1stContinental Congress From 1774 to 1789, the Continental Congress served as the government of the 13 American colonies and later the United States. The First Continental Congress, which was comprised of delegates from the colonies, met in 1774 in reaction to the Coercive Acts, a series of measures imposed by the British government on the colonies in response to their resistance to new taxes.
The First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia's Carpenters Hall on September 5, 1774. Twelve of the 13 colonies sent delegates. Georgia decided against sending representatives because they were dealing with attacks from the Creek Indians on their borders.
The members of congress did not support independence; the majority sought to right the wrongs that had been inflicted on the colonies and hoped that a unified colonial voice would gain them a hearing in London.
Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania introduced a "Plan of Union of Great Britain and the Colonies."
Resolved, that this Congress will apply to His Majesty for a redress of grievances under which his faithful subjects in America labor; and assure him that the colonies hold in abhorrence the idea of being considered independent communities on the British government, and most ardently desire the establishment of a political union, not only among themselves but with the mother state, upon chose principles of safety and freedom which are essential in the constitution of all free governments, and particularly that of the British legislature.
Galloway's plan was well received by many delegates but was supported by only five colonies, but opposed by six.
The Congress approved a total boycott by means of non-importation, non-exportation and non-consumption accords of any British goods.
These agreements were to be enforced by a group of committees in each community, which would publish the names of merchants defying the boycott, confiscate contraband, and encourage public thriftiness.
Declaration of Rights and Grievances.
The Congress composed a statement of American complaints. It was addressed to King George III, to whom the delegates remained loyal, and pointedly, not to Parliament. In it, the delegates asserted that the colonists had certain rights which included, "life, liberty, and property, and they have never surrendered to any sovereign power without their consent."
The radical elements were critical of the Declaration because it conceded the right of Parliament to regulate colonial trade.
Finally, the Congress agreed to convene the following spring if colonial complaints had not been properly addressed. That meeting, the Second Continental Congress, was called in May 1775 in the wake of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
2nd Continental Congress Before adjourning in late October 1774, the representatives at the First Continental Congress had provided for gather again at a later time if circumstances dictated it. The skirmishes at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, and the gathering of an American army outside of Boston provided sufficient motivation to assemble the delegates at the State House in Philadelphia again.
The Second Continental Congress was presided over by John Hancock and included some of the same delegates as the first, but with such notable additions as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. All of the colonies sent delegates, although the Georgia delegation did not arrive until fall. As time passed, the radical element that included John Adams, Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee began to cast a shadow on the more conservative group represented by John Dickinson.
On June 15, Congress assumed control of the army encamped outside of Boston. John Adams labored hard among his fellow Northerners to gain support for George Washington as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Adams realized that many people in the South and wealthy Americans in all areas harbored deep reservations about the new armed conflict, and reasoned that the appointment of a prominent Southerner to head the military effort would generate a broader base of support for the struggle. Washington, present in Philadelphia in full military dress, accepted the responsibility and departed for Boston on June 23.
Congress appointed four majors-general to serve under Washington: Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, Philip Schuyler and Israel Putnam.
Statements of Position.
The Congress went to great lengths to offer a philosophical justification for its participation in the war. In early July, approval was given to Dickinson's Olive Branch Petition, a statement of abiding loyalty to the king, but disapproval of the actions of his ministers and Parliament.
Financing the War.
The Congress attempted to pay for the conflict by issuing paper certificates and by borrowing from internal and foreign sources. The continental currency, and its state-issued equivalents, depreciated sharply in value and sparked a devastating inflationary period. The effort to raise money for paying soldiers and purchasing arms and supplies remained a problem for much of the war.
Richard Henry Lee's resolution (June 1776) promoting independence reflected changing public opinion on the matter of retaining ties with Britain. This measure was adopted by Congress and then then Thomas Jefferson with the help of congress drafted the Declaration of Independence stating that the colonies were officially breaking way from Britain and listed the reasons why.