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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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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in U.S. history, ratified in 1781 and superseded by the Constitution of the United States in 1789.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
..... Click the link for more information. ).
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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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
..... Click the link for more information. .
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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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.
..... Click the link for more information. .
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.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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.
..... Click the link for more information. ; 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.
..... Click the link for more information. territorial dispute; and adoption of the decimal system of currency.
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).