First Continental Congress convenes

First Continental Congress convenes

In response to the British Parliament’s enactment of the Coercive Acts in the American colonies, the first session of the Continental Congress convenes at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Fifty-six delegates from all the colonies except Georgia drafted a declaration of rights and grievances and elected Virginian Peyton Randolph as the first president of Congress. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Adams and John Jay were among the delegates.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure designed to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the argument of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Enraged Colonists and Led to the American Revolution

Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some Ý18,000 dumped into Boston harbor.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

More than a year later, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. Five years later, in October 1781, British General Charles Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American and French forces at Yorktown, Virginia, bringing to an end the last major battle of the Revolution. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain in 1783, the United States formally became a free and independent nation.

READ MORE: What Was the Continental Congress?


Timeline of the American Revolution

The Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War, the American phase of a worldwide nine years’ war fought between France and Great Britain. (The European phase was the Seven Years’ War.) As a result of the war, France ceded all of its North American possessions east of the Mississippi River to Britain. The costs of the war contributed to the British government’s decision to impose new taxes on its American colonies.


Contents

The idea of a congress of British American Colonies was first broached in 1754 at the start of the French and Indian War, which started as the North American front of the Seven Years' War between Great Britain and France. Known as the Albany Congress, it met in Albany, New York from June 18 to July 11, 1754, and was attended by representatives from seven colonies. Among the delegates was Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, who proposed that the colonies join together in a confederation. Though this idea was rejected, Franklin and others continued to argue that the colonies should act more cohesively. Though participants did not meet in person, the intermittent activation of committees of correspondence during times of crisis would further bring the colonies together.

In 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act requiring that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. The Act provoked the ire of merchants in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, who responded by placing an embargo on British imports until the Stamp Act was repealed. To present a united front in their opposition, delegates from several provinces met in the Stamp Act Congress, which convened in New York City from October 7 through 25, 1765. It issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which it sent to Parliament. Subsequently, under pressure from British companies hurt by the embargo, the government of Prime Minister Lord Rockingham and King George III relented, and the Stamp Act was repealed in March 1766.

The colonists' resistance to the Stamp Act served as a catalyst for subsequent acts of resistance. The Townshend Acts (which imposed indirect taxes on various items not produced within the colonies, and created a more effective means of enforcing compliance with trade regulations), passed by Parliament passed during 1767 and 1768, sparked renewed animosity in the colonies, which eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Three years later, the Tea Act (which granted the British East India company the right to directly ship its tea to North America and the right to the duty-free export of tea from Great Britain) became law, exacerbating the colonists' resentment toward the British government, inciting the December 1773 Boston Tea Party, [2] and inspiring the September 1774 Suffolk Resolves. [3]

The First Continental Congress met briefly in Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from September 5 to October 26, 1774. Delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies that would ultimately join in the Revolutionary War participated. Only Georgia, where Loyalist feelings still outweighed Patriotic emotion, and which relied upon Great Britain for military supplies to defend settlers against possible Indian attacks, did not. Altogether, 56 delegates attended, including George Washington, Patrick Henry, and John Adams. Other notable delegates included Samuel Adams from Massachusetts Bay, along with Joseph Galloway and John Dickinson from the Pennsylvania. [4] Peyton Randolph of Virginia was its president.

Benjamin Franklin had put forth the idea of such a meeting the year before, but he was unable to convince the colonies of its necessity until the British Navy instituted a blockade of Boston Harbor and Parliament passed the punitive Intolerable Acts in 1774 in response to the Boston Tea Party. During the congress, delegates organized an economic boycott of Great Britain in protest and petitioned the King for a redress of grievances. The colonies were united in their effort to demonstrate to the mother country their authority by virtue of their common causes and their unity but their ultimate objectives were not consistent. Most delegates were not yet ready to break away from Great Britain, but they most definitely wanted the king and parliament to act in what they considered a fairer manner. Delegates from the provinces of Pennsylvania and New York were given firm instructions to pursue a resolution with Great Britain. While the other colonies all held the idea of colonial rights as paramount, they were split between those who sought legislative equality with Britain and those who instead favored independence and a break from the Crown and its excesses.

