Second Continental Congress | Summary, Achievements, Facts


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      The Second Continental Congress was a convention of colonial delegates that began meeting in May 1775 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

      In this guide, we’ve explained what the Second Continental Congress did, and how it started. We’ve also provided some interesting facts about the Second Continental Congress.

      Leadup and creation

      From September 5 to October 26, 1774, representatives from 12 of the Thirteen Colonies met at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, to discuss the colonists’ response to the Intolerable Acts, and other acts of British overreach.

      The delegates decided to petition King George III to repeal the Intolerable Acts, and to reaffirm their rights as Englishmen, which it was perceived that the government was violating.

      The First Continental Congress also decided to ban the importation of British goods, to try and put economic pressure on the British.

      The Congress resolved to meet again in May 1775 if the situation did not improve, and the British did not repeal the Intolerable Acts.

      King George III ignored the petition, and the British refused to repeal the Intolerable Acts. Soon enough, on April 19, 1775, war erupted in America, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

      The Second Continental Congress

      Congress Voting Independence, 1801 — James Wilson stands in the center, facing left.
      A painting depicting the Second Continental Congress voting on the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

      As was decided at the First Continental Congress, delegates from the Thirteen Colonies met again at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, beginning the Second Continental Congress.

      The Second Continental Congress functioned as the national government of the American colonies throughout the Revolutionary War. The delegates were responsible for:

      • Coordinating the war effort. At the beginning of the war, the American forces were largely made up of independent militias, and were relatively disorganized. The Congress created the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, and appointed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces five days later. The Congress, along with Washington, worked throughout the war to improve the performance of the Continental Army, and overcome supply shortages. The Continental Navy was formed a few months later, on October 13, 1775.
      • Diplomacy and foreign affairs. Delegates such as Benjamin Franklin traveled overseas to manage relationships with key allies, such as France.
      • Issuing currency. To finance the Revolutionary War, the Congress issued paper money known as “Continental Currency.” From 1775, this currency was used to pay soldiers and purchase supplies. However, due to a lack of solid backing and counterfeiting by the British, the value of Continental Currency depreciated rapidly, leading to the phrase “not worth a Continental”.
      • Economics and budgeting. Apart from issuing currency, the Continental Congress was also responsible for all other affairs of the national economy, such as procuring war loans from other countries. However, unlike today’s federal government, Congress did not have the ability to raise federal taxes, and had to rely on states’ financial contributions to fund the war effort.
      • Administrative duties.  Congress performed other administrative duties such as setting up a postal service, managing Indian and veterans’ affairs, administering maritime law, and addressing disputes between states.

      Responsibility for administering law and justice was primarily left up to the states, except for laws that affected the nation as a whole or involved multiple states. For example, laws concerning international trade, and treaties with foreign nations. Individual states mostly retained their sovereignty during this period.

      The Second Continental Congress was attended by many of the most famous names in American history, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Typically, around 60 delegates attended the Congress’s sessions, and many of these men are today recognized as Founding Fathers of the United States.

      The Second Continental Congress was dissolved on March 1, 1781, and was succeeded by the Congress of Confederation.

      Key actions and achievements

      • On July 8, 1775, Congress signed the Olive Branch Petition, which was sent to King George III. The petition conveyed the colonists’ wishes to avoid further fighting, and asked for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The delegates also pledged their loyalty to the British, despite the government’s actions so far. King George III refused to accept the petition, and declared the Thirteen Colonies in open rebellion.
      • On July 4, 1776, Congress passed the Declaration of Independence. The document, drafted by Thomas Jefferson with input from John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, declared the creation of the United States of America – a new country independent from British rule.
      • On November 15, 1777, Congress passed the Articles of Confederation. This document officially established the functions of the national government, and was America’s first constitution. Although the document was adhered to by Congress, it only officially came into force when it was ratified by all thirteen states on March 1, 1781.
      • On February 6, 1778, France officially joined the Revolutionary War on the American side, thanks to the diplomatic efforts of the congressmen, especially Benjamin Franklin. However, it is important to note that France had been helping the Americans long before this date, especially by sending supplies such as gunpowder to the Thirteen Colonies. The Second Continental Congress successfully secured France’s support as early as 1776.


      • The Second Continental Congress often had to move location several times during the war. The Congress started in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, before moving to Henry Fite’s tavern, a large hotel in Baltimore, in the winter of 1776-1777, as the British Army advanced on Philadelphia. Congress returned to Independence Hall in March 1777, however, in September, the British threatened to capture Philadelphia again. Congress moved to the Lancaster Courthouse on September 27, 1777, but only stayed for a single day. They soon moved to the York County Court House in York, Pennsylvania in September, to get further away from the British. Eventually, when the British evacuated Philadelphia in June 1778, Congress returned to Independence Hall.
      • The Congress helped establish spy networks to gather intelligence on British movements and plans. One famous secret agent, Nathan Hale, was commissioned by George Washington but was captured and executed by the British, famously declaring, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
      • The delegates to the Congress came from a diverse range of backgrounds, including lawyers, merchants, farmers, teachers, and philosophers.
      • Initially, representatives from Georgia did not attend the Second Continental Congress, as they continued to have strong economic ties with Great Britain. They later joined the Congress in July 1775.
      • The Second Continental Congress issued the first national Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1777, declaring a day of thanksgiving to celebrate the recent American victory at the Battle of Saratoga.

      Related posts