What is the Second Continental Congress?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2018
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The Second Continental Congress was a unicameral delegation representing the 13 colonies during the onset of the American Revolutionary War. The convention met for the first time in Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 10 May 1775. It acted as one of the first provisional governments in the history of the United States. With the establishment of this representative body, the nation secured the foundations of a government that would continue to operate to this day.

In the timeline of United States Revolutionary history, the Second Continental Congress followed the First Continental Congress held the prior year. All colonies except Georgia sent representatives to this first delegation to address the passage of the Intolerable Acts by the British Parliament. The First Continental Congress sent a petition to King George III and considered boycotts of British goods. They disbanded with the knowledge that a second meeting would be assembled, if necessary, the following year. With the onset of conflict in Lexington and Concord, the colonies found themselves in a state of war.


The majority of the delegates from the First Continental Congress returned for the second meeting, and new additions included Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson. Virginia delegate Peyton Randolph was elected as president of the proceedings, but had to return to the House of Burgesses in his home state after two weeks. Henry Middleton was then elected to the position, but declined and was replaced by John Hancock. At first, Georgia again took no part in the convention, but as of July, the Provincial Congress of the colony had no choice but to join.

One of the first actions undertaken by the Second Continental Congress was to create the Continental Army. The war effort had been principally managed by state militias, resulting in a haphazard rebellion that seemed doomed to fail. George Washington was appointed to the position of commanding general and immediately sent to the siege of Boston. On 6 July 1775, the Congress passed the Declaration of Causes, outlining the reasons for armed conflict. In a final effort of peace, it sent the Olive Branch Petition to the British, hoping to resolve the conflict before it escalated.

The Congress spent the next year consolidating its power, assuming the role of legislative and executive authority of the 13 colonies. It appointed an ambassador to France, obtained loans from European nations, issued paper money, and continued to raise an army. The major challenge the delegation faced was its lack of legal authority to raise taxes. As such, it was required to press the states for funds, sometimes to no avail.

By 1776, the Second Continental Congress was operating as the national government. To signify its power, it issued what would be one of the most important documents in the nation's history: the Declaration of Independence, ratified on 4 July 1776. The next year, the delegates passed the Articles of Confederation, an agreement to form a representative government with each colony becoming a state. This was ratified by the states over the next few years, finally being adopted 1 March 1781. The delegation was then abolished, and the Congress of the Confederation became the new governing body of the United States.


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Post 3

@indigomoth - I do think it's a good idea to think of them as people though and not because they were extraordinary or not, but because people make mistakes. It always kind of annoys me when folk say that we should hark back to what our founding fathers would want, because they were only people and they were flawed. They were only representing the 13 colonies at the congress, because the states hadn't been formed yet.

In fact, when they decided they wanted to declare independence, they basically said the delegates should ignore what their colonies wanted and do it anyway. I'm not saying that what they wanted was wrong, but they obviously weren't supporting democracy with that action.

Anyway my point is that we should see them as people who did the best they could, rather than as infallible.

Post 2

@umbra21 - I get what you're saying and to some extent I agree, but when you think about the individual achievements of the men involved in this congress, I'm not sure you can justify calling them "ordinary men".

I mean, two of the most well known were Benjamin Franklin, who was an extraordinary scientist, inventor and writer, and Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and is generally considered one of the best US presidents we've ever had.

Now, I'm not saying the average person on the street couldn't do some incredible things if they were pressed to it. But these men were influencing change because they were extraordinary, the change wasn't influencing them. When the Second Continental Congress met in 1775 it was a group of representatives of their colonies and thus the best people the colonies could find to be a representative.

Post 1

Learning about the second continental congress always makes me think about that saying. "Never doubt that a small group of determined individuals can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever does."

Because it's easy to think of these men as being almost supernatural in their abilities, but they were just ordinary men, when you come down to it, ordinary men who had been driven to the point where they had to act in extraordinary ways. And if you really want to change the world, to the point where there's no other choice for you, you could do it as well.

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