In London, Parliament debated the merits of meeting the demands made by the colonies however, it took no official notice of Congress's petitions and addresses. On November 30, 1774, King George III opened Parliament with a speech condemning Massachusetts and the Suffolk Resolves. At that point it became clear that the Continental Congress would have to convene once again. [5]

The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, at Pennsylvania's State House in Philadelphia shortly after the start of the Revolutionary War. Initially, it functioned as a de facto national government by raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties. The following year it adopted a resolution for independence on July 2, 1776, and two days later approved the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson drafted the declaration, and John Adams was a leader in the debates in favor of its adoption. Afterward, the Congress functioned as the provisional government of the United States of America through March 1, 1781. [ citation needed ]

To govern the war effort and to foster unity among the states, Congress created various standing committees to handle war-related activities, such as the committee of secret correspondence, the treasury board, the board of war and ordnance, and the navy board. Much work was also done in small ad hoc committees. [6] One such small group was tasked with developing a constitution to perpetuate the new Union. Such an agreement, the Articles of Confederation was approved by Congress on November 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification. [7]

The Articles of Confederation came into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all 13 states, and the Second Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation (officially styled the "United States in Congress Assembled"), a unicameral body composed of delegates from the several states. [8] A guiding principle of the Articles was to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles received only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament. [9] Congress had the power to declare war, sign treaties, and settle disputes between the states. It could also borrow or print money, but did not have the power to tax. [8] It helped guide the United States through the final stages of the Revolutionary War, but steeply declined in authority afterward. [ citation needed ]

During peacetime, there were two important, long-lasting acts of the Confederation Congress: [10]

  1. The passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. This ordinance accepted the abolition of all claims to the land west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River by the states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and the ordinance established Federal control over all of this land in the Northwest Territory—with the goal that several new states should be created there. In the course of time, this land was divided over the course of many decades into Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.
  2. After years of frustration, an agreement was reached in 1786 at the Annapolis Convention to call another convention in May 1787 in Philadelphia with the mission of writing and proposing a number of amendments to the Articles of Confederation to improve the form of government. The report was sent to the Confederation Congress and the State. The result was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which was authorized by all the States thus fulfilling the unanimous requirement of the Articles of Confederation to allow changes to the Articles.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the Confederation Congress had little power to compel the individual states to comply with any of its decisions. More and more prospective delegates elected to the Confederation Congress declined to serve in it. The leading men in each State preferred to serve in the state governments, and thus the Continental Congress had frequent difficulties in establishing a quorum. When the Articles of Confederation were superseded by the Constitution of the United States, the Confederation Congress was superseded by the United States Congress.

The Confederation Congress finally set up a suitable administrative structure for the Federal government. It put into operation a departmental system, with ministers of finance, of war, and of foreign affairs. Robert Morris was selected as the new Superintendent of Finance, and then Morris used some ingenuity and initiative—along with a loan from the French Government—to deal with his empty treasury and also runaway inflation, for a number of years, in the supply of paper money.

As the ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin not only secured the "bridge loan" for the national budget, but he also persuaded France to send an army of about 6,000 soldiers across the Atlantic Ocean to America—and also to dispatch a large squadron of French warships under Comte de Grasse to the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. These French warships were decisive at the Battle of Yorktown along the coast of Virginia by preventing Lord Cornwallis's British troops from receiving supplies, reinforcements, or evacuation via the James River and Hampton Roads, Virginia. [11]

Robert Morris, the Minister of Finance, persuaded Congress to charter the Bank of North America on December 31, 1781. Although a private bank, the Federal Government acquired partial ownership with money lent by France. The Bank of North America played a major role in financing the war against Great Britain. The combined armies of George Washington and Nathanael Greene, with the help of the French Army and Navy, defeated the British in the Battle of Yorktown during October 1781. Lord Cornwallis was forced to sue for peace and to surrender his entire army to General Washington. During 1783, the Americans secured the official recognition of the independence of the United States from the United Kingdom via negotiations with British diplomats in Paris, France. These negotiations culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and this treaty was soon ratified by the British Parliament. [8]

Both the British Parliament and many of their own Colonial assemblies had powerful speakers of the house and standing committees with strong chairmen, with executive power held by the British Monarch or the colonial Governor. However, the organization of the Continental Congress was based less on the British Parliament or on local colonial assemblies than on the 1765 Stamp Act Congress. Nine delegates to that congress were in attendance at the First Congress in 1774, and their perspective on governance influenced the direction of both the Continental Congresses and the later Confederation Congress. Congress took on powers normally held by the British King-in-Council, such as the conduct of foreign and military affairs. However, the right to tax and regulate trade was reserved for the states, not Congress. Congress had no formal way to enforce its ordinances on the state governments. Delegates were responsible to and reported directly to their home state assemblies an organizational structure that Neil Olsen been described as "an extreme form of matrix management". [12]

Delegates chose a presiding president to monitor the debate, maintain order, and make sure journals were kept and documents and letters were published and delivered. After the colonies declared their independence in 1776 and united as a quasi-federation to fight for their freedom, the president functioned as head of state (not of the country, but of its central government) Otherwise, the office was "more honorable than powerful". [13] Congress also elected a secretary, scribe, doorman, messenger, and Chaplain.

