Today in History: The Second Continental Congress Convenes

On May 10, 1775, representatives from the several colonies met in Philadelphia, forming the Second Continental Congress. Its primary purpose was to determine a colonial response to controversial happenings in New England. Massachusetts recently emerged victorious in Concord, where the British confronted the colony for the first time in what would become the American War for Independence.

With the Coercive Acts enacted as a harsh punishment against the most resistant colony, and with war in New England now unavoidable, the other colonies feared the consequences of their forthcoming decisions. Unease spread throughout the colonies, with many officials unsure of how to proceed.

New York was particularly hesitant, facing the gradual buildup of the British navy along its coast. South Carolina was wary of involving itself in a destructive conflict, initially viewing the incident in Massachusetts as an isolated matter. Having already deemed the colonies in “open and avowed rebellion” in an attempt to create an “independent Empire,” and refusing to read any list of colonial grievances, George III had already made his views known.

At first, primarily under the direction of John Dickinson, the delegates endeavored to make one last attempt at reconciliation with Britain, adopting the Olive Branch Petition to be sent to the king at the same time as a justification for the usage of arms at Lexington and Concord, the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. While conservatives such as Dickinson believed the use of force in self-defense was justified, he hoped to commit all he had to end future hostilities and the outbreak of war.

After the failure of the petitions, the delegates considered the ultimate question: whether the colonies should give up all they own and stake their very lives on the prospect of independence, or submit to British policy to bind them in “all ways whatsoever” – a condition Thomas Paine called slavery. The Massachusetts delegation, headed by John Adams, wished for a colonial military to be formed, but at first the other states were extremely reluctant to create a united front against the British.

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