Continental Congress

The Continental Congress, also known as the Philadelphia Congress in its early iterations, was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies. The Congress met from 1774 to 1789 in three incarnations and became the governing body of the new United States of America during the American War of Independence. Much of what is known today about the activities and deliberations of the Continental Congresses comes from the yearly log books printed by the Continental Congress called Resolutions, Acts and Orders of Congress, which gives a day-to-day description of debates and issues.

The call for a Continental Congress of Britain's American colonies was made over issues of the blockade and the Intolerable Acts penalizing the Province of Massachusetts Bay. At the urging of Benjamin Franklin and other colonial leaders, delegates from twelve colonies formed a representative body that convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in early September 1774. This First Continental Congress sought to help repair the frayed relationship between the British government and its American colonies while also asserting the rights of colonists. It sent a Petition to King George III urging the repeal of the Intolerable Acts and outlined collective trade policies to follow if the King and Parliament did respond favorably to their grievances. In late October 1774, the Congress resolved to call another meeting if conditions warranted, then dissolved.

The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in May 1775. Early on, the delegates were divided on the question of breaking from Crown rule. Although they wrote and sent the Olive Branch Petition to the King seeking peace in June 1775, they also established the Continental Army and gave command to one of their members, George Washington of Virginia, in July of the same year. Sentiments had changed by the next summer, and on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress unanimously passed a resolution asserting American independence. The Declaration of Independence was issued two days later, declaring that the colonies had formed a new nation, the United States of America. The Second Continental Congress was the nation's governing body during the American Revolution. It directed the war effort, forged an alliance with France, and funded the war with loans and paper money. It also wrote the Articles of Confederation, which was the first plan of government for the United States. However, it could not always meet in Philadelphia, as the city was occupied by British forces for a time.

The Third Continental Congress was officially known as the Congress of the Confederation and operated under the Articles of Confederation once the document took effect in 1781. It first convened in Philadelphia and later moved to several other cities, most notably New York. This body ratified the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the War of Independence, and passed the Northwest Ordinance, which set out the procedure for adding new states to the young nation. Due to problems with the Articles of Confederation, representatives from most of the states met to revise the document in the summer of 1787. This Constitutional Convention decided to replace the existing system of government and wrote the Constitution of the United States, which was ratified in 1788. The Congress of the Confederation disbanded in 1789, when the 1st United States Congress under the new Constitution took over the role as the nation's legislative branch.

Previous Congresses

The idea of a congress of British North American Colonies was first broached in 1754 at the start of the French and Indian war, which started as the North American front of the Seven Years War between Great Britain and France. It met in Albany, New York from June 18 to July 11, 1754, and was attended by representatives from seven colonies. Among the delegates was Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, who proposed that the colonies join together in a confederation. While this idea was rejected by the Albany congress, it would be revived 113 years later among the remaining colonies of British North America to create Canada.

To present a united front in their opposition to the Stamp act, delegates of the Provinces of British North America met in the Stamp Act Congress, which convened in New York City from 7 through October 25, 1765. It issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which it sent to the British Parliament in London. While Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, the First Rockingham ministry rejected any presumption of authority by the American congress.

First Continental Congress, 1774

The First Continental Congress met briefly in Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from September 5 to October 26, 1774. It consisted of fifty-six delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies that were to become the United States of America. The delegates, who included George Washington (then a colonel of the Virginia Colony's volunteers), Patrick Henry, and John Adams, were elected by their respective colonial assemblies. Other notable delegates included Samuel Adams from Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Joseph Galloway and John Dickinson from the Province of Pennsylvania.[1] Peyton Randolph of Virginia was its president.

Benjamin Franklin had put forth the idea of such a meeting the year before, but he was unable to convince the colonies of its necessity until the 1773 British blockade at the port of Boston in response to the Boston Tea Party. All of the colonies sent delegates except the newest and most southerly one, the Province of Georgia – which needed the British Army's protection in order to contend with attacks from several Native American tribes. Most of the delegates were not yet ready to break away from Great Britain, but they wanted the King and Parliament to act in what they considered a fairer manner.