The rules of Congress guaranteed the right to debate and open access to the floor for each delegate. Additionally, to ensure that each state would be on an equal footing with the others, voting on ordinances was done en bloc, with each state having a single vote. Prior to casting its yay or nay vote, preliminary votes were taken within each state delegation. The majority vote determined vote here was considered the vote of the state on a motion in cases of a tie the vote for the state was marked as "divided," and thus not counted.

Turnover of delegates was high, with an average year-to-year turnover rate of 37% by one calculation, [14] and 39% by session-to-session. [15] Of the 343 serving delegates, only 55% (187 delegates) spent 12 or more months in attendance. [14] Only 25 of the delegates served longer than 35 months. [16] This high rate of turnover was not just a characteristic, it was due to a deliberate policy of term limits. In the Confederation phase of the Congress "no delegate was permitted to serve more than three years in any six". [17] Attendance was variable: while in session, between 54 and 22 delegates were in attendance at any one time, with an average of only 35.5 members attending between 1774 and 1788. [18]

There is a long-running debate on how effective the Congress was as an organization. [19] The first critic may have been General George Washington. In an address to his officers, at Newburgh, New York, on March 15, 1783, responding to complaints that Congress had not funded their pay and pensions, he stated that he believed that Congress would do the army "complete justice" and eventually pay the soldiers. "But, like all other large Bodies, where there is a variety of different Interests to reconcile, their deliberations are slow."

In addition to their slowness, the lack of coercive power in the Continental Congress was harshly criticized by James Madison when arguing for the need of a Federal Constitution. His comment in Vices of the Political System of April 1787 set the conventional wisdom on the historical legacy of the institution for centuries to come:

A sanction is essential to the idea of law, as coercion is to that of Government. The federal system being destitute of both, wants the great vital principles of a Political Cons[ti]tution. Under the form of such a Constitution, it is in fact nothing more than a treaty of amity of commerce and of alliance, between so many independent and Sovereign States. From what cause could so fatal an omission have happened in the Articles of Confederation? From a mistaken confidence that the justice, the good faith, the honor, the sound policy, of the several legislative assemblies would render superfluous any appeal to the ordinary motives by which the laws secure the obedience of individuals: a confidence which does honor to the enthusiastic virtue of the compilers, as much as the inexperience of the crisis apologizes for their errors.

Many commentators take for granted that the leaderless, weak, slow, and small-committee driven, Continental Congress was a failure, largely because after the end of the war the Articles of Confederation no longer suited the needs of a peacetime nation, and the Congress itself, following Madison's recommendations, called for its revision and replacement. Some also suggest that the Congress was inhibited by the formation of contentious partisan alignments based on regional differences. [20] Others claim that Congress was less ideological than event-driven. [21] [22] Others note that the Congress was successful in that the American people "came to accept Congress as their legitimate institution of Government", [23] but the "rather poor governmental record" [24] of the Congress forced the constitutional convention of 1787.

Political scientists Calvin Jillson and Rick Wilson in the 1980s accepted the conventional interpretation on the weakness of the Congress due to the lack of coercive power. They explored the role of leadership, or rather the lack of it, in the Continental Congress. Going beyond even Madison's harsh critique, they used the "analytical stance of what has come to be called the new institutionalism" [25] to demonstrate that "the norms, rules, and institutional structures of the Continental Congress" were equally to blame "for the institution's eventual failure", and that the "institutional structure worked against, rather than with, the delegates in tackling the crucial issues of the day." [26]

The Historian Richard P. McCormick rendered a more nuanced judgment. He suggested that Madison's "extreme judgment" on the Congress was "motivated no doubt by Madison's overriding desire to create a new central government that would be empowered veto the acts of state legislatures," [27] but that it fails "to take any notice of the fact that while the authority of the Confederation Congress was ambiguous, it was not a nullity". [28]

Benjamin Irvin in his social and cultural history of the Continental Congress, praised "the invented traditions by which Congress endeavored to fortify the resistance movement and to make meaning of American independence." [29] But he noted that after the war's end, "Rather than passively adopting the Congress's creations, the American people embraced, rejected, reworked, ridiculed, or simply ignored them as they saw fit." [30]

