February 9, 2011

The Continental Congress 1774-1776

The ten years between the Stamp Act crisis and the closing of the port of Boston in 1774 saw an erosion of British authority throughout the thirteen mainland colonies. In particular, the colonists' efforts to avoid British taxation led to a fatal crisis within the imperial order. When neither rioting nor royal petitions won for the colonists the political settlement they wished, provincials inspired by members of the Boston Whig movement began to systematically destroy taxed tea or otherwise impede its sale. The resulting crisis led Parliament to pass the Boston Port Bill (Coercive Acts), which in turn led to the calling of the First Continental Congress. This body, drawn from the provincial gentry, was primarily a last-ditch effort to seek legal redress and reform within the empire. Meeting in Philadelphia on 5 September 1774, the fifty-five delegates from all the colonies except Georgia elected Peyton Randolph of Virginia president of the congress; denounced the Coercive Acts; toyed with the Pennsylvanian Joseph Galloway's "Plan of Union," which would have kept the colonies in the empire; and formulated an address to George III. Adjourning on 26 October, the delegates agreed to reassemble the following year to set a course of action. The Second Continental Congress, which convened in May 1775, contained both a conservative element, headed by John Jay of New York and Pennsylvania's John Dickinson (1732-1808), and a radical group leaning toward independence. The Battles of Lexington and Concord, in April 1775, and the subsequent siege of the British army in Boston by a provincial militia army, drove the majority of congressional delegates into the radical camp, where John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), and others advocated the end of the imperial relationship. In mid-June 1775, Congress voted to raise an army and named George Washington to lead it. In July 1776, the delegates issued the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the colonies free from Great Britain, a move widely celebrated across America. By the Articles of Confederation, debated for months and finally adopted on 15 November 1777, the delegates constituted themselves as a unicameral legislative body that functioned as the central authority of the new nation until 1788. These representatives faced a host of domestic, military, and diplomatic problems. Foremost among these were raising and maintaining a Continental Army to fight the Revolutionary War, finance and money-supply issues, and launching overseas diplomatic initiatives. Factional fighting magnified these issues. Although the Continental Congress provided sufficient political leadership for the colonists to win the war, the financial and diplomatic problems faced by the new nation ultimately led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and a new government.


Jack Rakove, The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress, 1979. Calvin Jillson and Rick K. Wilson, Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774-1789, 1994.

© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
Acadian & French Canadian Ancestral Home
2007 - Present

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