Second Continental Congress
Overview
 
The Second Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

, which met briefly during 1774, also in Philadelphia. The second Congress managed the colonial war effort, and moved incrementally towards independence, adopting the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

 on July 4, 1776. By raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties, the Congress acted as the de facto national government of what became the United States.
Encyclopedia
The Second Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

, which met briefly during 1774, also in Philadelphia. The second Congress managed the colonial war effort, and moved incrementally towards independence, adopting the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

 on July 4, 1776. By raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties, the Congress acted as the de facto national government of what became the United States. With the ratification of the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

, the Congress became known as the Congress of the Confederation
Congress of the Confederation
The Congress of the Confederation or the United States in Congress Assembled was the governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789. It comprised delegates appointed by the legislatures of the states. It was the immediate successor to the Second...

.

Membership

When the Second Continental Congress came together on May 10, 1775 it was, in effect, a reconvening of the First Continental Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting were in attendance at the second, and the delegates appointed the same president
President of the Continental Congress
The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first national government of the United States during the American Revolution...

 (Peyton Randolph
Peyton Randolph
Peyton Randolph was a planter and public official from the Colony of Virginia. He served as speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, chairman of the Virginia Conventions, and the first President of the Continental Congress.-Early life:Randolph was born in Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia...

) and secretary (Charles Thomson
Charles Thomson
Charles Thomson was a Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress throughout its existence.-Biography:...

). Notable new arrivals included Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 of Pennsylvania and John Hancock
John Hancock
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

 of Massachusetts. Within two weeks, Randolph was summoned back to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses was the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America. The House was established by the Virginia Company, who created the body as part of an effort to encourage English craftsmen to settle in North America...

; he was replaced in the Virginia delegation by Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

, who arrived several weeks later. Henry Middleton
Henry Middleton
Henry Middleton was a plantation owner and public official from South Carolina. He was the second President of the Continental Congress from October 22, 1774, until Peyton Randolph was able to resume his duties briefly beginning on May 10, 1775.-Early life:Henry Middleton was born in 1717 near...

 was elected as president to replace Randolph, but he declined, and Hancock was elected president on May 24.
Delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 were present when the Second Continental Congress convened. Georgia
Province of Georgia
The Province of Georgia was one of the Southern colonies in British America. It was the last of the thirteen original colonies established by Great Britain in what later became the United States...

 had not participated in the First Continental Congress
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

 and did not initially send delegates to the Second Continental Congress. On May 13, 1775, Lyman Hall
Lyman Hall
Lyman Hall , physician, clergyman, and statesman, was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Georgia. Hall County is named after him.-Early life and family:...

 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. On July 4, 1775, revolutionary Georgians held a Provincial Congress
Provincial Congress
"Provincial Congress" can refer to one of several extra-legal legislative bodies established in some of the Thirteen Colonies early in the American Revolution...

 to decide how to respond to the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, and that congress decided on July 8 to send delegates to the Continental Congress. They arrived on July 20.

History

Its predecessor, the First Continental Congress, had sent entreaties to the British King George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

 to stop the Coercive Acts and had created the Continental Association to establish a coordinated protest of the Coercive Acts; in particular, a boycott had been placed on British goods. That First Congress provided that the Second Continental Congress would meet on May 10, 1775, to plan further responses if the British government had not repealed or modified the Coercive Acts.

By the time the Second Continental Congress met, the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 had already started with the Battles of Lexington and Concord
Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. They were fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy , and Cambridge, near Boston...

. The Congress was to take charge of the war effort. For the first few months of the struggle, the Patriots
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...

 had 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
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

 out of the militia
Militia (United States)
The role of militia, also known as military service and duty, in the United States is complex and has transformed over time.Spitzer, Robert J.: The Politics of Gun Control, Page 36. Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995. " The term militia can be used to describe any number of groups within the...

 units around Boston and quickly appointed Congressman George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 of Virginia as commanding general of the Continental Army. On July 6, 1775 Congress approved a Declaration of Causes
Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms was a document issued by the Second Continental Congress on July 6, 1775, to explain why the Thirteen Colonies had taken up arms in what had become the American Revolutionary War...

 outlining the rationale and necessity for taking up arms in the Thirteen Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

." On July 8, Congress extended the Olive Branch Petition
Olive Branch Petition
The Olive Branch Petition was adopted by the Continental Congress in July 1775 in an attempt to avoid a full-blown war with Great Britain. The petition affirmed American loyalty to Great Britain and entreated the king to prevent further conflict...

 to the British Crown as a final attempt at reconciliation. However, it was received too late to do any good. Silas Deane
Silas Deane
Silas Deane was an American merchant, politician and diplomat. Originally a supporter of American independence Deane served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and then as the United States' first foreign diplomat when he travelled to France to lobby the French government for aid...

 was sent to France as a minister (ambassador) of the Congress. American ports were reopened in defiance of the British Navigation Acts
Navigation Acts
The English Navigation Acts were a series of laws that restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between England and its colonies, a process which had started in 1651. Their goal was to force colonial development into lines favorable to England, and stop direct colonial trade with the...

.