An organizational culture analysis of the Continental Congress by Neil Olsen, looking for the values, norms, and underlying assumptions that drive an organization's decisions, noted that "the leaderless Continental Congress outperformed not only the modern congress run by powerful partisan hierarchies, but modern government and corporate entities, for all their coercive power and vaunted skills as 'leaders'." [31] Looking at their mission as defined by state resolutions and petitions entered into the Congressional Journal on its first day, [32] it found that on the common issues of the relief of Boston, securing Colonial rights, eventually restoring harmonious relations with Great Britain, and repealing taxes, they overachieved their mission goals, defeated the largest army and navy in the world, and created two new types of republic. [33] Olsen suggests that the Congress, if slow, when judged by its many achievements – not the least being recognizing its flaws, then replacing and terminating itself – was a success.


The First Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies who met from September 5 to October 26, 1774 at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania early in the American Revolution.

Committees of Correspondence. — The colonies all had what they termed “Committees of Correspondence,” and through these committees they kept one another informed by letter of what was going on. In Boston, only one town meeting a year was permitted by the governor. The citizens accordingly held one town meeting, and by adjourning from time to time made it last through all the year. Throughout the colonies first steps were being taken. They knew not whither these steps would lead they hoped to a redress of grievances. As the result showed, they could lead only to independence.

A Continental Congress proposed. — On the 17th of June, 1774, Samuel Adams proposed in the Massachusetts General Court, held at Salem, that a Continental Congress should be called to meet in Philadelphia the first of September. Five delegates from Massachusetts were chosen. Two days earlier, Rhode Island had elected delegates to such a congress.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress. — A few months later, the House again met in Salem and resolved itself into a Provincial Congress to be joined by such other members as should be chosen. They then adjourned to Concord, and there elected John Hancock president. After transacting what business was necessary, they adjourned to Cambridge, and there, October 21st, 1774, a committee drew up a plan for the immediate defence of the colony. A committee of safety was appointed to attend to all military matters, and a committee of supplies to furnish resources for the committee of safety.

Massachusetts raises an Army. — In November, this Congress decided to raise an army of twelve thousand men, and appointed proper officers for it. Thus a revolutionary government was in full operation in Massachusetts. The drift toward revolution was apparent in every colony. The Provincial Congress remained the government of the people in Massachusetts until the 19th of July, 1775, when it dissolved itself, and a new House of Representatives, whose members had been chosen by the several towns, according to their usage and their charter, organized, by choosing James Warren as speaker. James Bowdoln was made president. The present seal of the Commonwealth was adopted.

The First Congress. — The First Continental Congress met in Carpenters’ Hall, Philadelphia, on the 5th of September, 1774. This Congress resulted from an almost universal and simultaneous demand from the various colonies. The first call came from Virginia.

Proposed by Massachusetts. — The Massachusetts General Court, at Salem, on June 17th, appointed five delegates to a Congress “That might be convened the first of September at Philadelphia.” All the colonies except Georgia appointed delegates. This Congress included many sagacious men, well versed in governmental affairs. Among them may be named George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, Peyton Randolph, Patrick Plenry, and Benjamin Harrison, of Virginia Samuel Adams and John Adams, of Massachusetts John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania Christopher Gadsden and John Rutledge, of South Carolina Dr. John Witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey Stephen Hopkins, of Rhode Island Roger Sherman, of Connecticut and John Jay, of New York.

What it Did. — All votes taken by this Congress were by States, every State having one vote. The important action was as follows: —

  1. A declaration of rights.
  2. An agreement to stop exports to Great Britain and imports from there, and to discontinue the slave trade after the first of December.
  3. An address to the British people.
  4. A petition to the king.
  5. The formation of the “American Association.”
  6. An address to the people of Canada, Nova Scotia, and the Floridas.
  7. A provision for another Congress, to be held in May, 1775.

How it was Done. — The business of this Congress was executed with remarkable skill. William Pitt said:

For solidity of reason, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion under a combination of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia. The histories of Greece and Rome give us nothing equal to it, and all attempts to impose servitude upon such a mighty continental nation roust be in vain.”

Under The Flag History of the Stars and Stripes… Inception, Birth, Evolution, Development or Growth of the Stars and Stripes. Woelfly, Simon John, 1847 and Stine, Milton H. 1853-1940.


First Continental Congress convenes - HISTORY

Today in History: First session of Continental Congress convenes in 1774

On September 5, 1774, the 56 delegates of the First Continental Congress met for the first time in Philadelphia to protest Great Britain’s “Intolerable Acts,” which punished Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. The First Continental Congress ultimately resolved to boycott British trade, moving the colonies one step closer to independence.