Convened in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by Parliament in 1774, the delegates organized an economic boycott of Great Britain in protest and petitioned the King for a redress of grievances. The colonies were united in their effort to demonstrate to the mother country their authority by virtue of their common causes and their unity; but their ultimate objectives were not consistent. The Pennsylvania and New York provinces had sent with their delegates firm instructions to pursue a resolution with Great Britain. While the other colonies all held the idea of colonial rights as paramount, they were split between those who sought legislative equality with Britain and those who instead favored independence and a break from the Crown and its excesses.

On October 26, 1774, the First Continental Congress adjourned; but it agreed to reconvene in May 1775, if Parliament still had not addressed their grievances.

Second Continental Congress, 1775–1781

In London, Parliament debated the merits of meeting the demands made by the colonies; however, it took no official notice of Congress's petitions and addresses. On November 30, 1774, King George III opened Parliament with a speech condemning Massachusetts and the Suffolk Resolves. At that point it became clear that the Continental Congress would have to convene once again.[2]

The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, at Philadelphia's State House, passing the resolution for independence the following year on July 2, 1776, and publicly asserting the decision two days later with the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia drafted the declaration, and John Adams was a leader in the debates in favor of its adoption. John Hancock of Massachusetts was the president during those debates. To govern during the American Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress continued, meeting at various locations, until it became the Congress of the Confederation when the Articles of Confederation were ratified on March 1, 1781.

Confederation Congress, 1781–1788

The newly founded country of the United States next had to create a new government to replace the British Parliament that it was in rebellion against. After much debate, the Americans adopted the Articles of Confederation, a declaration that established a national government made up of a one-house legislature known as the Congress of the Confederation. It met from 1781 to 1789.[3] The Confederation Congress helped guide the United States through the final stages of the Revolutionary War, but during peacetime, the Continental Congress steeply declined in importance.

During peacetime, there were two important, long-lasting acts of the Confederation Congress:[4]

  1. The passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. This ordinance accepted the abolition of all claims to the land west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River by the states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and the ordinance established Federal control over all of this land in the Northwest Territory—with the goal that several new states should be created there. In the course of time, this land was divided over the course of many decades into Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.
  2. After years of frustration, an agreement was reached in 1786 at the Annapolis Convention to call another convention in May 1787 in Philadelphia with the mission of writing and proposing a number of amendments to the Articles of Confederation to improve the form of government. The report was sent to the Confederation Congress and the State. The result was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which was authorized by all the States thus fulfilling the unanimous requirement of the Articles of Confederation to allow changes to the Articles.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the Confederation Congress had little power to compel the individual states to comply with any of its decisions. More and more prospective delegates elected to the Confederation Congress declined to serve in it. The leading men in each State preferred to serve in the state governments, and thus the Continental Congress had frequent difficulties in establishing a quorum. When the Articles of Confederation were superseded by the Constitution of the United States, the Confederation Congress was superseded by the United States Congress.

The Confederation Congress finally set up a suitable administrative structure for the Federal government. It put into operation a departmental system, with ministers of finance, of war, and of foreign affairs. Robert Morris was selected as the new Superintendent of Finance, and then Morris used some ingenuity and initiative—along with a loan from the French Government—to deal with his empty treasury and also runaway inflation, for a number of years, in the supply of paper money.

As the ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin not only secured the "bridge loan" for the national budget, but he also persuaded France to send an army of about 6,000 soldiers across the Atlantic Ocean to America—and also to dispatch a large squadron of French warships under Comte de Grasse to the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. These French warships were decisive at the Battle of Yorktown along the coast of Virginia by preventing Lord Cornwallis's British troops from receiving supplies, reinforcements, or evacuation via the James River and Hampton Roads, Virginia.[5]

Robert Morris, the Minister of Finance, persuaded Congress to charter the Bank of North America on December 31, 1781. Although a private bank, the Federal Government acquired partial ownership with money lent by France. The Bank of North America played a major role in financing the war against Great Britain. The combined armies of George Washington and Nathanael Greene, with the help of the French Army and Navy, defeated the British in the Battle of Yorktown during October 1781. Lord Cornwallis was forced to sue for peace and to surrender his entire army to General Washington. During 1783, the Americans secured the official recognition of the independence of the United States from the United Kingdom via negotiations with British diplomats in Paris, France. These negotiations culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and this treaty was soon ratified by the British Parliament.[3]


