Continental Congress, Second

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Continental Congress, Second

In 1774, representatives from England's American colonies convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania , at the First Continental Congress. (See Continental Congress, First .) Their mission was to address problems with English rule, particularly that England seemed to be removing the colonists' right of self-government. From September through October, the delegates at the Congress passed a series of resolutions calling for a change in English policy and appealing to British and colonial citizens for support. The delegates left the Congress with plans to reconvene in May 1775.

Wartime convention

When the delegates returned to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress, matters with England had worsened. The delegates were tasked with organizing diplomatic efforts to recover the rights and liberties being threatened by English rule. Reports of military clashes between the colonists and British soldiers in Massachusetts reached the delegates early in the convention.

This changed the mood of the delegates. Congress began to prepare for war. It resolved to give aid to Massachusetts, to take over the provincial army in Boston, and to raise a colonial army to be overseen by George Washington (1732–1799).

While efforts to improve relations with England continued, hopes began to dwindle as military clashes increased. The conviction gathered strength that only war against England would preserve the rights and liberties of the colonists. On July 2, 1776, Congress adopted a resolution to become independent from England. Two days later, it announced the American Declaration of Independence, the formal document declaring independence from British rule.

Forming a government

American independence meant that the Second Continental Congress became the unifying governmental body for the thirteen colonies . The responsibility for raising funds, building an army, and organizing the colonies for the fight for independence fell to the members of Congress. To provide a structure for this effort, the delegates began at once to craft a framework for a government in which all thirteen colonies would have representation.

After a year and a half of work and debates, on November 15, 1777, Congress proposed a governmental structure under the Articles of Confederation . The articles would create a government run by Congress without an independent president or a full-fledged judicial branch. Approval of the articles required ratification by the individual colonies, which were now called states.

While ratification was in process, Congress conducted itself as set forth by the rules in the articles. Getting state cooperation for raising funds, supplies, and militias for the revolutionary effort proved difficult. Only when France and Spain joined the American cause did the former colonies muster the strength necessary to defeat England. Fighting ended in September 1781 (though a peace treaty was not signed until 1783).

Months before fighting ended, on March 1, 1781, Maryland became the last of the thirteen states to approve the Articles of Confederation. While the articles established a unifying body of government, it proved inadequate in many ways. Fearful of excessive governmental power, Congress had written the articles to prevent the central government from being too strong. The result was a government that lacked enough control to run the nation as some people wanted. In 1789, the states replaced Congress and the articles with a new federal government under the Constitution of the United States, which delegates wrote at a federal convention in 1787.