Journals of the Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress: July 31, 1776

July 31, 1776

Congress is concerned about North Carolina and gives further consideration to the Articles of Confederation. Recent arrivals Samuel Huntington and Francis Hopkins are overwhelmed, and John Witherspoon defends “the absolute necessity of union.”

Link to date-related documents.

Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]

Resolved, That the committee for providing medicines be directed to provide, and send forward, such a quantity of medicines as may be necessary for the Hospital in the northern army and the southern department.

The Board of War brought in a report, which was considered and resolved: five tons of musket powder be sent immediately to General Washington at New York:

That the commissary general be directed to furnish with rations, and the deputy pay master general, in Massachusetts, pay any militia, which the general assembly of that state shall call to replace the continental troops.

The committee appointed to enquire into the causes of the miscarriages in Canada, brought in another report which was considered.

Resolved, that Colonel Nicholson, who is said to have deserted his command in Quebec, and left the party to shift for themselves, be submitted to a court of enquiry:

That Colonel Easton’s petition be referred to the Board of Treasury.

The committee appointed to take into consideration the state of North Carolina, brought in their report, which was taken into consideration:

Resolved, That four tons of gun powder and six four pounders, or such others as can be procured, be immediately sent to North Carolina.  And that the troops raised there be part of the continental service.

Resolved, That an order be drawn on the treasurers in favor of Colonel James Easton and Monsieur St. Martin.

The Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into further consideration The Articles of Confederation; and, after some time, John Morton reported, that the committee, had not come to a conclusion,

Resolved, That this Congress will, tomorrow, again resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the articles of confederation.

Adjourned to 9 o’Clock tomorrow.

Samuel Huntington to Jabez Huntington

The Congress are crowded with business & the Heat at this Season in this City is much more Tedious than I ever experienced in Connecticut.

Francis Hopkinson to Samuel Stringer Coale

New Jersey hath thought proper to honor me with a Part of their Delegation in Congress…. The Service is indeed very severe, as we have a vast deal of Business of the first Importance to go through: but if my poor Abilities can be of the least Service to my Country in this her Day of Trial I shall not complain of the Hardship of the Task….

John Witherspoon’s Speech in Congress

The absolute necessity of union to the vigor and success of those measures on which we are already entered, is felt and confessed by every one of us, without exception; so far, indeed, that those who have expressed their fears or suspicions of the existing confederacy proving abortive, have yet agreed in saying that there must and shall be a confederacy for the purposes of, and till the finishing of this war. So far it is well; and so far it is pleasing to hear them express their sentiments.

But I intreat gentlemen calmly to consider how far the giving up all hopes of a lasting confederacy among these states, for their future security and improvement, will have an effect upon the stability and efficacy of even the temporary confederacy, which all acknowledge to be necessary? I am fully persuaded, that when it ceases to be generally known, that the delegates of the provinces consider a lasting union as impracticable, it will greatly derange the minds of the people, and weaken their hands in defense of their country, which they have now undertaken with so much alacrity and spirit. I confess it would to me greatly diminish the glory and importance of the struggle, whether considered as for the rights of mankind in general, or for the prosperity and happiness of this continent in future times….

Perhaps it may be thought that breaking off this confederacy, and leaving it unfinished after we have entered upon it, will be only postponing the duty to some future period? Alas, nothing can exceed the absurdity of that supposition. Does not all history cry out, that a common danger is the great and only effectual means of settling difficulties, and composing differences. Have we not experienced its efficacy in producing such a degree of union through these colonies, as nobody would have prophesied, and hardly any would have expected?

If therefore, at present, when the danger is yet imminent, when it is so far from being over, that it is but coming to its height, we shall find it impossible to agree upon the terms of this confederacy, what madness is it to suppose that there ever will be a time… that it will be done at an after season?…

There is one thing that has been thrown out, by which some seem to persuade themselves of, and others to be more indifferent about the success of a confederacy-that from the nature of men, it is to be expected, that a time must come when it will be dissolved and broken in pieces. I am none of those who either deny or conceal the depravity of human nature, till it is purified by the light of truth, and renewed by the Spirit of the living God. Yet I apprehend there is no force in that reasoning at all. Shall we establish nothing good, because we know it cannot be eternal? Shall we live without government, because every constitution has its old age, and its period? Because we know that we shall die, shall we take no pains to preserve or lengthen out life? Far from it, Sir: it only requires the more watchful attention, to settle government upon the best principles and in the wisest manner, that it may last as long as the nature of things will admit….

For all these reasons, Sir, I humbly apprehend, that every argument from honour, interest, safety and necessity, conspire in pressing us to a confederacy; and if it be seriously attempted, I hope, by the blessing of God upon our endeavours, it will be happily accomplished.

[Editor’s Note. Thomas Jefferson’s Notes of Proceedings in Congress, July 12-August 1, and John Adams’s Notes of Debates, July 30, 1776, suggest that Witherspoon gave this speech on July 30]

John Hancock to George Washington

Upon conversing with General Sullivan, and stating to him the Reasons of Congress promoting General Gates over him, he desired Me to move for leave to withdraw his Application to resign-in which the Congress have acquiesced. He has now Orders to repair to New York, where you will please to assign him such Post of Duty as you shall think proper.

Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.