The delegates to the Continental Congress had extensive experience in deliberative bodies before coming to Congress, with "a cumulative total of nearly 500 years of experience in their colonial legislatures, and fully a dozen of them had served as Speakers of the houses of their legislatures."[6] Both the Parliament of Great Britain and many of their own Colonial assemblies had powerful Speakers of the House and standing committees with strong chairmen, with executive power held by the British Monarch or the colonial Governor. However, the organization of the Continental Congress was based less on the British Parliament or on local state assemblies than on the nine-colony Stamp Act Congress. Nine of the 56 delegates who attended the First Congress in 1774 had previously attended the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. These were some of the most respected of the delegates, and they influenced the direction of the organization from its opening day, when decisions were made on organization and procedures that lasted over fourteen years until the Congress was adjourned on March 2, 1788.

The delegates chose a presiding President of the Continental Congress to monitor the debate, maintain order, and make sure journals were kept and documents and letters were published and delivered. Otherwise, the President had little power, and he was largely a figurehead used to meet visiting dignitaries: the office was "more honorable than powerful".[7] The job was not much sought after or retained for long: there were 16 Presidents in 14 years.

The turnover of delegates was enormously high as well, with an average year-to-year churn rate of 37% by one calculation,[8] and 39% by session-to-session.[9] Of the 343 serving delegates, only 55% (187 delegates) spent 12 or more months in Philadelphia at the Congress.[10] Only 25 of the delegates served longer than 35 months.[11] This high rate of turnover or churn was not just a characteristic; it was made into a deliberate policy of term limits. In the Confederation phase of the Congress "no delegate was permitted to serve more than three years in any six".[12] Attendance was variable: while in session, between 54 and 22 delegates were in attendance at any one time, with an average of only 35.5 members attending between 1774 and 1788.[13]

Between 1775 and 1781 they created a few standing committees to handle war related activities, such as the committee of secret correspondence, the treasury board, the board of war and ordnance, and the navy board. However, most of their work was done in small "ad hoc" committees consisting of members nominated from the floor. The delegate with the most votes became the chair of the committee. Committees typically had 3 to 5 members: roughly 77% of the committees had only 3 members.[14] They created 3,294 committees[15] over the 14.5 year calendar life of the congress – nearly 19 committees a month.

At the opening of the Congress, when one delegate suggested they appoint a committee on rules and voting, the motion was rejected, as "every Gent. was acquainted" with the British House of Commons usage, and such a committee would be a "waste of time."[16] They did write up rules of debate that guaranteed equal rights to debate and open access to the floor for each delegate. Voting was by the "unit rule": each state cast a single vote. Votes were first taken within each state delegation. The majority determined vote was considered the vote of the state on a motion: in cases of a tie the vote for the state was not counted.

The Continental Congress took on powers normally held by the British monarch and his council, such as the conduct of foreign and military affairs. However, the right to tax and regulate trade was reserved for the states, not the Congress. They had no formal way to enforce their motions on the state governments. Delegates did not report directly to the President, but to their home state assemblies: its organizational structure has been described as "an extreme form of matrix management".[17] It ran with very low overhead of 4 men for the 56 delegates, having only Secretary Charles Thomson as its operating officer for the whole period from 1774 to 1789, supported by a scribe, a doorman, and a messenger. They also appointed initially one, and later two, Congressional Chaplains.


There is a long running debate on how effective the Congress was as an organization.[18] The first critic may have been General George Washington. In an address to his officers, at Newburgh, New York, on March 15, 1783, responding to complaints that Congress had not funded their pay and pensions, he stated that he believed that Congress would do the army "complete justice" and eventually pay the soldiers. "But, like all other large Bodies, where there is a variety of different Interests to reconcile, their deliberations are slow."

In addition to their slowness, the lack of coercive power in the Continental Congress was harshly criticized by James Madison when arguing for the need of a Federal Constitution. His comment in Vices of the Political System of April 1787 set the conventional wisdom on the historical legacy of the institution for centuries to come:

A sanction is essential to the idea of law, as coercion is to that of Government. The federal system being destitute of both, wants the great vital principles of a Political Cons[ti]tution. Under the form of such a Constitution, it is in fact nothing more than a treaty of amity of commerce and of alliance, between so many independent and Sovereign States. From what cause could so fatal an omission have happened in the Articles of Confederation? From a mistaken confidence that the justice, the good faith, the honor, the sound policy, of the several legislative assemblies would render superfluous any appeal to the ordinary motives by which the laws secure the obedience of individuals: a confidence which does honor to the enthusiastic virtue of the compilers, as much as the inexperience of the crisis apologizes for their errors.