Following the Boston Tea Party, British Parliament imposed the Intolerable Acts which closed the port of Boston. In response, delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies (Georgia elected not to participate), including George Washington and John Adams, convened at Carpenter’s Hall to plan a strategy. After two months of discussions, the congress reached a series of agreements, publishing a document known as the “Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress.” It reads, in part:

In the course of our inquiry, we find many infringements and violations of the foregoing rights, which, from an ardent desire, that harmony and mutual intercourse of affection and interest may be restored, we pass over for the present, and proceed to state such acts and measures as have been adopted since the last war, which demonstrate a system formed to enslave America.

The First Continental Congress strengthened the unity between the colonies and laid the foundation for eventual independence. After the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress was held in May 1775, and published the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms.”

For more on the American quest for independence, read “A Brief History of Independence,” compiled by What So Proudly We Hail editors Amy and Leon Kass and check out EDSITEment’s lesson plan on the Continental Congress.

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First Continental Congress convenes

In response to the British Parliament&rsquos enactment of the Coercive Acts in the American colonies, the first session of the Continental Congress convenes at Carpenter&rsquos Hall in Philadelphia. Fifty-six delegates from all the colonies except Georgia drafted a declaration of rights and grievances and elected Virginian Peyton Randolph as the first president of Congress. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Adams, and John Jay were among the delegates.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure designed to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the argument of &ldquono taxation without representation,&rdquo colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament&rsquos enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the &ldquoBoston Tea Party,&rdquo which saw British tea valued at some Ý18,000 dumped into Boston harbor.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

More than a year later, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. Five years later, in October 1781, British General Charles Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American and French forces at Yorktown, Virginia, bringing to an end the last major battle of the Revolution. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain in 1783, the United States formally became a free and independent nation. &mdashHistory


First and Second Continental Congress.

Hi, and welcome to this video on the First and Second Continental Congress of what would become the United States of America.

The First and Second Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates chosen from the thirteen colonies that first convened in 1774 and again in 1775 in Philadelphia. Today we’ll look at the events which led up to these sessions, the goals, and achievements of each Congress.

Before we dive in, let’s get our bearings during this eventful period.

The global Seven Years War came to an end in 1763. Over the succeeding five years, a series of new taxes and demands were placed upon British colonies in North America, which strained relations between the colonies and the motherland. This led to unrest in Boston, and British soldiers were sent to restore order. This culminated in the Boston Massacre in March of 1770, in which five colonists were killed. In 1773, the cargo of a British ship was dumped into the Boston harbor in protest of the Tea Act. The following year, punitive measures were passed by the British Parliament. The First Continental Congress came together that September. In April of 1775, the first battles of the American Revolution occurred. The Second Continental Congress came together the month after. From 1775-81, Congress oversaw the war effort, raised the Continental Army, made the Declaration of Independence, and drafted the Articles of Confederation. With the ratification of the articles, the Second Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation.

This timeline glosses over some details but gives you a general idea of the historical background. We start today’s topic with the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War.

The British government, seeking to recoup some of the war expenses from the thirteen colonies, passed the Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765, which angered the colonists. Resentment started to build up toward Britain in the colonies as more acts were put in place, eventually leading to events such as the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

In response, the British parliament passed a series of punitive measures against Massachusetts in 1774. These acts were known as the Coercive Acts in Britain and the Intolerable Acts in America. The laws had the opposite effect intended and prompted the colonies to cooperate with each other.

On September 5th, 1774, 56 delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia (Georgia was not involved initially as they needed British soldiers to help ward off Native American advances). The delegates for each state were chosen by the people, the colonial government, or by correspondence committees and included two future U.S. presidents, John Adams of Massachusetts and George Washington of Virginia. There was not a set agenda, so the first sessions were dedicated to discussing what course of action should be taken against Britain. There were differences of opinion. Some delegates wished to reestablish cordial relations with Great Britain, while others believed in greater autonomy. Joseph Galloway, a Pennsylvanian delegate, proposed a Plan of Union of Great Britain and the Colonies, which advocated the establishment of a political union with Britain and the formation of an American legislative body. The plan was supported by many delegates, but in the end only five colonies supported it, with six opposed. In October, the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress was issued as a statement of common principles along with a plan to boycott British goods.

The Congress adjourned in October, agreeing to meet again in 1775 if the disputes were not resolved. Before the Second Continental Congress could convene, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775.