Although it had no explicit legal authority to govern, 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. According to one historian, commenting on the source of the Congress' power:


The appointment of the delegates to both these congresses was generally by popular conventions, though in some instances by state assemblies. But in neither case can the appointing body be considered the original depositary of the power by which the delegates acted; for the conventions were either self-appointed "committees of safety" or hastily assembled popular gatherings, including but a small fraction of the population to be represented, and the state assemblies had no right to surrender to another body one atom of the power which had been granted to them, or to create a new power which should govern the people without their will. The source of the powers of congress is to be sought solely in the acquiescence of the people, without which every congressional resolution, with or without the benediction of popular conventions or state legislatures, would have been a mere brutum fulmen; and, as the congress unquestionably exercised national powers, operating over the whole country, the conclusion is inevitable that the will of the whole people is the source of national government in the United States, even from its first imperfect appearance in the second continental congress.. Cyclopædia of Political Science. New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co., 1899.


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 an action. Advocates of independence in Congress 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 lacking a proper (i.e. a revolutionary) government should form such. On May 15 Congress adopted a more radical preamble to this resolution, drafted by John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, in which it 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 revolutionaries consolidated support for independence in their home governments.

The records of the Continental Congress confirm that the need for a declaration of independence was intimately linked with the demands of international relations. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee was an American statesman from Virginia best known for the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation and his famous resolution of June 1776 led to the United States...

 tabled a resolution before the Continental 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. 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 colonists. American leaders had rejected the divine right of kings in the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

, but recognized the necessity of proving their credibility in the Old World
Old World
The Old World consists of those parts of the world known to classical antiquity and the European Middle Ages. It is used in the context of, and contrast with, the "New World" ....

. Congress would formally adopt the resolution of independence, but only after creating three overlapping committees to draft the Declaration, a Model Treaty
Model Treaty
The Model Treaty, or the Plan of 1776, was created during the American Revolution and was an idealistic guide for foreign relations and future treaties between the new American government and other nations.-Creation:...

, and the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

. 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, which established “a firm league” among the thirteen free and independent states; together these constituted an international agreement to set up central institutions for the conduct of vital domestic and foreign affairs.

Congress finally approved the resolution of independence on July 2, 1776. Congress next turned its attention to a formal explanation of this decision, the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, which was approved on July 4 and published soon thereafter.

The Continental Congress was forced to flee Philadelphia at the end of September 1777, as British troops occupied the city. The Congress moved to York, Pennsylvania
York, Pennsylvania
York, known as the White Rose City , is a city located in York County, Pennsylvania, United States which is in the South Central region of the state. The population within the city limits was 43,718 at the 2010 census, which was a 7.0% increase from the 2000 count of 40,862...

, and continued their work.

After more than a year of debate, on November 15, 1777, Congress passed and sent to the states for ratification the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

. The issue was large states wanting a larger say, nullified by small states who feared tyranny. Jefferson's proposal for a Senate to represent the states and a House to represent the people was rejected (a similar proposal was adopted later in the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

). The small states won and each state had one vote. 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 the Articles. Of the then thirteen states, the State Legislature of Virginia was the first to ratify the Articles, on December 16, 1777, and the State Legislature of Maryland became the last to do so, on February 2, 1781. In the meantime, the Second Continental Congress tried to lead the new country through the war with borrowed money and no taxing power.

Finally, on March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation were signed by delegates of Maryland at a meeting of the Second Continental Congress, which then declared the Articles ratified. On the next day, the same congressional delegates met as the new Congress of the Confederation
Congress of the Confederation
The Congress of the Confederation or the United States in Congress Assembled was the governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789. It comprised delegates appointed by the legislatures of the states. It was the immediate successor to the Second...

. As historian Edmund Burnett wrote, "There was no new organization of any kind, not even the election of a new President." The congress still called itself the Continental Congress. It would be the Confederation Congress that would oversee the conclusion of the American Revolution.

Dates and places of sessions

  • May 10, 1775 – December 12, 1776, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

  • December 20, 1776 – March 4, 1777, Baltimore, Maryland
  • March 5, 1777 – September 18, 1777, Philadelphia
  • September 27, 1777 (one day only), Lancaster, Pennsylvania
    Lancaster, Pennsylvania
    Lancaster is a city in the south-central part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is the county seat of Lancaster County and one of the older inland cities in the United States, . With a population of 59,322, it ranks eighth in population among Pennsylvania's cities...

  • September 30, 1777 – June 27, 1778, York, Pennsylvania
    York, Pennsylvania
    York, known as the White Rose City , is a city located in York County, Pennsylvania, United States which is in the South Central region of the state. The population within the city limits was 43,718 at the 2010 census, which was a 7.0% increase from the 2000 count of 40,862...

  • July 2, 1778 – March 1, 1781, Philadelphia

See also

  • History of the United States (1776–1789)
    History of the United States (1776–1789)
    Between 1776 and 1789, the United States emerged as an independent country, creating and ratifying its new constitution, and establishing its national government. In order to assert their traditional rights, American Patriots seized control of the colonies and launched a war for independence...

  • Timeline of United States revolutionary history (1760–1789)
  • List of delegates to the Continental Congress
  • Presidents of the Continental Congress
    President of the Continental Congress
    The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first national government of the United States during the American Revolution...


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 0742520692
  • Francis D. Cogliano, Revolutionary America, 1763-1815: A Political History. London: 2000. ISBN 0415180570
  • Worthington C. Ford, et al. ed. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. (34 vol., 1904–1937) online edition
  • 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 0807847976
  • Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1998)
  • Miller, John C. Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783 (1948) ISBN 0313207798
  • Rakove, Jack N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress. Knopf, 1979. ISBN 0801828643

External links

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