— James Madison, Vices of the Political System

Many commentators take for granted that the leaderless, weak, slow, and small-committee driven, Continental Congress was a failure, largely because after the end of the war the Articles of Confederation no longer suited the needs of a peacetime nation, and the Congress itself, following Madison's recommendations, called for its revision and replacement. Some also suggest that the Congress was inhibited by the formation of contentious partisan alignments based on regional differences.[19] Others claim that Congress was less ideological than event driven.[20][21] Others note that the Congress was successful in that the American people "came to accept Congress as their legitimate institution of Government",[22] but the "rather poor governmental record" [23] of the Congress forced the constitutional convention of 1787.

Political scientists Calvin Jillson and Rick Wilson in the 1980s accepted the conventional interpretation on the weakness of the Congress due to the lack of coercive power. They explored the role of leadership, or rather the lack of it, in the Continental Congress. Going beyond even Madison's harsh critique, they used the "analytical stance of what has come to be called the new institutionalism"[24] to demonstrate that "the norms, rules, and institutional structures of the Continental Congress" were equally to blame "for the institution's eventual failure", and that the "institutional structure worked against, rather than with, the delegates in tackling the crucial issues of the day."[25]

The Historian Richard P. McCormick rendered a more nuanced judgment. He suggested that Madison's "extreme judgment" on the Congress was "motivated no doubt by Madison's overriding desire to create a new central government that would be empowered veto the acts of state legislatures,"[26] but that it fails "to take any notice of the fact that while the authority of the Confederation Congress was ambiguous, it was not a nullity".[27]

Benjamin Irvin in his social and cultural history of the Continental Congress, praised "the invented traditions by which Congress endeavored to fortify the resistance movement and to make meaning of American independence." [28] But he noted that after the war's end, "Rather than passively adopting the Congress's creations, the American people embraced, rejected, reworked, ridiculed, or simply ignored them as they saw fit."[29]

An organizational culture analysis of the Continental Congress by Neil Olsen, looking for the values, norms, and underlying assumptions that drive an organization's decisions, noted that "the leaderless Continental Congress outperformed not only the modern congress run by powerful partisan hierarchies, but modern government and corporate entities, for all their coercive power and vaunted skills as 'leaders'."[30] Looking at their mission as defined by state resolutions and petitions entered into the Congressional Journal on its first day,[31] it found that on the common issues of the relief of Boston, securing Colonial rights, eventually restoring harmonious relations with Great Britain, and repealing taxes, they overachieved their mission goals, defeated the largest army and navy in the world, and created two new types of republic.[32] Olsen suggests that the Congress, if slow, when judged by its many achievements – not the least being recognizing its flaws, then replacing and terminating itself – was a success.


  • June 27: Congress adjourns to return to Philadelphia
  • July 2: Congress reconvenes in Philadelphia, first at College Hall, then at the State House
  • March 1: Having been ratified by all 13 states, the Articles of Confederation becomes effective; Continental Congress becomes the Congress of the Confederation
  • May 26: Proposed plan from Robert Morris to establish Bank of North America approved by Congress
  • October 17: Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia
  • December 31: Bank of North America chartered by Congress
  • February 21: Congress calls a constitutional convention "for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein and when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union"
  • May 25: Constitutional Convention convenes in Philadelphia; every state except for Rhode Island sends delegates
  • July 13: Congress passes the Northwest Ordinance
  • September 17: Constitutional Convention adjourns after completing work on the United States Constitution
  • September 28: Congress votes to transmit the proposed Constitution to the 13 states for ratification
  • July 2: Congress President Cyrus Griffin informs Congress that New Hampshire has ratified the Constitution and notes that it is the ninth ratification, thereby allowing for the establishment of the new government[33]
  • July 8: A committee is formed to examine all ratifications received and to develop a plan for putting the new Constitution into operation.[33]
  • September 13: Congress certifies that the new constitution has been duly ratified and sets date for first meeting of the new federal government and the presidential election[34]
  • October 10: The last session during which the Continental Congress succeeded in achieving a quorum; and passes its last ordinance[35]
  • November 15: Cyrus Griffin, the 10th president of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, resigns

