Second Continental Congress

May 10, 1775–1781

The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia's Independence Hall on May 10, 1775, after the Battles of Concord and Lexington had been fought.

John Hancock, Portrait, Copley

John Hancock served the longest term as President of the Second Continental Congress. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Summary of the Second Continental Congress

Although there was still great sentiment among the delegates to seek reconciliation with Great Britain, the movement towards independence could not be reversed.  The delegates were soon forced to turn their attention to forming an army, crafting a Declaration of Independence, conducting the war, and establishing a new national government acceptable to each of the thirteen separate states. To their credit, the delegates successfully managed each of these tasks through extremely trying times. When the Articles of Confederation were officially adopted in 1781, the delegates to the Second Continental Congress officially met as the Congress of the Confederation, and a new nation was born.

History of the Second Continental Congress

The First Continental Congress was called in 1774 to discuss a trade boycott against Britain after it passed the Coercive Acts to punish Boston for its role in the Boston Tea Party. The first Congress agreed to the boycott. It set up the Continental Association and the Articles of Association, which provided plans for an embargo on exports if the Acts were not repealed by September 10, 1775. A formal petition to King George III was drafted on October 26 that outlined the grievances of the colonies. Congress voted to reconvene in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, if the Coercive Acts were still in place.

When it became clear Britain had no intention of repealing the acts, plans were made to hold a second congress. In Massachusetts, the colonists had set up their own government — the Massachusetts Provincial Congress — and called on the towns to prepare their militia forces for war. By the time Congress convened, hostilities had broken out in Massachusetts with the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord, which led to the Siege of Boston.

In June, British forces launched an assault on American forces that had positioned themselves on Breed’s Hill, overlooking the harbor, close enough to fire on the British ships anchored there. The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first true battle of the war. Although the British won the battle, they suffered heavy casualties. The outcome showed the Americans were not going to be as easy to defeat as the British initially thought.

The Declaration of Independence

After the Battle of Bunker Hill, the move toward independence accelerated. Congress had to delay a formal declaration until individual delegates were given the authority by the colonies they represented to go ahead and vote for independence.

  1. Congress passed a resolution on May 10, 1776, urging each state to do so.
  2. Congress passed a resolution of independence on July 2, 1776.
  3. Congress approved the formal Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Articles of Confederation

As Congress went about managing the war effort, it also addressed the huge task of trying to establish a national government that would be acceptable to thirteen separate states. Congress passed the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777, and sent the document to the separate states for ratification. It took more than three years for all thirteen colonies to ratify the document.

Congress of the Confederation

The new nation was formed and the delegates to the Second Continental Congress officially met as the Congress of the Confederation on March 2, 1781, the day after Maryland delegates became the last to sign the Articles of Confederation. The Congress of the Confederation continued to manage the war and served as the seat of power after the war until a new government was established with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788.

Accomplishments of the Continental Congress

  1. Establishment of the Continental Army — Congress created the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, and named George Washington as Commander-in-Chief.
  2. Printing American Money — Congress authorized the first printing of American money, $1 million in bills of credit, on June 22, 1775.
  3. The Olive Branch Petition — Congress passed the Olive Branch Petition on July 5, 1775, and sent it to the King of England on July 8. British leaders rejected the petition, a final attempt at reconciliation with Great Britain.

Second Continental Congress — Facts

Delegates to the Second Continental Congress

Like the First Continental Congress, 12 of the 13 colonies sent delegates to the first meetings.

Georgia did not send delegates until after Congress declared independence.

Georgia’s delegates were seated on July 20, 1776.

The Midnight Riders

On the night of April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage sent British troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn on a march to Concord.

The purpose of the march was to destroy military stores there had been hidden there by Massachusetts militia forces.

The road to Concord went through Lexington, where Samuel Adams and John Hancock were spending the night.

When the Patriot spy network in Boston found out the British were on the move, Joseph Warren sent two of his express riders to Lexington to warn Adams and Hancock and to alert the citizens of Concord.

The first rider, William Dawes, was able to make it to Lexington.

The second rider, Paul Revere, made it to Lexington before Dawes and warned Adams and Hancock.

Revere was captured by British sentries who were patrolling the roads. He was released but never made it to Concord.

The American Revolutionary War Begins

Dawes, Revere, and another rider they met along the way, Dr. Samuel Prescott, had warned the people throughout the countryside the British were on the march. They told the towns and villages to raise the alarm and call out the militia, which they did.

The Lexington militia, under the command of Captain John Parker, was assembled and waiting for the British forces when they marched into Concord early on the morning of April 19.

Within moments, a shot was fired and the first hostilities of the American Revolutionary War took place.

The Massachusetts militia scattered and the British marched on to Concord.

At Concord, more militia gathered and clashed with the British.

The British left Concord and marched back to Boston and the militia fired on them and harassed them the entire way.

When the British reached the safety of Boston, the militia forces surrounded the city and trapped the British inside, and the Siege of Boston was underway.

The Second Continental Congress Convenes

The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on May 10, 1775.

With hostilities underway, the colonies looked to Congress to provide leadership in the war with Britain.

On the same day Congress convened, American militia forces led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, which included many of Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys, captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York from the small garrison of British troops.

Even though a state of war existed between Great Britain and the American Colonies, Congress originally did not intend to declare independence.

Congress met in various cities during the course of the Revolutionary War, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, Maryland, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and York, Pennsylvania.

Even though Congress assumed the powers of a national government, it had no legal authority to do so.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Second Continental Congress
  • Date May 10, 1775–1781
  • Author
  • Keywords Second Continental Congress
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 16, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 22, 2024