From 1774 to 1789, the Continental Congress served as the government of the 13 American colonies and later the United States. The First Continental Congress, which was comprised of delegates from the colonies, met in 1774 in reaction to the Coercive Acts, a series of measures imposed by the British government on the colonies in response to their resistance to new taxes. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress convened after the American Revolutionary War (1775-83) had already begun. In 1776, it took the momentous step of declaring America's independence from Britain. Five years later, the Congress ratified the first national constitution, the Articles of Confederation, under which the country would be governed until 1789, when it was replaced by the current U.S. Constitution.
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This Day in History
On this day in 1782, Congress adopts the Great Seal of the United States after six years of discussion. The front of the seal depicts a bald eagle…
The Declaration of Independence announced the intention of the 13 American colonies to separate from Great Britain.
During the American Revolution, Great Britain's 13 American colonies rose up in insurrection and won their independence.
American Revolution leader John Hancock was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a governor of Massachusetts.
In 1776, Virginia planter and slave owner Thomas Jefferson wrote the foremost statement of human liberty and equality.
Did You Know?
Almost every significant political figure of the American Revolution served in the Continental Congress, including Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Patrick Henry and George Washington.
- The Imperial Crisis
- The First Continental Congress
- The Revolutionary War
- Fighting for Reconcilliation
The Imperial Crisis
Throughout most of colonial history, the British Crown was the only political institution that united the American colonies. The Imperial Crisis of the 1760s and 1770s, however, drove the colonies toward increasingly greater unity. Americans throughout the 13 colonies united in opposition to the new system of imperial taxation initiated by the British government in 1765. The Stamp Act of that year--the first direct, internal tax imposed on the colonists by the British Parliament--inspired concerted resistance within the colonies. Nine colonial assemblies sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress, an extralegal convention that met to coordinate the colonies' response to the new tax. Although the Stamp Act Congress was short-lived, it hinted at the enhanced unity among the colonies that would soon follow.
Colonial opposition made a dead letter of the Stamp Act and brought about its repeal in 1766. The British government did not abandon its claim to the authority to pass laws for the colonies, however, and would make repeated attempts to exert its power over the colonies in the years to follow. Colonists continued to coordinate their resistance to new imperial measures, but, from 1766 until 1774, did so primarily through committees of correspondence, which exchanged ideas and information, rather than through a united political body.
The First Continental Congress
On September 5, 1774, delegates from each of the 13 colonies except for Georgia (which was fighting a Native-American uprising and was dependent on the British for military supplies) met in Philadelphia as the First Continental Congress to organize colonial resistance to Parliament's Coercive Acts. The delegates included a number of future luminaries, such as future presidents John Adams (1735-1826) of Massachusetts and George Washington (1732-99) of Virginia, and future U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice and diplomat John Jay (1745-1829) of New York. The Congress was structured with emphasis on the equality of participants, and to promote free debate. After much discussion, the Congress issued a Declaration of Rights, affirming its loyalty to the British Crown but disputing the British Parliament's right to tax it. The Congress also passed the Articles of Association, which called on the colonies to stop importing goods from the British Isles beginning on December 1, 1774, if the Coercive Acts were not repealed. Should Britain fail to redress the colonists' grievances in a timely manner, the Congress declared, then it would reconvene on May 10, 1775, and the colonies would cease to export goods to Britain on September 10, 1775. After proclaiming these measures, the First Continental Congress disbanded on October 26, 1774.
The Revolutionary War
As promised, Congress reconvened in Philadelphia as the Second Continental Congress on May 10, 1775--and by then the American Revolution had already begun. The British army in Boston had met with armed resistance on the morning of April 19, 1775, when it marched out to the towns of Lexington and Concord to seize a cache of weapons held by colonial Patriots who had ceased to recognize the authority of the royal government of Massachusetts. The Patriots drove the British expedition back to Boston and laid siege to the town. The Revolutionary War had begun.
Fighting for Reconcilliation
Although the Congress professed its abiding loyalty to the British Crown, it also took steps to preserve its rights by dint of arms. On June 14, 1775, a month after it reconvened, it created a united colonial fighting force, the Continental Army. The next day, it named George Washington as the new army's commander in chief. The following month, it issued its Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, penned by John Dickinson (1732-1808) of Pennsylvania, a veteran of the First Congress whose "Letters from a Farmer of Pennsylvania" (1767) had helped arouse opposition to earlier imperial measures, and by a newcomer from Virginia, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). In an effort to avoid a full-scale war, Congress coupled this declaration with the Olive Branch Petition, a personal appeal to Britain's King George III (1738-1820) asking him to help the colonists resolve their differences with Britain. The king dismissed the petition out of hand.
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Jefferson is an insightful 2-hour presentation on HISTORY which examines his many identities and asks viewers to answer for themselves: who was the real Thomas Jefferson, and what is his most lasting legacy in our world today?