The Second Continental Congress
The delegates.—The Second Continental Congress assembled at Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, all but Georgia and Rhode Island being represented. On May 13 Lyman Hall, representing St. John's parish, Georgia, arrived, but not until July 20 was notice received that Georgia had acceded to the Association and appointed delegates. Stephen Hopkins, the first Rhode Island delegate to appear, arrived May 18. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was elected president, but he found it necessary to leave Congress on May 24, and John Hancock was chosen president. Most of the delegates had been in the first Congress; among the new members was Benjamin Franklin, who had recently returned from England; Thomas Jefferson was elected to represent Virginia in the place of Peyton Randolph.
Nature of the work of Congress.—The conservative Whigs were still in the majority. They favored another petition to the king, but the state of war was recognized by all and Congress shouldered the responsibility of directing the Revolution as a defensive war. The early activities of Congress were devoted mainly to the raising, organizing, and equipping of the armies, to building and equipping a fleet, to perfecting the organization of the Revolution, to protecting the frontiers and obtaining alliances with the Indians, to enforcing the Association, to justifying the Revolution and seeking aid outside of the thirteen colonies, and to seeking redress from the British crown.
Military preparations.—Congress worked strenuously to raise troops and to obtain munitions and other stores. Efforts were made to stimulate recruiting, to perfect the organization of the militia, and to hasten the assembling of forces. The manufacture of cannon, guns, and gunpowder was encouraged and attempts were made to increase the supplies of lead, nitre, and salt. Congress recommended to the various assemblies and conventions that they provide sufficient stores of ammunition for their colonies and that they devise means for furnishing with arms such effective men as were too poor to buy them.
Organization of the army.—The armies already in the field were recognized by Congress. On June 14 a committee was appointed to draft rules for the army and on the following day Washington was appointed to command the continental forces. Arrangements were soon made for the appointment of four major-generals, eight brigadier-generals, and minor officers. The first major-generals were Artemus Ward, Charles Lee, Philip Schuyler, and Israel Putnam, Schuyler being placed in command of the New York department. Rules and regulations for the army were also adopted and provision was made for the establishment of a hospital.
Organization of the navy.—For the protection of the coasts Congress at first depended upon the efforts of individual colonies, recommending that they make provision, by armed vessels or otherwise, for the protection of their harbors and navigation on their coasts. Colonial vessels were utilized to capture British transports, but it soon became evident that a navy under congressional control would be more effective. During October, 1775, Congress decided to fit out four vessels and on November 28 adopted rules for the regulation of the navy. On December 13 provision was made for the building of thirteen war craft and on the twenty-second officers were appointed. Ezek Hopkins was made commander-in-chief of the fleet; the captains were Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle, and John B. Hopkins. Among the first-lieutenants was John Paul Jones.
Prizes and privateers.—On November 25 Congress adopted regulations regarding prizes, and advised the legislative bodies to erect admiralty courts or to give to the local courts admiralty jurisdiction. It also provided "That in all cases an appeal shall be allowed to Congress, or such person or persons as they shall appoint for the trials of appeals." In March, 1776, Congress resolved "That the inhabitants of these colonies be permitted to fit out armed vessels to cruize on the enemies of these United Colonies." In April Congress adopted a form of commission and instructions to commanders of privateers, and decided to issue letters of marque and reprisal.
First steps in financing the Revolution.—The financing of the Revolution was one of the most difficult tasks confronting Congress. The first step in raising money was taken on June 3, 1775, when a committee was appointed to borrow £6,000 to purchase gunpowder. A committee was also appointed to bring in an estimate of money necessary to be raised. On June 22 Congress resolved to emit $2,000,000 in bills of credit and pledged the "confederated colonies" for their redemption. Once embarked upon the perilous course of paper finance, issue followed issue in rapid succession. At first the promissory notes passed readily, but they soon began to depreciate and eventually became worthless. Nevertheless they carried the Revolution through its most trying years.
Establishment of a post office.—The need of "speedy and secure conveyance of intelligence from one end of the Continent to the other" was recognized and a committee was appointed to consider the establishment of posts. On July 26 the post office was established, Benjamin Franklin being elected Postmaster General. He was authorized to establish "a line of posts ... from Falmouth in New England to Savannah in Georgia, with as many cross posts as he shall think fit."
