The Second Continental Congress Declared Independence on July 4, 1776

The Second Continental Congress convened at the Pennsylvania State House – what we know today as - Independence Hall in May 1775. Less than 14 months later, it adopted the Declaration of Independence - on July 4, 1776.

But the story of how, and why, the Second Continental Congress did so, is captivating, and you can see all of it here in Philadelphia.

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What Were the Key Similarities and Differences Between the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress?

This is a very logical and frequent question. Here are several of the most important similarities and differences, between the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress.

Similarities

Both met in Philadelphia, and in buildings within the same square block.

Both were convened in response to British colonial policies, which the American colonists viewed as both illegal and unjustified.

Many of the same delegates attended both, and there were roughly the same number of delegates at each.

The Congresses first convened, within nine months of each other, in 1774-1775.

Differences

The First Continental Congress was far shorter in duration. It officially convened on September 5, 1774, and adjourned on October 26 of that year - just 51 days, or just over seven weeks later. When it adjourned, it stipulated that it should reconvene on May 10, 1775, if the underlying contentious issues with Britain hadn't yet been resolved. They weren't, and so it reconvened as the Second Continental Congress.

The Second Continental Congress, in contrast, was the de facto American government of the fledgling United States of America, during the entire American Revolution, and beyond. It lasted for several years.

The First Continental Congress met at Carpenters' Hall - while the Second Continental Congress met at the nearby Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall.

The First Continental Congress did not make the momentous decision to break away from the British Empire. The Second Continental Congress opted to declare independence.

Prior to the First Continental Congress, there had been no actual fighting between the British Royal Army and American colonists. But between the First and Second Congresses, fighting had taken place, at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The fact that shots had already been fired, was a major reason in driving the Second Continental Congress to declare independence.

While the delegate lists were similar, they were far from identical. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, for example, was not a delegate to the First Continental Congress. But he was, very memorably, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, during much of which he lived at Declaration House at 7th and Market Streets, a replica of which you can still visit today.

The Second Continental Congress - A Timeline of Key Events

May 10, 1775 - As per its 1774 resolution, the Second Continental Congress reconvenes in Philadelphia, due to the deteriorating relationship, between Britain and the American colonies.

May 18, 1775 - News arrives in Philadelphia, that a group of American militia had successfully seized Fort Ticonderoga from its token British garrison, in upstate New York, in the Hudson River Valley. On the down side, news also arrives in Philadelphia that Britain is sending a huge army and fleet to restore order in its rebellious colonies.

May 26, 1775 - Congress decides, as a last-ditch effort at avoiding war, to send the Olive Branch Petition to King George III. However, it also decides to prepare for war, which many delegates view as increasingly likely.

June 14, 1775 - Congress begins debate on a critical military question - the appointment of a general as commander-in-chief of a Continental Army. John Hancock of Massachusetts anticipates the appointment.

June 15, 1775 - Surprising Hancock, Congress appoints George Washington of Virginia as commander-in-chief.

June 7, 1776 - Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduces a resolution calling for independence.

July 1, 1776 - Debate is resumed on Lee's independence resolutions.

A vote is taken, with each colony casting one ballot, regardless of population, size, or number of delegates present in Philadelphia. The vote ends up 9-2-2, in favor. Nine colonies vote in favor: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. Two colonies vote against it: Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Delaware's two-man delegation was split, so it could not vote. New York abstained.

July 2, 1776 - Pennsylvania and South Carolina decide to drop their opposition, and vote in favor of independence. Caesar Rodney of Delaware heroically rides the 80 miles from Wilmington to Philadelphia, to break Delaware's deadlocked vote, in favor of independence - a ride which launches him into legend, and commemoration on the Delaware quarter, over two centuries later.

Accordingly, Congress passes the resolution declaring independence in principle, but not the final draft of the Declaration. 12 colonies vote in favor, with New York officially abstaining, but its delegation fully supports independence.

July 4, 1776 - The full Congress approves the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. However, only two men sign it that day - John Hancock of Massachusetts, the President of Congress, and Charles Thomson of Pennsylvania, its Secretary, but who was not a delegate.

July 9, 1776 - New York - the only colony which had abstained officially on the independence vote - decides to officially support it.

July 15, 1776 - Word that New York is now officially on board the metaphorical independence express, reaches Philadelphia. All 13 colonies are now officially committed to the common cause.


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