Journals of the Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress: January 24, 1776

January 24, 1776

The day is spent discussing and publishing a detailed account of “the repulse our troops met with in their attempt on Quebec, the 31st of December.” A Committee of Seven is created to explore creating a War Office, an existing Committee presents a draft Letter to the Inhabitants of Canada, and a Committee of Five is appointed to prepare an Address to the Inhabitants of the United Colonies.

Link to date-related documents.

Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]

Resolved, That a committee of 7 be appointed–Thomas Lynch, Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge, Benjamin Harrison, Samuel Ward, Samuel Adams, and Robert Morris–to consider the propriety of establishing a war office, and the powers with which the said office should be vested.  Resolved, that arms and money be allocated to Pennsylvania battalions for the Canadian situation.

The committee appointed to prepare a letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Canada, reported a draft which was read, considered, and approved. 

Draft of a Letter to the Inhabitants of Canada [Edited]

1) the American colonists were seeking a redress of grievances “authorized by the British Constitution,” 2) and that “your liberty, your honor and your happiness are essentially and necessarily connected with the unhappy contest.”  And despite the recent setbacks, we will continue to fight together on behalf of “the sacred fire of liberty.”  3) “establish associations in your different parishes of the same nature with those, which have proved so salutary to the United Colonies; to elect deputies to form a provincial Assembly, and that said assembly be instructed to appoint delegates to represent them in this Congress.”

Ordered, That it be immediately translated and printed.

Resolved, That a committee of 5– John Dickinson, James Wilson, William Hooper, James Duane, and Robert Alexander–be appointed to prepare an Address to the Inhabitants of the United Colonies. 

Adjourned to 10 o’Clock tomorrow.

Resolved, That a committee of 7 be appointed to consider the propriety of establishing a war office, and the powers with which the said office should be vested.

The members, Thomas Lynch, Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge, Benjamin Harrison, Samuel Ward, Samuel Adams, and Robert Morris.

The committee appointed to prepare a letter to the inhabitants of Canada, reported a draft which being read and considered, was approved.

Resolved, That a committee of 5 be appointed to prepare an address to the inhabitants of the United Colonies. The members chosen were  John Dickinson, James Wilson, William Hooper, James Duane, and Robert Alexander.

[Editor’s Note. The King’s Speech of October 26, 1775, claiming that the American colonists were declaring independence arrived in Philadelphia on January 8, 1776.  James Wilson’s January 9 motion denying the King’s charge was postponed until January 12 and then until January 24. Some delegates were ready to admit the independency charge was accurate.  But the inclination of the Congress was to deny the charge.  These five representatives chosen were among those slow to move from the English tradition of the right to petition to a novel Declaration of Independence based in the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.  John Dickinson wrote the First Draft and Wilson the final Draft.  We have included Dickinson’s Draft because it captures the difficulty of entertaining petition, reconciliation, and independence.  Dickinson did not sign the Declaration of Independence]

Adjourned to 10 o’Clock to Morrow.

Oliver Wolcott to Philip Schuyler

Your Letter to Congress respecting the unfortunate Death of General Montgomery and the Disaster of his Troops pierced every Heart. I sincerely Sympathize with you the Loss of that brave officer. I know your affliction must be great for in him you have lost a most Valuable Friend and an officer in whom you deservedly put the greatest Confidence-but Such is Heavens Will, and let us Acquiesce in the Divine Providence.

John Dickinson’s Draft Address to the Inhabitants of America [Excerpt]

In brief, the Sentence of universal Slavery has gone forth against You, declaring, “that his Majesty in Parliament hath a Right to bind You by Statutes & Laws in all Cases whatsoever.” Your Fortunes, your Liberties, your Lives-every Thing that can render You or your Posterity happy-all are the Objects of Laws: all must be enjoyed, impaired, or destroyed, as the Laws direct.

From this monstrous & detestable position … Parliament infers, that You are a miserable People, the lowest Class of Wretches in human shape, who have nothing, that of Right You can or ought to carry our own. All the Bounties of Nature, all the Blessings of Providence, your Health, your Strength, the Fertility of your Country, the Commerce of your ports, the Riches of your Seas & Rivers, the Profits of your Industry, Prudence & Virtue, all these they contend, were not designed for your own Use, but for the use of those, who by some inexplicable Mystery of Politics, in opposition to all Reason, Equity & Humanity, hold an unbounded & super riding Authority over your persons and consequently over every possession You have accustomed to consider as yours [etc]…

Before We assembled in last May, and while You were waiting patiently for the Result of his Majesty’s Determinations in Parliament on the humble & dutiful Petition from the late Congress, which one of the principal Secretaries of State told our Agents, “was a decent one & had been graciously received,” the answer was unexpectedly written in Letters of Blood at Lexington and Concord by the unprovoked Murder of our brave Fellow Citizens.

War having been thus wantonly and cruelly begun by our Enemies, We met together at Philadelphia.  Immediately taking the State of these Colonies into our most serious Consideration, and having no other Objects in View, than their Defense and Preservation against the Force actually employed for executing the destructive System before mentioned, and the Restoration of the former Harmony with G.B.

Knowing, that we represented a People who preferred Death to servitude, a People whose Loyalty to their Sovereign and whose Affection to their British Fellow subjects on the other side of the Atlantic, all the Outrages of Administration had not extinguished, We endeavored to combine their magnanimous and generous Sentiments in our Determinations….

