Continental Congress

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The Continental Congress was the legislature of the Thirteen Colonies and later of the United States from 1774 to 1789, a period that included the American Revolutionary War and the Articles of Confederation. The Continental Congress is usually divided into three stages: the First Continental Congress which met from September 5, 1774 to October 26, 1774; the Second Continental Congress which met from May 10, 1775 to the ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781; and the Congress of the Confederation or the United States in Congress Assembled, which ran from March 1, 1781 until the government under the Constitution became operative on March 4, 1789.


The Continental Congress

The Stamp Act Congress, formed by colonials to respond to the unpopular Stamp Act taxes, was the direct precursor of the Continental Congress, which was itself formed largely in response to the so-called Intolerable Acts. The First Continental Congress was planned through the permanent committees of correspondence, which kept the local colonial governments in communication with one another as their common opposition to Britain grew. It lasted only from September 5, 1774, to October 26, 1774, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Peyton Randolph served as the first President of the Continental Congress.

The primary accomplishment of the First Continental Congress was the drafting of the Articles of Association on October 20, 1774. The Articles formed a compact among twelve of the thirteen colonies to boycott British goods, and to cease exports to Britain as well if the "Intolerable Acts" were not repealed. The boycott was successfully implemented, but its potential at altering British colonial policy was cut off by the outbreak of open fighting in 1775.

The Second Continental Congress met on May 10, 1775. The Congress resolved that Britain had declared war against them on March 26, 1775. The Continental Army was created on June 15, 1775, to oppose the British, and General George Washington was appointed commander in chief. On July 8, 1775, they extended the Olive Branch Petition to the crown as an attempt at reconciliation. (King George III refused to receive it.) Silas Deane was sent to France as an ambassador of the United States. American ports were reopened in defiance of the Navigation Acts. Most importantly, on July 4, 1776, they adopted the Declaration of Independence.

The Continental Congress was forced to flee Philadelphia at the end of September 1777 as British troops occupied the erstwhile capital of the United States. They simply repaired to York, Pennsylvania, and continued their work.

On November 17, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the Articles of Confederation, the first written constitution for the United States. It urged the individual states to pass the articles as quickly as possible. However, it took three and a half years for all the states to finally agree to the Articles. In the meantime, the Second Continental Congress tried to lead the new country through the war with very little money and little real power. Finally, on March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation were ratified. The Second Continental Congress adjourned, and then the same delegates met the next day as the new Congress of the Confederation. Seven months later, October 19, 1781, the United States was victorious at the Battle of Yorktown, which ended military operations in the colonies, although combat would continue in the Ohio Valley and in British colonies throughout the globe.

Two years later, the Treaty of Paris was signed, which ended the war and gave British recognition to the United States. With very little power and without the external threat of a war against the British, it became more and more difficult to get enough delegates to meet to form a quorum. Nonetheless, even in its dysfunctional state, the Congress still managed to get important legislation passed, such as the Northwest Ordinance. There were enough problems that the Congress called a convention in 1787 to recommend changes to the Articles of Confederation. This convention instead issued a whole new constitution, the Constitution of the United States. The Congress submitted the Constitution to the states, and the Constitution was ratified by enough states to become operative in September 1788. On September 12, 1788, the Congress set the date for choosing the electors for President as January 7, 1789, the date for the electors to vote for President as February 4, 1789, and the date for the Constitution to become operative as March 4, 1789. The Congress of the Confederation continued to conduct business for another month. On October 10, 1788, the Congress formed a quorum for the last time; afterwards, although delegates would occasionally appear, there were never enough to conduct business, and so the Continental Congress passed into history.

Dates and places of sessions

First Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
United States in Congress Assembled

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Edmund C. Burnet;The Continental Congress; 1941; 1975 reprint, Greenwood Publishing, ISBN 0837183863.
  • H. James Henderson; Party Politics in the Continental Congress; 1974, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0070281432; 2002 (paperback) reprint, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0819165255.
  • Lynn Montross; The Reluctant Rebels; the Story of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789; 1950, Harper; 1970 reprint, Barnes & Noble, ISBN 038903973X.
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