An Indian policy adopted.—Control of the Indians was vital for the safety of the frontier. It was felt that if the British ministry should induce the tribes to commit hostile acts, the colonies would be justified in entering into alliances with Indian nations. It was hoped that the Iroquois might be kept neutral. "Talks" were prepared, goods to be used as presents were purchased, and money was provided. The frontier was laid off into three departments which were placed under commissioners. The Six Nations and tribes to the north of them were in the northern department; tribes between the Iroquois and the Cherokee were in the middle department; and the Cherokee and Indians south of them were in the southern department.
Enforcement of the Association.—Congress continued the policy of trade restriction. On May 17 it resolved that exports to Quebec, Nova Scotia, the Island of St. Johns, Newfoundland, Georgia except St. John's parish, and to East and West Florida, must cease, and that supplies must not be furnished to the British fisheries. After Georgia appointed delegates, the colony was admitted to the Association. On June 2 Congress resolved that no bill of exchange, draught, or order of any British officer should be honored, and that no money, provisions, or other necessaries be furnished the British army or navy.
On June 26 Congress resolved that, as attempts were being made to divide the people of North Carolina and defeat the Association, it was recommended to that colony to associate for the defence of American liberty and to organize the militia, Congress offering to provide pay for a thousand men in the colony. On July 4 a resolution was adopted that the restraining acts were "unconstitutional, oppressive, and cruel," and that commercial opposition should be made to them.
As doubts had arisen with respect to the true spirit and construction of the Association, on August 1 Congress defined it as follows: "Under the prohibition ... to export to, or import from, the Islands of Great Britain and Ireland, this Congress intends to comprise all exportation to, and importation from, the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, and Mann, and every European island and settlement within the British dominions: and that under the denomination of the West Indies, this Congress means to comprehend all the West India islands, British and foreign, to whatever state, power, or prince belonging, or by whomsoever governed, and also the Summer islands, Bahama Islands, Berbicia and Surinam on the Main, and every island and settlement within the latitude of the southern line of Georgia and the Equator."
The necessity of obtaining supplies forced Congress to make special provisions for the importation of munitions of war. On July 15, 1775, a resolution was adopted that "every vessel importing Gun powder, Salt petre, Sulphur, provided they bring with the sulphur four times as much salt petre, brass field pieces, or good muskets fitted with Bayonets, within nine Months from the date of this resolution, shall be permitted to load and export the produce of these colonies, to the value of such powder and stores aforesd, the non-exportation agreement notwithstanding." On November 2 Congress adopted a resolution to close the ports until March 1, but from time to time special provisions were made for the exportation and importation of goods. The delegates frequently discussed the question of opening the ports, as shown by John Adams's Autobiography which says: "This measure ... labored exceedingly, because it was considered as a bold step to independence. Indeed, I urged it expressly with that view, and as connected with the institution of government in all the States, and a declaration of national independence." On April 6, 1776, the ports were opened to world commerce except trade with Great Britain and her possessions.
Letter to the people of Canada.—The congressional leaders hoped to strengthen their resistance by obtaining the coöperation of the Canadians. A letter "to the oppressed inhabitants of Canada" was approved on May 29. Congress condoled with them "on the arrival of that day, in the course of which, the sun could not shine on a single freeman in all your extensive dominion.... By the introduction of your present form of government, or rather present form of tyranny, you and your wives and your children are made slaves.... We are informed you have already been called upon to waste your lives in a contest with us. Should you, by complying in this instance, assent to your new establishment [the Quebec Act], and a war break out with France, your wealth and your sons may be sent to perish in expeditions against their islands in the West Indies. We yet entertain hopes of your uniting with us in the defence of our common liberty."
Attempts to influence public opinion in the British Empire.—Congress hoped by appeals to the inhabitants of the British Isles to arouse public opinion, thereby bringing pressure to bear upon a Ministry and subservient parliament which had shown themselves to be irresponsible and tyrannous. Addresses to the people of Great Britain and Ireland were accordingly prepared. A letter to the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and liveries of London was drawn up expressing thanks "for the virtuous and unsolicited resentment you have shown to the violated rights of a free people." A letter of friendship was sent to the assembly of Jamaica and a communication regarding commerce was sent to Bermuda.
