The Continental Congress was a group of delegates who worked together to act on behalf of the North American colonies in the 1770s. Beginning with the Sugar Act in 1764, the British Parliament passed a series of laws that were unpopular with many colonists in the North American colonies. The colonists came together in what came to be known as the Committees of Correspondence to discuss their rights and how to respond to the acts that they believed trampled on those rights. These committees began to work together to forge a cooperative, united approach.
In 1774, matters came to a head after Britain passed the Coercive Acts, a series of acts that the colonists called the Intolerable Acts. These acts, which included the closing of the port of Boston and establishing British military rule in Massachusetts, were intended to punish the colony of Massachusetts for the infamous Boston Tea Party and to force that colony to pay for the lost tea. Britain also hoped to isolate the rebels in Massachusetts and dissuade other colonies from similar acts of defiance. In response, the Committees of Congress called for a meeting of delegates. On September 5, 1774, 56 delegates met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This First Continental Congress represented all the 13 colonies, except Georgia. It included some of the finest leaders in the land, including George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and John Jay. The group elected Peyton Randolph of Virginia as its president.
The group met in secret to discuss how the colonies should respond to what they perceived to be an imposition of their rights. At this meeting, the Congress adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. They declared that their rights as Englishmen included life, liberty, property, and trial by jury. The declaration denounced taxation without representation. The Congress called for a boycott of British goods and petitioned King George III for a remedy for their grievances. Before departing, the Congress agreed to meet again on May 10, 1775.
By the time this Second Continental Congress convened, hostilities had already broken out between British troops and its American colonists at Lexington, Massachusetts, and Concord, Massachusetts. The Congress agreed to a coordinated military response and appointed George Washington as commander of the American militia. On July 4, 1776, the delegates cut all remaining ties with England by unanimously approving the Declaration of Independence.
For the duration of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress served as a provisional, or temporary, government of the American colonies. The Congress drafted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, which went into effect in 1781. Under this government, the Continental Congress gave way to the Confederation Congress, which included many of the same delegates. This group continued to provide leadership to the new country until a new Congress, elected under the new Constitution passed in 1789, went into effect.