What Is the Difference Between the Constitutional Convention & the Continental Congress?

The Second Continental Congress chose General George Washington to command the Army.
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Revolutions are never easy. When the North American colonists rebelled against England, they found it necessary to set up a national government. Without a central authority to orchestrate the war, all might have been lost. Between 1774 and 1789, the Americans convened two Congresses and, eventually, held a Constitutional Convention to lead the war against England and establish a strong permanent national government. The First and Second Continental Congresses fought the Revolutionary War, while the Constitutional Convention created the federal form of government establishing the United States of America.

1 First Continental Congress

The First Continental Congress held its initial session on September 5, 1774, in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Twelve of the 13 colonies sent delegates, which totaled 55, with only Georgia abstaining. Sensing a permanent break with England, the First Continental Congress informed the local militias to prepare for war. This Congress disbanded on October 26, 1774

2 Second Continental Congress

After the war began in 1775, there was a need to constitute the Second Continental Congress. Meeting for the first time on May 10, 1775, this Congress functioned until March 1781. The delegates chose George Washington, a rich Virginia planter, to head the Continental Army they raised out of the local militias. To support the war effort, Congress required each state to supply the troops. Running short of funds, the Congress aligned with France, the traditional European rival of the British, which provided much needed economic aid. Last, and perhaps most importantly, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, officially informing the world that the colonists no longer wanted to remain British subjects.

3 Articles of Confederation

In conjunction with drafting and publishing the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress began planning a permanent national government. On July 12, 1776, the planning committee sent its recommendations to the full Congress, which debated the issue until November 1777. The proposed organization of states, known officially as the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, became the first American national law on March 1, 1781, after approval by the states.

4 Constitutional Convention

The Articles of Confederation had many problems. Though the Articles and the Continental Congresses sustained the union of states during the Revolutionary War, the need for a stronger central government became apparent soon thereafter. For example, this confederation of states did not possess the power to tax. In response to growing concerns about the stability of the nation, the founding fathers met secretly in Philadelphia in 1787. The men drafted a new, federal Constitution that sought to create a balance of power between the three branches of the national government. The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, establishing the United States of America in March 1789.

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.