Smoke from the battles of Lexington and Concord (Apr. 19, 1775) had scarcely cleared when the Second Continental Congress met on the appointed day in Philadelphia. Armed conflict strengthened the radical element, but only gradually did the delegates swing toward independence. A Continental army was created to oppose the British and, through the agency of John Adams, George Washington was appointed (June 15, 1775) commander in chief. The reconciliation plan offered (1775) by Lord North's government was tabled. A diplomatic representative, Silas Deane, was sent (Mar., 1776) to France. American ports were opened in defiance of the Navigation Acts. Finally, the momentous step was taken: Congress on July 4, 1776, adopted the Declaration of Independence.
The Congress, a young and unsteady organization, had little money and limited means for obtaining more. Nevertheless, it struggled to press the conduct of the war while moving, under force of military circumstances, from place to place; it met at Philadelphia (1775–76), Baltimore (1776–77), Philadelphia again (1777), Lancaster, Pa. (1777), York, Pa. (1777–78), and Philadelphia once more (after 1778). There was friction between Congress and the military leaders, and the soldiers, contemptuous (sometimes justly) of the politicians, constantly agitated for their pay and their rights. The Congress, jealous of its powers, frequently hindered Washington in his strategy.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.