In May of that same year, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia. The agenda for this meeting altered quite dramatically as a result of the events in Boston. Rather than coordinate a boycott, the Congress found itself with a war effort to organize against Britain. On June 14th, a Continental Army was authorized and George Washington was appointed its commander two days later. Despite these developments, a significant portion of the Congress favored avoiding war and reconciling with Britain. Many still considered themselves loyal British subjects and desired to change the nature of the relationship with Britain rather than sever it. Others saw war and separation inevitable but were not yet convinced there was enough popular support for independence.

An attempt to avoid war, known as the Olive Branch Proposal, was approved in July and reached London by September. But King George III had already declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion on August 23rd. According to the American delegates sent to deliver the proposal, the king never even looked at it. With the hopes of peace dashed, support for independence grew.

By the turn of the year, a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine called Common Sense made a strong case for independence and was widely distributed throughout the colonies. There was a question of whether the Second Continental Congress actually possessed the authority to declare independence. While taking on the appearance of a government, the Congress could not overrule local Colonial Assemblies or levy taxes.

The Continental Congress was more of a revolutionary committee than a central government. The Congress could declare war and negotiate with foreign powers (in fact, Benjamin Franklin was sent to France in 1776 to gain support), but was greatly limited in its capacity to raise funds or impose laws upon individual states. The delegates present were bound by the will of the Colonial Assemblies and it was only when a majority of the states supported independence that a declaration could be made. After lengthy debates over the language, the declaration was approved on July 2nd and finalized two days later.

The latter half of 1776 was a difficult time for the revolution Washington’s army suffered a succession of defeats and was nearly wiped out. After a morale-boosting victory in December 1776, a measure to extend the enlistment of the soldiers from 12 months to three years or the war’s end was passed to keep the army in the field. The tide of the revolution began to turn in 1777 with the loss of a British Army in Saratoga and the intervention of France, Spain, and the Netherlands in 1778.

The Articles of Confederation were drafted by a committee around the same time as the Declaration of Independence in order to establish a formal union of the states. There was a lengthy debate over what form the government should take. By November 1777, the final version was approved and sent to individual states for ratification. Maryland was the final state to ratify on February 2, 1781. With the passage of the Articles of Confederation, the Second Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation.

The term ‘Continental Congress’ was still widely used the new congress was largely an extension of the old. There was a great deal still to do before the government of the United States would assume the form we recognize today, but that is a topic for another video. The First and Second Continental Congress did not create a central government of the colonies but did lay the foundations for the United States of America.

Let’s wrap up with a couple of review questions:

Where did the First and Second Continental Congress meet?

A) New York B) Boston C) Philadelphia D) Savannah

The answer is C, Philadelphia.

Both the First and Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, though the Congress was forced to relocate to Baltimore when Philadelphia was captured.

Which of the following powers did the Second Continental Congress NOT have?

A) Raise an army B) Raise taxes C) Negotiate with foreign powers D) Declare war


Footnotes

1 Jennings B. Sanders, The Presidency of the Continental Congress: A Study in American Institutional History, Revised Edition (Chicago: n.p., 1930): 39–41.

2 Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, and Roscoe R. Hill (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904–1937). Accessed via Library of Congress, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Databases, 1774–1875, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html. Hereinafter referred to as JCC, 1774–1789. See JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 1: 14, 102.

3 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 1: 102, 114.

4 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 2: 12, 58–59. Seat vacated to resume duties as speaker of Virginia house of burgesses.

5 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 2: 58–59 JCC, 1774 –1789, vol. 9: 852–853. Requested a “leave of absence for two months.”

6 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 9: 854 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 12: 1206.

7 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 12: 1206 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 15: 1113. Elected minister plenipotentiary to Spain.

8 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 15: 1114 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 19: 223 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 20: 724. Resigned due to “ill state of health.” Delegate Samuel Johnston of North Carolina was elected president on July 9, but “declined to accept the office of President,” on July 10 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 20: 732–733. On March 1, 1781, the Continental Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation and became known as the Confederation Congress.

9 Sanders, The Presidency of the Continental Congress, 1774–89: 33 Edmund Cody Burnett, The Continental Congress (New York: MacMillan, 1941): 34 Calvin Jillson and Rick Wilson, Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774–1789 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994): 71–91.

10 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 19: 223 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 20: 724.

11 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 20: 733 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 21: 1069–1070. Resigned to serve as chief justice of the Pennsylvania supreme court.

12 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 21: 1099–1100.

13 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 23: 708.

14 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 25: 799.

15 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 27: 649 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 29: 872.

