Independence Hall, home to the Second Continental Congress.
Congress was divided into three factions. One group of conservatives led by John Dickinson, the author of the Letters from a farmer in Pennsylvania, who fought to compel Great Britain to return to pre-1763 conditions. A second group, directed by Thomas Jefferson, believed that “British parliament had no right to exercise authority over us” and considered the king as a sole and final authority. This second group had the support of the majority of members of congress. A third more radical group supported by Samuel Adams and John Adams favored total independence from Great Britain, however it was too radical a demand to be made public.
Delegates of the Second Continental Congress
This congress added new members. Massachusetts added John Hancock; Virginia, Thomas Jefferson and Pennsylvania, James Wilson and Benjamin Franklin. Georgia, the only colony unrepresented in the First Congress, sent one delegate, Lyman Hall. Delegates appointed the same president, Peyton Randolph, and secretary, Charles Thomson. Randolph was summoned back to Virginia leaving the seat of president to election. John Hancock was elected president of congress on May 24th.
The Olive Branch Petition
As the next step to solve the British-American conflict, Congress issued the “Olive Branch Petition” to urge cooperation in finding a solution to the armed conflict. The petition to King George III abided loyalty to him but disapproved colonial policy issued by parliament. The document was originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson but John Dickinson rewrote it arguing that the language was too offensive. It was approved by Congress on July5, 1775 and sent to the King three days later. It claimed that the colonies were not demanding independence but wanted to negotiate taxation and trade policy. Just as the Olive Branch petition was about to reach the King, a confiscated letter written by John Adams reached the hands of the King. In it John Adams expressed his discontent with the petition stating that war was inevitable. The King refused to accept the petition and declared the colonies in a state of rebellion. Read the full text of the Olive Branch Petition.
The Continental Army
New England was growing impatient as they were being attacked by the British and no colony had committed troops to help them. On June 2nd, the resistance government of Massachusetts required the assistance of Congress and they pleaded Congress to take control of its militia. Within two weeks congress raised money to secure provisions for the Massachusetts militia and committed troops from outside New England. Adams nominated George Washington as General to command the newly formed Continental Army.
John Adams wrote in his diary that the spirit of resistance and the sense of union on the onset of war strengthened the fragile union of the colonies. He soon emerged as the leader of the faction that demanded full independence.
The move towards independence was slow but incremental. Congress acted as a de facto government issuing policy, making treaties, printing paper money and directing the army.The major challenge Congress faced was their lack of authority to raise taxes. They depended on individual colonies to fund their expenses.
On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was ratified. By 1775 Congress passed the Articles of Confederation by which colonies would become the states of the new representative government of the United States of America. The Articles of Confederation was adopted on March 1, 1781.