See also


  1. ^ Rakove, Jack N. (1979). The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress. pp. 42–62.
  2. ^ Rakove, Beginning pp 45–49
  3. ^ a b "Confederation Congress". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  4. ^ Rakove, Beginnings, pp 133–330
  5. ^ Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington (2004) p 131
  6. ^ Jillson, Calvin, and Wilson, Rick, Congressional dynamics: structure, coordination, and choice in the first American Congress, 1774–1789, Stanford University Press, 1994, p. 5
  7. ^ Jillson and Wilson, p. 76
  8. ^ Olsen, Neil, Pursuing Happiness: the Organizational Culture of the Continental Congress, Nonagram Publications, 2013, pp. 114–114
  9. ^ Jillson and Wilson, p. 156
  10. ^ Olsen, p. 114
  11. ^ Jillson and Wilson, p. 157
  12. ^ Jillson and Wilson, p. 3
  13. ^ Olsen, p. 112
  14. ^ Olsen, p. 57
  15. ^ Jillian and Wilson, p. 91
  16. ^ Burnett, Edmund Cody, Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, The Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1921, Volume1, p. 9
  17. ^ Olsen, p. 71
  18. ^ Laver, Henry S., "Continental Congress", Reader's Guide to American History, editor Peter J. Parish, Routledge, 2013, pp. 178–179
  19. ^ Henderson, James, Party Politics in the Continental Congress, McGraw Hill, 1974
  20. ^ Rakove, Jack N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress, Knopf, 1979
  21. ^ Ammerman, David L., In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774, University Press of Virginia, 1974
  22. ^ Marston, Jerrilyn Green, King and Congress: The Transfer of Political Legitimacy, 1774–1776
  23. ^ Laver, p. 178
  24. ^ Jillson and Wilson, p. 1
  25. ^ Jillson and Wilson, p. 4
  26. ^ McCormick, Richard P., "Ambiguous Authority: The Ordinances of the Confederation Congress, 1781–1789", The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct. 1997), pp. 411–439, p. 438
  27. ^ McCormick, p. 438
  28. ^ Irvin, Benjamin H., Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty : The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 5
  29. ^ Irvin, p. 28
  30. ^ Olsen, p. 54
  31. ^ U.S. Congress, Journals of the Continental Congress, Government Printing Office, 1904, Volume, 1, pp. 13–24
  32. ^ Olsen, p. 278
  33. ^ a b Maier, Pauline (2010). Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 376–377. ISBN 978-0-684-86854-7.
  34. ^ Maier, Pauline (2010). Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 429. ISBN 978-0-684-86854-7.
  35. ^ Taylor, Hannis. The Origin and Growth of the American Constitution, page 268 (1911).
  36. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 726.

Further reading

  • Burnett, Edward Cody (1941). The Continental Congress. New York: Norton.
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, and Richard A. Ryerson, eds. The Encyclopedia of the American Revolutionary War: A Political, Social, and Military History (5 vol. 2006) 1000 entries by 150 experts, covering all topics
  • Henderson, H. James (1974). Party Politics in the Continental Congress. New York: McGraw–Hill. ISBN 0-07-028143-2.
  • Horgan, Lucille E. Forged in War: The Continental Congress and the Origin of Military Supply and Acquisition Policy (2002)
  • Grossman, Mark. Encyclopedia of The Continental Congress (two volumes, 2015)
  • Irvin, Benjamin H. Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors (Oxford University Press; 2011) 378 pages; analyzes the ritual and material culture used by the Continental Congress to assert its legitimacy and rally a wary public.
  • Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781 (1959) excerpt and text search
  • Jillson, Calvin, and Wilson, Rick, Congressional dynamics: structure, coordination, and choice in the first American Congress, 1774–1789, Stanford University Press, 1994
  • Olsen, Neil, Pursuing Happiness: the Organizational Culture of the Continental Congress, Nonagram Publications, 2013
  • Rakove, Jack N. (1979). The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-8018-2864-3.
  • Resch, John P., ed. Americans at War: Society, Culture and the Homefront vol 1 (2005), articles by scholars

Primary sources

  • Smith, Paul H., ed. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 volumes. Washington: Library of Congress, 1976–1998.

