The Continental Congress served as the governing body of the United States during the Revolutionary War. The Congress consisted of representatives from each of the 13 colonies and convened in various forms between 1774 and 1789. Members of the Continental Congress met at a Constitutional Convention to craft a written constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, and they later replaced it with the U.S. Constitution.
Articles of Confederation
The first constitution of the United States was the Articles of Confederation, which was ratified on March 1, 1781. This constitution gave most of the governmental power to states rather than the central government. According to the Library of Congress, the Articles created a “loose confederation of sovereign states.” Some of the more nationalist politicians, such as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Wilson, wanted a stronger central government. By 1787, the nationalists were able to bring about a national constitutional convention in Philadelphia.
Constitution of the United States
The written Constitution of the United States defines the scope and limits of government power, describes the relationship between states and the national government and details the rights of the citizens. The Constitution was a charter of government that became the highest law of the land in the United States after ratification. According to the National Constitution Center, the Constitution did not become law the moment the delegates signed it; the document was made the official law of the land once nine out of the 13 states ratified it, which happened on June 21, 1788. The federal government observes Constitution Day on September 17 every year to commemorate the day the Constitution was signed in 1787.
The location of the new government's capital city was the subject of debate in the Continental Congress. Several different cities competed for the favored position; New York City was chosen as the temporary capital since a final decision could not be made at the time. George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States at Federal Hall in New York. The Congress also met inside the building in two separate chambers. The capital was moved to Philadelphia in 1790 and then moved to Washington D.C. in 1800. Congress passed a law in July 1790 that allowed George Washington to select a permanent location for the nation's capital along the Potomac river. Washington was declared by Congress the permanent capital of the United States on July 16, 1790, but Congress did not meet in Washington until November 17, 1800.
The Continental Congress authorized the creation of the Continental Army in 1775 to fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. Before the war, each of the 13 colonies had their own independent militia but there was no central army. The Virginian George Washington was named Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army by Congress on June 15th, the day after the army was created. Washington was in charge of over 20,000 soldiers. Congress voted to support the troops around Boston and New York City with $2 million in funds.
- Library of Congress: Exhibitions: Creating the United States
- National Constitution Center: Constitution FAQs
- Library of Congress: Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 New York City — The New Capital City
- U.S. Army: Continental Congress Authorizes Army
- Historical Society of Washington D.C.: Frequently Asked Questions About Washington, D.C.
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