16 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 29: 883 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 30: 264 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 30: 328. Hancock never served as president because of illness and resigned on May 29, 1786. David Ramsay of South Carolina was elected chairman of the Confederation Congress and served from November 23, 1785 to May 15, 1786. When Ramsay left Congress, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts was elected chairman and served from May 15 to June 6, 1786.

17 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 30: 329.

18 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 32: 11 JCC, 1774–1789, vol. 33: 610. Elected Governor of the Northwest Territory.


The First Continental Congress

The First Continental Congress consisted of 55 delegates selected from twelve of the thirteen colonies. Georgia did not take part in this illegal assembly because they were fighting a mini-war against the Native Americans and were leaning upon British support for help.

This first assembly was from September 5th to October 26th of 1774. This took place just after the Intolerable Acts were issued as a response to the Boston Tea Party.

Carpenter Hall, where the First Continental Congress covened | public domain

Purpose of the Congress

The congress convened to discuss their different options concerning British offences. Out of this came …

  • The “Suffolk Resolves” were approved. These were political statements from Boston and other Suffolk County towns, mainly declaring the Coercive Acts void and urging Massachussets to form its own government.
  • The creation of the Continental Association, which established an oversight committee in each town to enforce a complete boycott of British goods until Parliament repealed the Coercive Acts and other legislation.
  • A published version of American rights
  • A petition to the king listing American complaints and asking him to reconsider the wrongs he had perpetrated upon them.

The president of this congress was not John Hancock, as you may have guessed, but was Payton Randolph. He was president from September 5th through October 21st. At this point the position was taken over by Henry Middleton, who served as president the last five days of that session.

George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Henry Pendleton ride to the First Continental Congress by Henry Bryan Hall

They appointed Charles Thomas as the secretary of the congress as well.

John Hancock was appointed president the following year when the Second Continental Congress convened after the king ignoring their petition, which did not come as a surprise to them.


DECLARATION AND RESOLVES OF THE FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS (14 October 1774)

When the First Continental Congress convened in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, on September 5, 1774, one of its first actions was to articulate colonial grievances against the crown of Great Britain. Among its several complaints, Congress demanded the abolition of the so-called Intolerable Acts passed by Parliament early in the year in response to the Boston Tea Party. Widely detested, one of these allowed a change of venue to another colony or to the Mother Country for crown officers charged with capital crimes in the execution of their sanctioned duties, while another, the Quartering Act, empowered civil officers to commandeer private residences or empty buildings to house royal troops when no alternative was available. Perhaps more important than these protestations, the Declaration laid out the principle, dearly held, of self-governance or governance by consent, and was the blueprint for later documents such as the Continental Association and, in a matter of fewer than two years, the Declaration of Independence.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

Whereas, since the close of the last war, the British parliament, claiming a power, of right, to bind the people of America by statutes in all cases whatsoever, hath, in some acts, expressly imposed taxes on them, and in others, under various presences, but in fact for the purpose of raising a revenue, hath imposed rates and duties payable in these colonies, established a board of commissioners, with unconstitutional powers, and extended the jurisdiction of courts of admiralty, not only for collecting the said duties, but for the trial of causes merely arising within the body of a county.

And whereas, in consequence of other statutes, judges, who before held only estates at will in their offices, have been made dependent on the crown alone for their salaries, and standing armies kept in times of peace. And it has lately been resolved in parliament, that by force of a statute, made in the thirty-fifth year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth, colonists may be transported to England, and tried there upon accusations for treasons and misprisions, or concealments of treasons committed in the colonies, and by a late statute, such trials have been directed in cases therein mentioned.

And whereas, in the last session of parliament, three statutes were made one entitled, "An act to discontinue, in such manner and for such time as are therein mentioned, the landing and discharging, lading, or shipping of goods, wares and merchandise, at the town, and within the harbour of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts-Bay in New England" another entitled, "An act for the better regulating the government of the province of Massachusetts-Bay in New England" and another entitled, "An act for the impartial administration of justice, in the cases of persons questioned for any act done by them in the execution of the law, or for the suppression of riots and tumults, in the province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New England" and another statute was then made, "for making more effectual provision for the government of the province of Quebec, etc." All which statutes are impolitic, unjust, and cruel, as well as unconstitutional, and most dangerous and destructive of American rights.