External links

  • Journals of the Continental Congress: September 5, 1774 to March 2, 1789. (1904–1936)
Volumes: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33
99 Percent Declaration

The 99 Percent Declaration or 99% Declaration is a not-for-profit organization based in Kentucky that originated from a working group of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in Zuccotti Park, New York City, in October 2011. The organization published a document calling for a "National General Assembly" to be held beginning the week of July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia, which was rejected by the general assemblies of OWS and Occupy Philadelphia. The Declaration includes demands for an immediate ban on all monetary and gift contributions to all politicians, implementation of a public financing system for political campaigns, and the enactment of an amendment to the United States Constitution overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC decision.

Annapolis Convention (1786)

The Annapolis Convention, formally titled as a Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government, was a national political convention held September 11–14, 1786 at Mann's Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, in which twelve delegates from five states—New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia—gathered to discuss and develop a consensus about reversing the protectionist trade barriers that each state had erected. At the time, under the Articles of Confederation, each state was largely independent from the others, and the national government had no authority to regulate trade between and among the states. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina had appointed commissioners who failed to arrive in Annapolis in time to attend the meeting, while Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia had taken no action at all.

Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was an agreement among the 13 original states of the United States of America that served as its first constitution. It was approved, after much debate (between July 1776 and November 1777), by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles of Confederation came into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all 13 states. A guiding principle of the Articles was to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles received only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.The Articles formed a war-time confederation of states, with an extremely limited central government. While unratified, the document was used by the Congress to conduct business, direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with foreign nations, and deal with territorial issues and Native American relations. The adoption of the Articles made few perceptible changes in the federal government, because it did little more than legalize what the Continental Congress had been doing. That body was renamed the Congress of the Confederation; but Americans continued to call it the Continental Congress, since its organization remained the same.As the Confederation Congress attempted to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discovered that the limitations placed upon the central government rendered it ineffective at doing so. As the government's weaknesses became apparent, especially after Shays' Rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling US began asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope was to create a stronger national government. Initially, some states met to deal with their trade and economic problems. However, as more states became interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting was set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This became the Constitutional Convention. It was quickly agreed that changes would not work, and instead the entire Articles needed to be replaced. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Articles was replaced with the federal government under the Constitution. The new Constitution provided for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers.

Benjamin Harrison V

Benjamin Harrison V (April 5, 1726 – April 24, 1791) was an American planter and merchant from Charles City County, Virginia, a revolutionary leader, and a Founding Father of the United States. He received his higher education at the College of William and Mary and was a representative to the Virginia House of Burgesses for Surry County, Virginia (1756–1758, 1785–1786) and Charles City County (1766–1776, 1787–1790). He was a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777 and a signer of the Declaration of Independence during the Second Continental Congress. He served as Virginia's fifth governor from 1781 to 1784. His direct descendants include two Presidents: his son William Henry Harrison and his great-grandson Benjamin Harrison.

Congress of the Confederation

The Congress of the Confederation, or the Confederation Congress, formally referred to as the United States in Congress Assembled, was the governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789. A unicameral body with legislative and executive function, it was composed of delegates appointed by the legislatures of the several states. Each state delegation had one vote. It was preceded by the Second Continental Congress (1775–1781) and governed under the newly adopted Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which were proposed in 1776–1777, adopted by the Continental Congress in July 1778 and finally agreed to by a unanimous vote of all thirteen states by 1781. It was held up by a long dispute over the cession of western territories beyond the Appalachian Mountains to the central government led by Maryland and a coalition of smaller states without western claims. The plan was introduced by Maryland politician John Hanson and was referred to as 'The Hanson Plan'. The newly reorganized Congress at the time continued to refer itself as the Continental Congress throughout its eight-year history, although modern historians separate it from the earlier bodies, which operated under slightly different rules and procedures until the later part of American Revolutionary War. The membership of the Second Continental Congress automatically carried over to the Congress of the Confederation when the latter was created by the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. It had the same secretary as the Second Continental Congress, namely Charles Thomson. The Congress of the Confederation was succeeded by the Congress of the United States as provided for in the new Constitution of the United States, proposed September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia and ratified by the states through 1787 to 1788 and even into 1789 and 1790.

