Continental Congress


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Continental Congress,

1774–89, federal legislature of the Thirteen Colonies and later of the United States in the American RevolutionAmerican Revolution,
1775–83, struggle by which the Thirteen Colonies on the Atlantic seaboard of North America won independence from Great Britain and became the United States. It is also called the American War of Independence.
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 and under the Articles of Confederation (see Confederation, Articles ofConfederation, Articles of,
in U.S. history, ratified in 1781 and superseded by the Constitution of the United States in 1789. The imperative need for unity among the new states created by the American Revolution and the necessity of defining the relative powers of the
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).

First Continental Congress

Indignation against England's colonial policy reached fever pitch in the colonies after the passage (1774) of the Intolerable ActsIntolerable Acts,
name given by American patriots to five laws (including the Quebec Act) adopted by Parliament in 1774, which limited the political and geographical freedom of the colonists.
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, and the Sons of Liberty and the committees of correspondence promoted the idea of an intercolonial assembly similar to the one held (1765) at the time of the Stamp ActStamp Act,
1765, revenue law passed by the British Parliament during the ministry of George Grenville. The first direct tax to be levied on the American colonies, it required that all newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, commercial bills, advertisements, and other papers
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.

The First Continental Congress (Sept. 5–Oct. 26, 1774) was made up of delegates from all the colonies except Georgia. It met in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, and Peyton RandolphRandolph, Peyton,
c.1721–1775, American political leader, first president of the Continental Congress, b. Williamsburg, Va. After a general education at the College of William and Mary, he studied law in England.
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 was chosen to preside. The meeting's general purpose was to express colonial grievances against British policy, and only a few radical members considered the possibility of breaking with England. The plan of Joseph GallowayGalloway, Joseph
, c.1731–1803, American Loyalist leader, b. West River, Md. Galloway was a prominent lawyer with an interest in commerce and in speculation in Western lands.
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 for reconciling Great Britain and the colonies under a new imperial scheme was introduced but rejected.

The session's most important act was the creation of the Continental Association, which forbade importation and use of British goods and proposed prohibition of colonial exports. Several petitions of grievances, written principally by John DickinsonDickinson, John,
1732–1808, American patriot and statesman, b. Talbot co., Md. After studying law in Philadelphia and in London at the Middle Temple, he developed a highly successful practice in Philadelphia.
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, were sent to the king, and the meeting was adjourned until May 10, 1775.

The Second Continental Congress

Smoke from the battles of Lexington and Concord (Apr. 19, 1775) had scarcely cleared when the Second Continental Congress met on the appointed day in Philadelphia. Armed conflict strengthened the radical element, but only gradually did the delegates swing toward independence. A Continental army was created to oppose the British and, through the agency of John AdamsAdams, John,
1735–1826, 2d President of the United States (1797–1801), b. Quincy (then in Braintree), Mass., grad. Harvard, 1755. John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams, founded one of the most distinguished families of the United States; their son, John Quincy
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, George Washington was appointed (June 15, 1775) commander in chief. The reconciliation plan offered (1775) by Lord North's government was tabled. A diplomatic representative, Silas DeaneDeane, Silas,
1737–89, political leader and diplomat in the American Revolution, b. Groton, Conn. A lawyer and merchant at Wethersfield, Conn., he was elected (1772) to the state assembly and became a leader in the revolutionary cause.
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, was sent (Mar., 1776) to France. American ports were opened in defiance of the Navigation ActsNavigation Acts,
in English history, name given to certain parliamentary legislation, more properly called the British Acts of Trade. The acts were an outgrowth of mercantilism, and followed principles laid down by Tudor and early Stuart trade regulations.
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. Finally, the momentous step was taken: Congress on July 2, 1776, voted to declare independence, and on July 4th adopted the Declaration of IndependenceDeclaration of Independence,
full and formal declaration adopted July 4, 1776, by representatives of the Thirteen Colonies in North America announcing the separation of those colonies from Great Britain and making them into the United States.
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.

The Congress, a young and unsteady organization, had little money and limited means for obtaining more. Nevertheless, it struggled to press the conduct of the war while moving, under force of military circumstances, from place to place; it met at Philadelphia (1775–76), Baltimore (1776–77), Philadelphia again (1777), Lancaster, Pa. (1777), York, Pa. (1777–78), and Philadelphia once more (after 1778). There was friction between Congress and the military leaders, and the soldiers, contemptuous (sometimes justly) of the politicians, constantly agitated for their pay and their rights. The Congress, jealous of its powers, frequently hindered Washington in his strategy.

The Postwar Continental Congress

After the war ended and the Articles of Confederation took force, the quality of Congressional membership declined, since state offices were more desirable; and the Congress itself eventually dissolved. The Congress of the postwar period has, however, been underrated by many. Though shackled by the weaknesses of the federal structure, which sharply curtailed its power and particularly its ability to raise funds, the Congress can be credited with some accomplishments—notably the Ordinance of 1787Ordinance of 1787,
adopted by the Congress of Confederation for the government of the Western territories ceded to the United States by the states. It created the Northwest Territory and is frequently called the Northwest Ordinance.
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, which set up the Northwest TerritoryNorthwest Territory,
first possession of the United States, comprising the region known as the Old Northwest, S and W of the Great Lakes, NW of the Ohio River, and E of the Mississippi River, including the present states of Ohio, Ind., Ill., Mich., Wis., and part of Minn.
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; resolution of the Wyoming ValleyWyoming Valley,
c.20 mi (30 km) long and 3 to 4 mi (4.8–6.4 km) wide, in Luzerne co., NE Pa., through which flows the Susquehanna River. Wilkes-Barre is the major city of this once-rich anthracite coal region.
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 territorial dispute; and adoption of the decimal system of currency.

Bibliography

See Journals of the Continental Congress (34 vol., 1904–37); Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (ed. by E. C. Burnett, 6 vol., 1921–33; repr. 1963); E. C. Burnett, The Continental Congress (1941, repr. 1964); L. Montross, The Reluctant Rebels: The Story of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (1950, repr. 1970).

References in periodicals archive ?
the states, and the Continental Congress sheds light on what the
In a letter to Wickes, members of the Continental Congress wrote: "Let Old England see how they like to have an active enemy at their door, they have sent fire and sword to ours.
All that remained was for the Continental Congress to recognize the fact with a declaration of independence, and for the Massachusetts delegation to lead Congress to that conclusion.
Realizing that a resolution of independence was not possible in the 1774 Continental Congress, Adams worked with fellow "radicals" Christopher Gadsden and Richard Henry Lee to ensure that the Congress adopted the Massachusetts Suffolk Resolves that Paul Revere had delivered to Philadelphia.
The version purchased by Lear is among 25 surviving copies produced the night of July 4, 1776, after John Hancock and other members of the Continental Congress approved the text written by Thomas Jefferson.
George Washington - our only president to represent the entire nation - pleaded with the Continental Congress to preserve the unity proclaimed in the Constitution and to prevent splitting the nation into political parties (the kind he had witnessed in England).
The Continental Congress appointed Franklin as the first United States Postmaster General of the organization known today as the United States Postal Service.
Independence Day commemorates the date in 1776 when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Armstrong, who fought with Washington in the American Revolution, was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress.
Beeman (history, University of Pennsylvania) offers intimate portraits of each of the delegates to the Continental Congress of 1774, shedding light on the radical nature of the decision for independence.
in April to attend the DAR Continental Congress and will be awarded a $3,000 scholarship.

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