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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 2002

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Conception of a "Congress."]

Before the war could be fought, some kind of civil organization had to be formed. On May 10, 1775, three weeks after the battle of Lexington, the second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia, and continued, with occasional adjournments, till May 1, 1781. To the minds of the men of that day a congress was not a legislature, but a diplomatic assembly, a meeting of delegates for conference, and for suggestions to their principals. To be sure, this Congress represented the people, acting through popular conventions, and not the old colonial assemblies; yet those conventions assumed to exercise the powers of government in the colonies, and expected the delegates to report back to them, and to ask for instructions. Nevertheless, the delegates at once began to pass resolutions which were to have effect without any ratification by the legislatures. Of the nine colonies which gave formal instructions to their representatives, all but one direct

ed them to "order" something, or to "determine" something, or to pass "binding" Acts.

[Sidenote: Advisory action.]

Thus Congress began rather as the adviser than as the director of the colonies; but it advised strong measures. On May 30, 1775, a plan of conciliation suggested by Lord North was pronounced "unreasonable and insidious." On the request of the provincial congress of Massachusetts Bay, it recommended that body to "form a temporary colonial government until a governor of his Majesty's appointment will consent to govern the colony according to its charter." June 12, Congress issued a proclamation recommending "a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer." Like the First Continental Congress, it framed several petitions and addresses to the British people and to the king of Great Britain. During the first six weeks of its existence, therefore, the Second Continental Congress acted chiefly as the centre for common consultation, and as the agent for joint expostulation.

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