Continental Army

The Continental Army was formed by the Second Continental Congress after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the ex-British colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in their revolt against the rule of Great Britain. The Continental Army was supplemented by local militias and volunteer troops that remained under control of the individual states or were otherwise independent. General George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the army throughout the war.

Most of the Continental Army was disbanded in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris ended the war. The 1st and 2nd Regiments went on to form the nucleus of the Legion of the United States in 1792 under General Anthony Wayne. This became the foundation of the United States Army in 1796.

Continental Association

The Continental Association, often known simply as the "Association", was a system created by the First Continental Congress in 1774 for implementing a trade boycott with Great Britain. Congress hoped that by imposing economic sanctions, they would pressure Great Britain into redressing the grievances of the colonies, in particular repealing the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Association aimed to alter Britain's policies towards the colonies without severing allegiance.

The boycott became operative on December 1, 1774. The Association was fairly successful while it lasted. Trade with Great Britain fell sharply, and the British responded with the New England Restraining Act of 1775. The outbreak of the American Revolutionary War effectively superseded the attempt to boycott British goods.

Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress

The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress (also known as the Declaration of Colonial Rights, or the Declaration of Rights), was a statement adopted by the First Continental Congress on October 14, 1774, in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Declaration outlined colonial objections to the Intolerable Acts, listed a colonial bill of rights, and provided a detailed list of grievances. It was similar to the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, passed by the Stamp Act Congress a decade earlier.

The Declaration concluded with an outline of Congress's plans: to enter into a boycott of British trade (the Continental Association) until their grievances were redressed, to publish addresses to the people of Great Britain and British America, and to send a petition to the King.

First Continental Congress

The First Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies who met from September 5 to October 26, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament, which the British referred to as the Coercive Acts, with which the British intended to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party.

The Congress met briefly to consider options, including an economic boycott of British trade and drawing up a list of rights and grievances; in the end, they petitioned King George III for redress of those grievances.

The Congress also called for another Continental Congress in the event that their petition was unsuccessful in halting enforcement of the Intolerable Acts. Their appeal to the Crown had no effect, and so the Second Continental Congress was convened the following year to organize the defense of the colonies at the onset of the American Revolutionary War. The delegates also urged each colony to set up and train its own militia.

John Collins (Continental Congress)

John Collins (June 8, 1717 – March 4, 1795), was the third Governor of the U.S. state of Rhode Island from 1786 to 1790. He was the last Independent to serve as Governor of Rhode Island until Lincoln Chafee (2011–2015).

John Dickinson

John Dickinson (November 2 Jul./November 13Greg., 1732 – February 14, 1808), a Founding Father of the United States, was a solicitor and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware known as the "Penman of the Revolution" for his twelve Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, published individually in 1767 and 1768. As a member of the First Continental Congress, where he was a signee to the Continental Association, Dickinson drafted most of the 1774 Petition to the King, and then, as a member of the Second Continental Congress, wrote the 1775 Olive Branch Petition. When these two attempts to negotiate with King George III of Great Britain failed, Dickinson reworked Thomas Jefferson's language and wrote the final draft of the 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. When Congress then decided to seek independence from Great Britain, Dickinson served on the committee that wrote the Model Treaty, and then wrote the first draft of the 1776–1777 Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

Dickinson later served as President of the 1786 Annapolis Convention, which called for the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Dickinson attended the Convention as a delegate from Delaware.

He also wrote "The Liberty Song" in 1768, was a militia officer during the American Revolution, President of Delaware, President of Pennsylvania, and was among the wealthiest men in the British American colonies. Upon Dickinson's death, President Thomas Jefferson recognized him as being "Among the first of the advocates for the rights of his country when assailed by Great Britain whose 'name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution.'"Together with his wife, Mary Norris Dickinson, he is the namesake of Dickinson College (originally John and Mary's College), as well as of the Dickinson School of Law of Pennsylvania State University and the University of Delaware's Dickinson Complex. John Dickinson High School was opened/dedicated in 1959 as part of the public schools in northern Delaware.

John Penn (North Carolina politician)

John Penn (May 17, 1741 – September 14, 1788) was a signer of both the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation as a representative of North Carolina.