Statement to the army.—On July 6 Congress approved a declaration setting forth the causes and necessity of taking up arms, which was to be published by Washington upon his arrival at Boston. The declaration presented the usual arguments regarding constitutional rights and gave an account of the progress of events. That independence was desired was denied in the following words: "We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states. We fight not for glory or for conquest.... In our own native land, in defence of the freedom that is our birth right,... and for the protection of our property ... we have taken up arms."
Petition to the king.—The radicals believed that a war of independence could not be avoided, but the conservatives restrained them, hoping that the force of public opinion, a bold show of resistance, and commercial restrictions would change the ministerial policy. Another direct appeal to the king was decided upon and on May 29 resolutions were adopted, "that with a sincere design of contributing by all the means in our power, not incompatible with just regard for the undoubted rights and true interests of these colonies, to the promotion of this most desirable reconciliation, an humble and dutiful petition be presented to his Majesty." The petition, signed on July 8, was couched in respectful terms as the following quotation shows: "We ... beseech your Majesty, that your royal authority and influence may be graciously interposed to procure us relief from our afflicting fears and jealousies, occasioned by the system before mentioned, and to settle peace through every part of your dominions, with all humility submitting to your Majesty's wise consideration whether it may not be expedient for facilitating those important purposes, that your Majesty be pleased to direct some mode, by which the united applications of your faithful colonists to the throne, in pursuance of their common councils, may be improved into a happy and permanent reconciliation; and that, in the mean time, measures may be taken for preventing the further destruction of the lives of your Majesty's subjects; and that such statutes as more immediately distress any of your Majesty's colonies may be repealed."
Reply to Lord North.—As several of the colonies were desirous of knowing the congressional attitude toward Lord North's conciliatory resolution, on July 31 Congress adopted a formal report which closed with the following statement: "When the world reflects how inadequate to justice are these vaunted terms; when it attends to the rapid and bold succession of injuries, which have been aimed at these colonies, when it reviews the pacific and respectful expostulations, which ... were the sole arms we opposed to them; when it observes that our complaints were either not heard at all, or were answered with new and accumulated injury,... when it considers the great armaments with which they have invaded us, and the circumstances of cruelty with which they have commenced and prosecuted hostilities; when these things we say, are laid together and attentively considered, can the world be deceived into an opinion that we are unreasonable, or can it hesitate to believe with us, that nothing but our own exertions may defeat the ministerial sentence of death or abject submission."
Stubborn attitude of the government.—George III and his ministers had gained no wisdom from the rebellious attitude in America. The petition, which had been entrusted to Richard Penn, reached London on August 14, but not until a week later did Lord Dartmouth, the secretary for the colonies, consent to look at a copy of the document and not until September was it presented to the king. On August 23 George III published a proclamation which declared the Americans rebels, and after his examination of the petition, the king saw no reason for revising it. At the next session of parliament acts were passed which prohibited trade with the thirteen colonies, ordered the seizure and confiscation of ships engaged in trade with them, and permitted British commanders to impress sailors from seized vessels.
The German mercenaries.—A reorganization of the cabinet had forced the amiable Dartmouth out of the colonial office, his successor being Lord George Germaine. Lord Rochford was made secretary of state for the southern department, and Lord Suffolk was retained in the northern department to which office fell the business with Germany. The British army was sadly in need of recruits. In Scotland the men of Argyllshire and Inverness-shire readily entered the army for colonial service, but in Ireland and England the people showed little enthusiasm for a war which was intended to subdue their freedom-loving brethren over the seas. To raise the necessary troops the king turned to the continent. An attempt to obtain the use of the Scotch troops which had long been in Dutch service failed and Catherine II refused to furnish Russian infantry, but in Germany British overtures met with better success. The Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, the Duke of Brunswick, and some other needy princes were willing to sell the services of their subjects for British gold. During the war over thirty thousand mercenaries were hired in Germany for service in America. In the words of Lecky, "The conduct of England in hiring German mercenaries to subdue the essentially English population beyond the Atlantic, made reconciliation hopeless, and the Declaration of Independence inevitable."
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