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The Second Continental Congress


Colonists united against the British government after the British initiated a new system of imperial taxation in 1765. The Stamp Act of 1765, a direct tax imposed on colonists by British Parliament, led to collaborative resistance within the colonies. The Stamp Act Congress was held, and 9 colonial assemblies sent delegates to coordinate the colonies’ response to the tax. The Stamp Act Congress was a precursor to future collaboration among the colonies.

Colonial resistance led to the Stamp Act being repealed in 1766. However, the British government continued to exert its power over the colonies. After violence broke out at what is now known as the Boston Massacre of 1770, and the Tea Act taxes of 1773 were initiated, a group of colonists protested taxation without representation by dumping 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor on December 16th, 1773. This event is now known as the Boston Tea Party. Colonists continued to coordinate their resistance over the next few years.

The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in 1775, after the Revolutionary War had already begun. The Congress served several important functions. It appointed George Washington as commander of the Continental Army and authorized the raising of the army through conscription, or mandatory enlistment.

In 1776, the Congress also declared America’s independence from Britain. On July 4th, 1776, the Congress issued the Declaration of Independence which asserted the colonies’ intention to be independent of Britain. The Congress established itself as the governing authority of the colonies under the Articles of Confederation (created in 1777 and ratified in 1781). The Articles remained in force until they were replaced by the U.S. Constitution in 1789.

In 1774, the First Continental Congress met in response to the Coercive or Intolerable Acts, a series of measures put in place by the British government in response to the colonies’ resistance to new taxes. Delegates from each of the 13 colonies (except Georgia) met in Philadelphia on September 5th, 1774 to organize resistance to the Coercive Acts.

The Congress ultimately issued a Declaration of Rights which affirmed its loyalty to the British Crown but disputed that British Parliament had the right to tax it. The Congress also passed the Articles of Association which directed the colonies to stop importing goods from the British Isles starting on December 1st, 1774 if the Coercive Acts were not repealed. The Continental Congress agreed that if Britain did not address the colonists’ grievances, they would reconvene on May 10th, 1775 and cease to export goods to Britain on September 10th, 1775. The First Continental Congress disbanded on October 26th, 1774.

The provisional colonial governments had begun to send instructions to their congressional delegates in the spring of 1776 telling or allowing them to vote for independence. However, the government of Virginia went even further, instructing its delegation to submit a proposal for independence before Congress. On June 7th, 1776, Virginia delegate Robert Henry Lee complied. Congress postponed a vote on the proposal until July 1st, but appointed a committee to draft a provisional declaration of independence to use if the proposal passed.

The committee was made up of five men including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. However, the declaration was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote a strong defense of the natural rights of all people. He alleged that Parliament and the British king had deprived the American people of these rights. On July 4th, 1776, Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence.

The Second Continental Congress was held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The Continental Congress reconvened as the Second Continental Congress on May 10th, 1775. By then, the Revolutionary War had begun. The British army was met with armed resistance on April 19th, 1775 when it marched to the towns of Lexington and Concord to seize weapons from colonial Patriots. The Patriots drove the British back to Boston and laid siege to the town - the Revolutionary War had started.