The Continental Congress
First and second congresses

1st 1774 - 2nd 1775

The First Continental Congress was attended by 56 delegates representing 12 colonies. Georgia sent no delegates but agreed to support any plans made at the meeting. Leaders of the Congress included *Samuel Adams, George Washington, Peyton Randolph, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, John Adams, John Jay, Joseph Galloway, and John Dickinson. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was chosen president of the Congress, and each of the 12 colonies had equal voting power.

The first Congress sought fair treatment from Britain rather than independence. It set forth the position of the colonies toward taxation and trade in a Declaration of Rights, adopted on Oct. 14, 1774. The Congress declared that Parliament had no right to pass laws that affected America, except possibly in the area of foreign trade. It claimed the right of each colonial assembly to regulate its own internal affairs.

Probably the boldest act of the Congress was to set up the Continental Association, which bound the colonists not to trade with Great Britain or use British goods until British trade and taxation policies had been changed. The delegates made plans to hold another Congress the following May, if necessary.

Second Continental Congress. The British government ignored the Congress, and fighting broke out between Massachusetts farmers and British troops at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775. New delegates of note were *Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock. The Congress took on many governmental duties, uniting the colonies for a fight. An army was organized, and George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief on June 16. On July 8, 1775, the Congress issued a declaration setting forth the need to take up arms and the reasons for doing so. On July 10, it made a final, futile appeal to the king in an effort to right matters without additional fighting.

With the outbreak of war, the Second Continental Congress encouraged the colonies to adopt new republican governments. On July 4, 1776, the Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. Then it drew up an outline for a permanent union of states that resulted in the Articles of Confederation, the first federal constitution of the United States. The second Congress operated under great difficulties, because it depended on the states to carry out many of its decisions. On March 1, 1781, Maryland became the last of the states to ratify the Articles of Confederation. After ratification, the Congress was known as the Congress of the Confederation, but many people continued to call it the Continental Congress.

In addition to Peyton Randolph, the presidents of the Congress were *Henry Middleton, John Hancock, Henry Laurens, John Jay, Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, John Hanson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, and Cyrus Griffin.

* To see biographies of delagates go to the Founders Page
Contributor: Jack N. Rakove, Ph.D., Prof. of History, Stanford Univ.


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