Journals of the Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress: March 16, 1776

March 16, 1776

William Livingston proposes that a day of fast be observed. The language of the Proposal de-emphasizes a direct appeal to tradition and, instead, appeals to the “superintending” and “ruling providence of God” that establish “the rights of America on the most honorable and permanent basis.” Oliver Wolcott notes that Tom Paine’s Common Sense “has had a Surprising run.”

Link to date-related documents.

Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]

Congress responded to the March 14, 1776 letter and enclosed containing a copy of general orders for the defense of New York from Lord Sterling.  

Resolved, That the account of Mr. Price, of Canada, be referred to the Committee of Claims.

A petition from Coquataginta, or Captain White Eyes, was referred to a committee of 3: Lewis Morris, James Wilson, and Richard Henry Lee.

Resolved, That Captain Duncan Campbell, a prisoner at Lancaster, have leave to come to Philadelphia to meet his wife and children, and there reside till further orders.2

William Livingston proposed that a day of fast be observed.  Congress resolved that the full text of the agreement on the day of fast be published.  [Editor’s Note. It was printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette on March 20, 1776.]

Text of the Day of Fasting, Prayer, and Humiliation Agreement [Edited]

In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by the secret machinations and open assaults of an insidious and vindictive administration, it becomes the indispensable duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publicly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God; to confess and deplore our offences against him; and to supplicate his interposition for averting the threatened danger, and prospering our strenuous efforts in the cause of freedom, virtue, and posterity.

The Congress, therefore, considering the warlike preparations of the British Ministry to subvert our invaluable rights and privileges, and to reduce us by fire and sword, by the savages of the wilderness, and our own domestics, to the most abject and ignominious bondage: Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God’s superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprises, on his aid and direction, Do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; and by inclining their hearts to justice and benevolence, prevent the further effusion of kindred blood.

But if, continuing deaf to the voice of reason and humanity, and inflexibly bent, on desolation and war, they constrain us to repel their hostile invasions by open resistance, that it may please the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies, to animate our officers and soldiers with invincible fortitude, to guard and protect them in the day of battle, and to crown the continental arms, by sea and land, with victory and success. Earnestly beseeching him to bless our civil rulers, and the representatives of the people, in their several assemblies and conventions; to preserve and strengthen their union, to inspire them with an ardent, disinterested love of their country; to give wisdom and stability to their counsels; and direct them to the most efficacious measures for establishing the rights of America on the most honorable and permanent basis–That he would be graciously pleased to bless all his people in these colonies with health and plenty, and grant that a spirit of incorruptible patriotism, and of pure undefiled religion, may universally prevail; and this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty, and enabled to transmit them inviolate to the latest posterity. And it is recommended to Christians of all denominations, to assemble for public worship, and abstain from servile labor on the said day.

Congress chose Baron Frederic William de Woedtke to be an additional Brigadier General in the army of “the United Colonies.”

Resolved, That Carpenter Wharton, Commissary, continue, agreeable to his contract, to supply with rations the Pennsylvania battalions serving in New York.

Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, and considered “the Memorial from the traders, and others, inhabitants of Philadelphia, the petitions from Accomac and Northampton, and from J. Blewer and D. Robinson, &c. and after some time spent thereon,”…Resolved, That Congress will, on Monday next… further consider the Memorial from the traders and others, inhabitants of Philadelphia &c.

Adjourned to Monday next, at 10 o’Clock.

Richard Smith’s Diary

The Minutes read and sundry public Letters. Wm. Livingston brought in the Draught of an Order for a General Fast which was agreed to and ordered to be published. The Baron de Woedtke was unanimously elected a Brigadier General and ordered to New York for the present and to go with the Commissioners to Canada.  

Congress resolved itself into a Committee on authorizing Privateers.  Jay offered his Propositions, he and others contended for discriminating Foes from Friends.  Dr. Franklin thought a Declaration of War ought to precede this Business, there was no Determination.  

Oliver Wolcott to Samuel Lyman

I Notice your Observations on the little Pamphlet I sent you. [Tom Paine’s Common sense.] It has had a Surprising run, which is an Evidence it falls in with the general Sentiments of the People.  Court Measures may necessitate the Colonies to realize these Sentiments in general.  What has been done of a public Nature since my last [letter] is a Recommendation to the Assemblies and Conventions to disarm all such as will not associate to defend the American Rights by Arms….By the late pirating Act the Colonies are entirely cast out of the King’s Protection, in an explicit manner.  It behooves us therefore to take Care of ourselves.  As to Commissioners coming over, I believe it is Very certain that their Powers are only to receive the Submissions of the Colonies-and I am Very confident they will not therefore be ever Able to Execute their Trust.

A proclamation for a fast has issued to be kept May17th but no particular Notice is taken of the British Court but only as they fall under the general Denomination of Enemies….

The Business of Congress is Very Various and extensive. We have but a Very little spare Time; the Vast Number of Applications calls for a constant Attention….

Richard Smith to Samuel Tucker

The Congress have this Day appointed a Day of General Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer which you will See in the next Papers.

John Cooper declines accepting the Delegateship & John DeHart has never yet attended….

Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.