The Continental Congress

Introduction

This article discusses the First Continental Congress, the Second Continental Congress and the Confederation Congress.

R. W. D Connor details how the idea of a Continental Congress came into being in the article on Committees of Correspondence, the means that also led to the creation of the Provincial Congress in North Carolina and in other colonies.

The First Continental Congress (September 5 – October 26, 1774)

This Congress met in Philadelphia from September 5, to October 26, 1774.  It was called by several committees of colonists who banded together to organize resistance to the Intolerable Acts. The Sons of Liberty and the committees of correspondence had promoted the idea of an intercolonial assembly similar to the one held in 1765 at the time of the Stamp Act. The assembly was later called the Continental Congress. After the Boston Tea Party, one of the Intolerable acts closed the Boston Harbour until Bostonians paid for the destroyed tea.  Another gave powers to the Massachusetts Governor that in effect made him a dictator.  1

This Congress consisted of all the colonies except Georgia.  The session’s most important act was the creation of the Continental Association, which forbade importation and use of British goods and proposed prohibition of colonial exports.  The primary purpose was not to break from Britain but to express grievances to the King.  2

Second Continental Congress (May 20, 1775 -March 1, 1781)

Interestingly, it has been difficult for the sponsors of this website to obtain access to a good outline of the times and places where the Second Continental met.  Connor, Lefler and others were consulted.  The most definitive source that we have been able to find is in Wikipedia. 3.  It lists the dates and places of sessions as follows:

May 10, 1775 – December 12, 1776, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
December 20, 1776 -March 4, 1777, Baltimore, Maryland
March 5, 1777 – September 18, 1777, Philadelphia
September 27, 1777 (one day only), Lancaster, Pennsylvania
July 2, 1778 – March 1, 1781, Philadelphia.

The following contains primarily a partial listing by Wikipedia of events occurring during the time frame May 10, 1775 to March 1, 1781.

May 10, 1775 . “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 president (Peyton Randolph) and secretary (Charles Thomson).  The first congress had provided that the congress would meet on May 10 to plan further responses if the British government had not repealed or modified the Coercive Acts.” (Wikipedia)

June 14, 1775.  “The Congress voted to create the Continental Army out of the militia units around Boston and quickly appointed Congressman George Washington of Virginia as commanding general of the Continental Army.” (Wickipedia)

July 6, 1775.  “Congress approved a Declaration of Causes outlining the rationale and necessity for taking up arms in the Thirteen Colonies.” (Wikipedia)

July 8, 1775.  “Congress extended the Olive Branch Petition to the British Crown as a final attempt at reconciliation  However, it was too late to do any good.” (Wikipedia)

May 10, 1776.  “Congress passed a resolution recommending that any colony lacking a proper (i.e. a revolutionary) government should form such.” (Wikipedia)

July 2, 1776.  “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, which was approved on July 4 and published soon thereafter.” (Wikipedia)

July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress in Philadelphia. (Wikipedia)

December 20, 1776-March 4, 1777.  The Second Continental Congress met in Baltimore, Maryland. (Wikipedia)

March 5, 1777-September 18, 1777.  The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia.

September 27, 1777.  “By September 1777 the British were again approaching Philadelphia and threatening the safety of the Congress.  On September 14 the Congress resolved that if it ‘shall be obliged to removed from Philadelphia, Lancaster shall be the place at which they shall meet.”  Further pressure by the British finally forced the Congress to leave Philadelphia on September 18.  To avoid the enemy, the delegates took a round-about way to Lancaster, generally arriving there September 26.  Congress held only one session in Lancaster, on September 27, 1777, in the Court House. Most authorities assert that the meeting place was at the Court House; however, the documentary evidence is not conclusive on this point.  The record of this session indicates that all of the business conducted on that day in Lancaster related to military matters.  At the end of the day, Congress resolved to adjourn to York, across the Susquehanna River, ‘there to meet on Tuesday next, at 10 o’clock’.”  4

September 1777. “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, and continued its work.  (Wikipedia)

November 15, 1777 – February 2, 1781. “Congress passed and sent to the state for ratification the Articles of Confederation.” . . .  “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 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.” (Wikipedia)

March 1, 1781. “[T]he 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 date the same delegates met as the Congress of the Confederation. 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.” (Wikipedia).  Another date given for the ratification is March 2, 1781. 5

The Confederation Congress. (March 2, 1781 – June 21, 1788)

The quote in the next paragraph refers to this period of the Congress as the “Postwar Congress.”  This is a bit of a misnomer since the Articles Confederation were ratified before Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781.  The period of the Confederation Congress was from the time that the Articles of Confederation were ratified on March 2, 1781 until June 21, 1788 when the U. S. Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788.  As indicated by the quote below the Congress eventually dissolved but technically the Articles of Confederation were still in effect and constituted the document that provided a legal basis for a union of the states.

The fact that the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the United States Constitution is an indication that the Articles were viewed as insufficient.  From the web site entitled “Postwar Continental Congress”, this point is conceded but points as well to some successes:

After the war ended and the Articles of Confederation took force, the quality of congressional membership declined, since state offices were more desirable; and the Congress itself eventually dissolved. The Congress of the postwar period has, however, been underrated by many. Though shackled by the weaknesses of the federal structure, which sharply curtailed its power and particularly its ability to raise funds, the Congress can be credited with some accomplishments—notably the Ordinance of 1787, which set up the Northwest Territory; resolution of the Wyoming Valley territorial dispute; and adoption of the decimal system of currency.  6

END NOTES

1.  Intolerable Acts and The First Continental Congress, digital, web site 11/2/2011 as follows:

2.  The First Continental Congress, digital, web site 11/2/2011, as, follows: http://www.usfca.edu/fac_staff/conwell/revolution/congress.html 1 page;

Site not available on 11/20/2013http://www.infoplease.com/cd6/history/A0857555.html, 1 page; site accessed on 11/20/2013

3. Second Continental Congress, digital, web site, 11/2/2011, as follows:  http://eh.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Continental_Congress, (Wikipedia), 6 pages; site not available on 11/20/2013
4. Officeof the Historian, Buildings of the Department of State, Court House, Lancaster.  http://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/buildings/section5;
site accessed on 11/20/2013
5
.  Timeline.  http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/revwartimeline.htm.
6.  Postwar Continental Congress, digital, November 2, 2011.  http://www.inforplease.com/ce6/history/A0857555.html; site existed on 11/20/2013 but has been changed.

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