John Walton (Continental Congress)

John Walton (1738–1783) was a Georgia delegate to the Continental Congress. Though born in Virginia, Walton later became a planter near Augusta, Georgia. He was elected as a delegate from St. Paul Parish to the Provincial Congress at Savannah in 1775, and then elected to the Continental Congress in 1778. He signed the Articles of Confederation on behalf of Georgia on July 24, 1778. He held the office of surveyor of Richmond County for several years before his death in New Savannah, Georgia in 1783. His brother was George Walton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence for Georgia and one of the first governors of Georgia.

Model Treaty

The Model Treaty, or the Plan of 1776, was created during the American Revolution and was an idealistic guide for foreign relations and future treaties between the new American government and other nations.

Olive Branch Petition

The Olive Branch Petition was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 5, 1775 and signed on July 8 in a final attempt to avoid war between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies in America. The Congress had already authorized the invasion of Canada more than a week earlier, but the petition affirmed American loyalty to Great Britain and beseeched King George III to prevent further conflict. It was followed by the July 6 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, however, which made its success unlikely in London. In August 1775, the colonies were formally declared to be in rebellion by the Proclamation of Rebellion, and the petition was rejected by Great Britain—even though King George had refused to read it before declaring the colonists traitors.

President of the Continental Congress

The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first (transitional) national government of the United States during the American Revolution. The president was a member of Congress elected by the other delegates to serve as a neutral discussion moderator during meetings of Congress. Designed to be a largely ceremonial position without much influence, the office was unrelated to the later office of President of the United States. Upon the ratification of the Articles of Confederation (the new nation's first constitution) in March 1781, the Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. The membership of the Second Continental Congress carried over without interruption to the First Congress of the Confederation, as did the office of president.

Fourteen men served as president of Congress between September 1774 and November 1788. They came from 9 of the original 13 states: Virginia (3), Massachusetts (2), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (2), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Maryland (1), New Jersey (1), and New York (1). The median age at the time of election was 47.

Samuel Huntington (Connecticut politician)

Samuel Huntington (July 16, 1731 [O.S. July 5, 1731] – January 5, 1796) was a jurist, statesman, and Patriot in the American Revolution from Connecticut. As a delegate to the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He also served as President of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1781, President of the United States in Congress Assembled in 1781, chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court from 1784 to 1785, and the 18th Governor of Connecticut from 1786 until his death.

Second Continental Congress

The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting in the spring of 1775 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia between September 5, 1774, and October 26, 1774. The Second Congress managed the Colonial war effort and moved incrementally towards independence. It eventually adopted the Lee Resolution which established the new country on July 2, 1776, and it agreed to the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Congress acted as the de facto national government of the United States by raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties such as the Olive Branch Petition.The Second Continental Congress came together on May 11, 1775, effectively reconvening the First Continental Congress. Many of the 56 delegates who attended the first meeting were in attendance at the second, and the delegates appointed the same president (Peyton Randolph) and secretary (Charles Thomson). Notable new arrivals included Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and John Hancock of Massachusetts. Within two weeks, Randolph was summoned back to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses; he was replaced in the Virginia delegation by Thomas Jefferson, who arrived several weeks later. Henry Middleton was elected as president to replace Randolph, but he declined. Hancock was elected president on May 24.Delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies were present when the Second Continental Congress convened. Georgia had not participated in the First Continental Congress and did not initially send delegates to the Second. On May 13, 1775, Lyman Hall was admitted as a delegate from the Parish of St. John's in the Colony of Georgia, not as a delegate from the colony itself. On July 4, 1775, revolutionary Georgians held a Provincial Congress to decide how to respond to the American Revolution, and that congress decided on July 8 to send delegates to the Continental Congress. They arrived on September 13.

Signing of the United States Declaration of Independence

The signing of the United States Declaration of Independence occurred primarily on August 2, 1776 at the Pennsylvania State House, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress represented the 13 former colonies which had declared themselves the "United States of America," and they endorsed the Declaration of Independence which the Congress had approved on July 4, 1776. The Declaration proclaimed that the former Thirteen Colonies then at war with Great Britain were now a sovereign, independent nation and thus no longer a part of the British Empire. The signers’ names are grouped by state, with the exception of President of the Continental Congress John Hancock; the states are arranged geographically from north to south.

The final draft of the Declaration was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, although the date of its signing has long been disputed. Most historians have concluded that it was signed on August 2, 1776, nearly a month after its adoption, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed.

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