The Second Continental Congress: Negotiation Shuts Down, a War Begins


The Second Continental Congress voting independence / National Archives at College Park, Wikimedia Commons

Times had taken a sharp turn for the worse.


Lexington and Concord had changed everything. When the Redcoats fired into the Boston crowd in 1775, the benefit of the doubt was granted. Now the professional imperial army was attempting to arrest patriot leaders, and minutemen had been killed in their defense. In May 1775, with Redcoats once again storming Boston, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia.

This rough draft of the Declaration of Independence was handwritten by Thomas Jefferson. It is believed that it was copied from several “creative drafts.” The changes made from draft to final form help us understand more precisely the meanings the declaration committee intended. / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The questions were different this time. First and foremost, how would the colonist meet the military threat of the British. It was agreed that a Continental Army would be created. The Congress commissioned George Washington of Virginia to be the supreme commander, who chose to serve without pay. How would supplies be paid for? The Congress authorized the printing of money. Before the leaves had turned, Congress had even appointed a standing committee to conduct relations with foreign governments, should the need ever arise to ask for help. No longer was the Congress dealing with mere grievances. It was a full-fledged governing body.

Independence Hall / National Park Service

Still, in May of 1775 the majority of delegates were not seeking independence from Britain. Only radicals like John Adams were of this mindset. In fact, that July Congress approved the Olive Branch Petition, a direct appeal to the king. The American delegates pleaded with George III to attempt peaceful resolution and declared their loyalty to the Crown. The King refused to receive this petition and instead declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion in August. Insult turned to injury when George ordered the hiring of Hessian mercenaries to bring the colonists under control. Americans now felt less and less like their English brethren. How could their fellow citizens order a band of ruthless, foreign goons? The moderate voice in the Continental Congress was dealt a serious blow.

As the seasons changed and hostilities continued, cries for independence grew stronger. The men in Philadelphia were now wanted for treason. They continued to govern and hope against hope that all would end well. For them, the summer of 1776 brought the point of no return — a formal declaration of independence.


Originally published by The Independence Hall Association under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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