We can with Truth, and with- a Pleasure of which every worthy American may be sensible, inform You, that our Counsels have been prosecuted with such spirit & Prudence by all Ranks of People, but more especially by the several Assemblies, Conventions, Councils of Safety & Committees of Observation, whose Zeal & Wisdom merit the highest Applauses from all Lovers of their Country, that these Colonies are now put into a respectable State of Defense….

Upon this same Principle of self preservation, founded on the Laws of Nature, and justified by the Laws of Nations, We approved of an Expedition into Canada, against the British Forces in that Province. With such a dangerous Caution did We proceed in this important Measure, that when the proposal was first made in Congress, it was rejected: But sometime after, receiving undoubted Intelligence that Governor Carleton was by every Artifice exciting our fellow subjects in Canada & the Indians to commence Hostilities… We judged, that We should be unpardonably criminal with Regard to You, who had put your Lives into our Hands, if We hesitated any longer to frustrate as much as We could the cruel Machinations of your Enemies….

It seems needless to us, to give a more particular Detail of our Transactions, and the Events that have happened in Consequence of them, because they have been so regularly communicated to You in the public Prints….

Upon a Review of our whole Conduct We do not recollect a single Step We have taken that appeared so likely to draw down upon Us the Censure of our Constituents, as our Petition to the King. After so many Petitions from assemblies had been treated by Administration with such Uniformity of Contempt; after the Petition from the late Congress had been not only treated in the same Manner, but had been immediately succeeded by Fleets & Armies sent to invade Us, by the Slaughter of our Countrymen and by the Burning of Charlestown, petitioning seemed not only to be useless, but even dangerous, as that Mode of proceeding had so recently produced additional Rage and fresh Violences on the Part of our Enemies.

However, so passionate was our Desire to stop the Effusion of British Blood by British Hands, and to bind up the wounds of this unnatural War, that We resolved once more to lay his American People in all Humility at his Majesty’s Feet, and to strive, if it were possible, to frame our Address in such a manner, as might procure some Degree of Attention to our Supplications. We had been well informed that all the Petitions from America for several Years past, had been rejected, because they insisted on Claims said to be derogatory of the Dignity and Authority of the British Crown & Parliament. We therefore determined to make an Attempt hitherto untried on this Continent, and thro the Representatives of so many united Colonies, to use a Language, which no single Colony had ever condescended to employ. Sincerely aiming at Peace & Reconciliation, We avoided every Expression, that might raise any Obstruction to the attainment of those desired Objects, by irritating Minds, however causelessly, which We wished to sooth into a Temper equally amicable with our own. Accordingly waving even the slightest mention of every Right & every Grievance, We confined ourselves to the measured, & even in the opinion of our Enemies, respectful Terms, of praying for “Relief from our Fears & Jealousies,” and “that his Majesty would be pleased to direct some Mode, by which the united applications of his faithful Colonists, in Pursuance of their Common Councils, might be improved into a happy & permanent Reconciliation….”

It appeared to us too, a fortunate Circumstance, that our Petition would be delivered to his Majesty by so respectable a Gentleman as the honorable Richard Penn Esquire late Governor of Pennsylvania, who had taken no Part in the present unhappy Dispute.
Having in this Manner guarded against every Objection to the gracious Reception of our Petition, We flattered ourselves that it would produce the desired Effect. The Exception taken by some persons against the Reception of the former Petition, because a Congress is a Body not known to the Constitution, we considered as too frivolous to damp our Expectations. We all individually signed the Petition, “in behalf of ourselves and the Inhabitants of these Colonies,” and our President signed as a Common Member, without the Addition of his Office.

So that though We mentioned a Matter of Fact, that the Inhabitants of these Colonies had deputed us to represent them “in general Congress,” yet that Circumstance could not deprive us of the Right of petitioning, which is so solemnly recognized & established by the Bill of Rights. This Right is the same, whether the Petition be that of one or of many. The very Reason alleged in the Exception, is a Reason for receiving a Petition from a Number of his subjects, even though they stiled their Meeting a Congress, which indeed is convertible Terms with the other: For if a Congress is a “Body not known to the Constitution,” the Reception of a Petition from a Congress, is not an Acknowledgment express or implied, of any Powers, Authority or Priveleges as attended or annexed to such a Body: Whereas, on the other side, if the Framers of a Petition usurp or unjustly assume the Name or Title of a Body known to the Constitution, the general Reception of their Address might involve in it in some Degree an Acknowledgment that the Powers, Authority or Privileges attached by the Constitution to such a Body, were vested in the Petitioners. Let the advocates for the mistaken Dignity of the British Government point out the constitutional Principles that warranted the Assembly of the Barons at Runnymede when Magna Charta was granted, the Convention Parliament, that restored Charles the second, and the Convention of Lords & Commons that placed William on the Throne at the Revolution. When they have done this, We shall perhaps be able to apply their Principles to prove the propriety & Legality of a Congress.

As our Enemies well knew, that We were vested with the highest Trust & Power, which the Freemen of their united Colonies could delegate, and acted in pursuance of that Trust & Power for them, We were persuaded Administration could not neglect a Petition in every Respect so unexceptionable, and containing such Grounds for an honorable and advantageous Accommodation with G.B. unless they were resolved to reduce Us to the unconditional submission heretofore dictated to Us, by the Edge of the Sword. This Conduct, as We had by the last Measure exhausted all peaceable Modes of obtaining Redress, We were assured, would convince every Man of Sense upon the Continent, that these Colonies could only rely, in an humble Dependence on Divine Providence, upon their own virtuous & vigorous Exertions for Relief.

Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.