The Second Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from the 13 American colonies which occurred in Philadelphia in May of 1775, shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. These delegates not only established a Continental Army and oversaw the colonies' war effort against Britain, but also passed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and set up an official government for the colonies by ratifying a constitution, known as the Articles of Confederation, in 1781.
When the battles of Lexington and Concord -- the first of the Revolutionary War -- broke out in April of 1775 between the British Army and the Massachusetts militia, the delegates of the Congress recognized the need for an official army. As a result, in June of 1775, they authorized the creation of a Continental Army and appointed George Washington of Virginia, who had significant military experience from the French and Indian War, as its head. This appointment was proposed by John Adams of Massachusetts, who not only passionately argued for the necessity of a Continental Army but also recognized Washington's charismatic value.
Managing the War
Though the Congress was not an official government of the colonies, it acted as one throughout the Revolutionary War. The delegates negotiated treaties with foreign countries, including most importantly the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France, which turned the tide of the war in the colonies' favor. Additionally, though they had no power to tax, the delegates of the Congress requested money and supplies from various states to keep the Army provisioned, a feat which proved difficult as many states refused to contribute money, leaving the army to be often very poorly provisioned, at best. The Congress also began issuing paper money to help fund its war effort, though this new currency depreciated rapidly as the states didn't always have sufficient funds to back the money.
Declaration of Independence
In July of 1776, the delegates passed the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was an official separation from Great Britain and a formal declaration of war, and was written by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and passed with the help of John Adams. Though it wasn't an official law, the Declaration established an ideological foundation upon which to build a future government, and demonstrated to potential allies the seriousness of the colonists' rebellion.
Articles of Confederation
The Congress' final action was to establish a constitution for the colonies known as the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781. Although the Articles would be rewritten as a new Constitution in 1789, they still represented a major victory for the Second Continental Congress. In just a few years, and while fighting a war with a major European Empire, the colonies were able to create for themselves a functioning government.
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