Continental Congress I and II

US SOCIAL AND POLITIC: Continental Congress I and II

Continental Congress I and II

Congress Britain responded to The Boston Tea Party in 1774 by passing several laws that became known in America as the Intolerable Acts. The law closed Boston Harbour until Bostonians paid for the destroyed tea. Another law restricted the activities of the Massachusetts legislature and gave added powers to the post of governor of Massachusetts.Those powers in effect made him a dictator. In response to these actions and laws, several committees of colonists called for a convention of delegates from the colonies to organize resistance to the Intolerable Acts. The convention was later to be called the Continental Congress. Shortly, the idea of such meeting was advanced a year earlier by Benjamin Franklin, but failed to gain much support until after the Port of Boston was closed in response to the Boston Tea Party. Furthermore, Continental Congress is the central governing body of the American colonies prior to and during the American Revolution and also the first government of the United States until the establishment of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. The Continental Congress followed in the steps of earlier, brief colony-wide gatherings to discuss shared issues of importance, as the Albany Congress of 1754 and the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 had done. In Philadelphia, delegates from 13 colonies (except Georgia[1]) gathered from 5 September to 26 October 1774 to discuss possible responses to British actions that threatened their rights.

Continental Congress I

The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from Sept. 5 to Oct. 26, 1774, to protest the Intolerable Acts. Representatives attended from all the colonies except Georgia. The leaders included Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts and George Washington and Patrick Henry of Virginia. The Congress voted to cut off colonial trade with Great Britain unless Parliament abolished the Intolerable Acts. It approved resolutions advising the colonies to begin training their citizens for war. They also attempted to define America’s rights, place limits on Parliament’s power, and agree on tactics for resisting the aggressive acts of the English Government. It also set up the Continental Association to enforce an embargo against England. By the time the first meeting of the Continental Congress ended, hostilities had begun  between Britain and the colonies.

The First Continental Congress was regarded as a success by both the general public and the delegates. The latter, despite heated and frequent disagreements, had come to understand the problems and aspirations of people living in other colonies.

Continental Congress II

The Second Continental Congress established the militia as the Continental Army to represent the thirteen states. They also elected George Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. A committee that included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin drafted the Declaration of Independence.
The Congress negotiated with foreign nations, established a postal system, borrowed money to support the army, and printed currency known as continentals. However, the government’s poor finances led to the expression not worth a continental. Since the Continental Congress lacked any formal constitution, in 1777 a committee drafted a charter for a more permanent form of government. The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781, at which time the Continental Congress became The United States in Congress Assembled.

The Second Continental Congress Parliament did not remove the objectionable laws, and delegates from all thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia in May 1775 to consider their options. This gathering, known as the Second Continental Congress, faced greater difficulties, for reconciliation now seemed even more remote: armed conflict between British troops and American militiamen had occurred the preceding month at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Rebel troops now gathered outside of Boston, where the British army had retreated, and Congress moved to support the patriots, assumed authority over the provincial militiamen, and at the same time named George Washington commander in chief of continental military forces (15 June 1775). For the next six years Congress guided the course of the war, dispatched ambassadors to seek alliances and financial support, and functioned as the de facto national government. Just as the Committees of Correspondence and Safety or provincial assemblies had already done assuming control of local and state government affairs with no charter or grant of authority at first, other than the people’s tacit consent Congress took over the day-to-day business of governing Americans on a national level, while representing American interests in international relations as well.
Governing was one thing; independence was another. Nearly a year passed after the events of Lexington and Concord and military conflict with Britain before Congress abandoned hope of reconciliation and moved toward independence. Congress’s most well known actions occurred 2 July 1776, when Congress voted in favor of independence from Britain, and on 4 July 1776, when it formally adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
Military men would have voted for independence much sooner than Congress did. The rapport between Congress and its Continental Army and officers was never strong, in part because Congress weakly funded and heavily dependent on French foreign aid could not provide the army with sufficient material goods or munitions to prosecute the war effort fully. Soldiers and commanders alike thought that it was Congress’s intent to “starve the army at pleasure” through denying it much needed supplies. The army’s inability to stop the British from advancing forced Congress to relocate repeatedly, from Philadelphia (1775-1776) to Baltimore (1776-1777), then back to Philadelphia, Lancaster, and York Pennsylvania (all in 1777), and finally back to Philadelphia (1778-1781) before the war’s end. Congress’s peripatetic movement, combined with its repeated turnover in personnel, meant that its actions often seemed slow or ill-informed to outsiders. The prestige of Congress was never very high, and many politicians appointed to Congress stayed only briefly before returning to their home states and local political affairs.

After declaring independence, Congress next moved to create a permanent government structure that could coordinate the new states’ national activities. Using a plan drafted by Congress member John Dickinson and his committee of thirteen, Congress adopted confederation as its preferred style of government. Ultimately, the Articles of Confederation resolved many of these issues by relying on past practices as the Continental Congress had permitted each state a single vote, so too the new Articles Congress would allocate each state one vote. Indeed, the very structure of the Articles government drew its inspiration from the Continental Congress, having only a unicameral legislature and no executive or judiciary to conduct business, and continuing to depend on states to fund Congress through requisition requests, rather than direct taxation. It took nearly four years, from November 1777 to March 1781, for all thirteen states to ratify the proposed Articles of Confederation. Once ratified, Congress became the country’s legitimate government until it was replaced by the US Constitution.


Congress of the United Colonies, informally referred to as the Continental Congress in historical studies, was a body of delegates, elected by the various American colonies during the summer of 1774, which first assembled in September 1774 in Philadelphia, PA, and again in May 1775 in the same city. In the period of the U.S. War of Independence, this body spoke and acted collectively for the people of the colony-states that later became the United States of America.The term Continental Congress most specifically refers to the bodies that met in 1774 and 1775-81 and respectively designated as the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress. The first U.S. constitution, Articles of Confederation, ratified in March 1781, placed Congress on a constitutional basis, legalizing the powers it had exercised since 1775. To underline this distinction, the post-Articles Congress is often referred to as the Congress of the Confederation, or the Confederation Congress. This Congress continued to function under the Articles until the new Congress, elected under the present Constitution, met in 1789. However, all official documents of both Continental Congress and Confederation Congress were issued on behalf of the Congress.


[1] Twelve of the 13 colonies sent delegates. Georgia decided against roiling the waters; they were facing attacks from the restive Creek on their borders and desperately needed the support of regular British soldiers.


About Renny Candradewi Puspitarini

Lecturer at Panca Marga University Faculty of Social Science and Political Science Department of Public Administration

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