And whereas, assemblies have been frequently dissolved, contrary to the rights of the people, when they attempted to deliberate on grievances and their dutiful, humble, loyal, and reasonable petitions to the crown for redress, have been repeatedly treated with contempt, by his Majesty's ministers of state:

The good people of the several colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, justly alarmed at these arbitrary proceedings of parliament and administration, have severally elected, constituted, and appointed deputies to meet, and sit in general Congress, in the city of Philadelphia, in order to obtain such establishment, as that their religion, laws, and liberties, may not be subverted:

Whereupon the deputies so appointed being now assembled, in a full and free representation of these colonies, taking into their most serious consideration, the best means of attaining the ends aforesaid, do, in the first place, as Englishmen, their ancestors in like cases have usually done, for asserting and vindicating their rights and liberties, declare,

That the inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS:

  1. That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: and they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.
  2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural-born subjects, within the realm of England.
  3. That by such emigration they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights, but that they were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy.
  4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council: and as the English colonists are not represented, and from their local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and accustomed. But, from the necessity of the case, and a regard to the mutual interest of both countries, we cheerfully consent to the operation of such acts of the British parliament, as are bona fide, restrained to the regulation of our external commerce, for the purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the whole empire to the mother country, and the commercial benefits of its respective members excluding every idea of taxation internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects, in America, without their consent.
  5. That the respective colonies are entitled to the common law of England, and more especially to the great and inestimable privilege of being tried by their peers of the vicinage, according to the course of that law.
  6. That they are entitled to the benefit of such of the English statutes, as existed at the time of their colonization and which they have, by experience, respectively found to be applicable to their several local and other circumstances.
  7. That these, his Majesty's colonies, are likewise entitled to all the immunities and privileges granted and confirmed to them by royal charters, or secured by their several codes of provincial laws.
  8. That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the king and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal.
  9. That the keeping a standing army in these colonies, in times of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that colony, in which such army is kept, is against law.
  10. It is indispensably necessary to good government, and rendered essential by the English constitution, that the constituent branches of the legislature be independent of each other that, therefore, the exercise of legislative power in several colonies, by a council appointed, during pleasure, by the crown, is unconstitutional, dangerous and destructive to the freedom of American legislation.

All and each of which the aforesaid deputies, in behalf of themselves, and their constituents, do claim, demand, and insist on, as their indubitable rights and liberties, which cannot be legally taken from them, altered or abridged by any power whatever, without their own consent, by their representatives in their several provincial legislature.

In the course of our inquiry, we find many infringements and violations of the foregoing rights, which, from an ardent desire, that harmony and mutual intercourse of affection and interest may be restored, we pass over for the present, and proceed to state such acts and measures as have been adopted since the last war, which demonstrate a system formed to enslave America.

Resolved, That the following acts of parliament are infringements and violations of the rights of the colonists and that the repeal of them is essentially necessary, in order to restore harmony between Great Britain and the American colonies, viz.

The several acts of 4 Geo. III, ch. 15, and ch. 34 5 Geo. III, ch. 25 6 Geo. III, ch. 52 7 Geo. III, ch. 41 and ch. 46 8 Geo. III. ch. 22 which impose duties for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, extend the power of the admiralty courts beyond their ancient limits, deprive the American subject of trial by jury, authorize the judges certificate to indemnify the prosecutor from damages, that he might otherwise be liable to, requiring oppressive security from a claimant of ships and goods seized, before he shall be allowed to defend his property, and are subversive of American rights.

Also 12 Geo. III. ch. 24, entitled, "An act for the better preserving his majesty's dockyards, magazines, ships, ammunition, and stores," which declares a new offence in America, and deprives the American subject of a constitutional trial by jury of the vicinage, by authorizing the trial of any person, charged with the committing any offence described in the said act, out of the realm, to be indicted and tried for the same in any shire or county within the realm.

Also the three acts passed in the last session of parliament, for stopping the port and blocking up the harbour of Boston, for altering the charter and government of Massachusetts-Bay, and that which is entitled, "An act for the better administration of justice, etc."

Also the act passed in the same session for establishing the Roman Catholic religion, in the province of Quebec, abolishing the equitable system of English laws, and erecting a tyranny there, to the great danger (from so total a dissimilarity of religion, law and government) of the neighbouring British colonies, by the assistance of whose blood and treasure the said country was conquered from France.

Also the act passed in the same session, for the better providing suitable quarters for officers and soldiers in his majesty's service, in North-America.

Also, that the keeping a standing army in several of these colonies, in time of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that colony, in which such army is kept, is against law.

To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot submit, but in hopes their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a revision of them, restore us to that state, in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have for the present, only resolved to pursue the following peaceable measures: 1. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreement or association. 2. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to the inhabitants of British America: and 3. To prepare a loyal address to his majesty, agreeable to resolutions already entered into.

SOURCE: Journals of the American Congress from 1774 to 1788. Washington: 1823.


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