11–15, Running Press, Philadelphia, London, 1999. ISBN 0-7624-0529-5.
  12. ^ Staib, Walter. City Tavern Baking & Dessert Cookbook: 200 Years of Authentic American Recipes from Martha Washington's Chocolate Mousse Cake to Thomas Jefferson's Sweet Potato Biscuits, pp. 8–10, 14–15, Running Press, Philadelphia, London, 2003. ISBN 0-7624-1554-1.
  13. ^ Miller (1948) ch. 22


  • Burnett, Edward Cody (1941). The Continental Congress. New York: Norton.
  • Fowler, William M., Jr. (1980). The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-27619-5.

Further reading

  • Adams, Willi Paul. The First American Constitutions: Republican Ideology and the Making of the State Constitutions in the Revolutionary Era. U. of North Carolina Press, 1980. ISBN 0-7425-2069-2
  • Francis D. Cogliano, Revolutionary America, 1763-1815: A Political History. London: 2000. ISBN 0-415-18057-0
  • Worthington C. Ford, et al. ed. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. (34 vol., 1904–1937) online edition
  • Henderson, H. James (2002) [1974]. Party Politics in the Continental Congress. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8191-6525-5.
  • Peter Force, ed. American Archives 9 vol 1837-1853, major compilation of documents 1774-1776. online edition
  • Kruman, Marc W. Between Authority and Liberty: State Constitution Making in Revolutionary America. U. of North Carolina Pr., 1997. ISBN 0-8078-4797-6
  • Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1998)
  • Miller, John C. Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783 (1948) ISBN 0-313-20779-8
  • Montross, Lynn (1970) [1950]. The Reluctant Rebels; the Story of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. Barnes & Noble. ISBN 0-389-03973-X.
  • Rakove, Jack N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress. Knopf, 1979. ISBN 0-8018-2864-3

External links

Preceded by
First Continental Congress
Legislature of the United States
May 10, 1775 – March 1, 1781
Succeeded by
Congress of the Confederation
This page was last edited on 13 March 2019, at 18:23
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