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10e. Second Continental Congress

Draft copy of Declaration of Independence
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
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.

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.

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
Independence Hall

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.
On the Web
Declaration of Independence
From John Adams to George Wyeth, short but elegant biographies of all the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. As if that's not enough, the producers of the page have given us biographies on some of the more famous members of Parliament such as Edmund Burke as well. This page also has a great historic documents section, with dozens of rare-on-the-Internet topics such as "A Proclamation by the King for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition." But wait, there's more! The page comes with a bibliography and dozens of images. OYEZ! OYEZ! BOOKMARK THIS SITE NOW and be guaranteed an "A" on your future endeavors.
Continental Congress Lottery
Ever see those commercials for state lotteries that say profits will be used to pay for education and care of the elderly? Well, the government's been using lotteries to pay for things since the Colonial Era. This lottery page, written by a numismatist, (that's a coin expert), explains what the Congress was raising money for, how much tickets cost, who raised the money, and problems they ran into along the way. I don't know how useful the page is, but it's way cool and has a great link to a Colonial currency page.
Continental Congress Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1782
Congress wasn't only busy with issues of war. For instance, they had time to issue a proclamation "for a general THANKSGIVING on the twenty-eighth day of November..." TURKEY DAY! Note the proclamation was signed by John Hanson, who some consider the first President of the United States since he was the President of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation.
Documents from the Continental Congress
Picture heaven! The heart of this page is the Continental Congress Broadside Collection. Issues printed on broadsides, which were devoted almost exclusively to timely issues, included official notices, proclamations, petitions, playbills, news extras, and advertisements. Broadsides were posted in town halls and coffee houses, read in churches and public meetings, and often reprinted or excerpted in local newspapers. On the site there are dozens of broadsides, each explained in comparable detail to that which paintings often receive in museums. Start out by either going to the BROWSE link or to: Special Presentation: To Form a More Perfect Union: An Introduction to the Congressional Documents. There are also two very useful timelines on the site. newspapers.
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