Journals of the Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress: March 20, 1776

March 20, 1776

Congress spends most of the day clarifying the instructions to commissioners elected to travel to Canada.  Delegates Joseph Hewes and James Deane are pessimistic about reconciliation with Britain.

Link to date-related documents.

Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]

A letter from Lord Stirling, of the 16th, was presented to Congress, and read.1

Resolved, That three members be elected — James Duane, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Johnson–to consider the propriety of a war office, since the original three members “are necessarily absent; by reason of sickness.”

Congress resumed the consideration of the instructions given to the commissioners appointed to go to Canada, which being debated by paragraph, were agreed to.


You are, with all convenient dispatch, to repair to Canada, and make known to the people of that country, the wishes and intentions of the Congress with respect to them.

Represent to them, that the arms of the United Colonies, having been carried into that province for the purpose of frustrating the designs of the British court against our common liberties, we expect not only to defeat the hostile machinations of Governor Carleton against us, but that we shall put it into the power of our Canadian brethren, to pursue such measures for securing their own freedom and happiness, as a generous love of liberty and sound policy shall dictate to them.

Inform them, that in our judgment, their interests and ours are inseparably united; That it is impossible we can be reduced to a servile submission to Great Britain without their sharing our fate: And, on the other hand, if we shall obtain, as we doubt not we shall, a full establishment of our rights, it depends wholly on their choice, whether they will participate with us in those blessings, or still remain subject to every act of tyranny, which British ministers shall please to exercise over them. Urge all such arguments as your prudence shall suggest, to enforce our opinion concerning the mutual interest of the two countries, and to convince them of the impossibility of the war being concluded to the disadvantage of these colonies, if we wisely and vigorously co-operate with each other.

To convince them of the uprightness of our intentions towards them, you are to declare, that it is our inclination, that the people of Canada may set up such a form of government, as will be most likely, in their judgment, to produce their happiness: And you are, in the strongest terms, to assure them, that it is our earnest, desire to adopt them into our union, as a sister colony, and to secure the same general system of mild and equal laws for them and for ourselves, with only such local differences as may be agreeable to each colony respectively….

You are further to declare, that we hold sacred the rights of conscience, and may promise to the whole people, solemnly in our name, the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion; and, to the clergy, the full, perfect, and peaceable possession and enjoyment of all their estates; that the government of everything relating to their religion and clergy, shall be left entirely in the hands of the good people of that province, and such legislature as they shall constitute; Provided, however, that all other denominations of Christians be equally entitled to hold offices, and enjoy civil privileges, and the free exercise of their religion, and be totally exempt from the payment of any tithes or taxes for the support of any religion.

Inform them, that you are vested, by this Congress, with full powers to effect these purposes; and, therefore, press them to have a complete representation of the people assembled in convention, with all possible expedition, to deliberate concerning the establishment of a form of government, and a union with the United Colonies….

You are to establish a free press, and to give directions for the frequent publication of such pieces as may be of service to the cause of the United Colonies….

Lastly, you are by all the means you can use, to promote the execution of the resolutions now made, or hereafter to be made, in Congress.

Resolved, That the following additional Instructions be given to the commissioners.

You are empowered and directed to promote and encourage the trade of Canada with the Indian Nations, and to grant passports for carrying it on as far as it may consist with the safety of the troops, and the public good.

You are also directed and authorized to assure the inhabitants of Canada, that their commerce with foreign nations shall, in all respects, be put on an equal footing with, and encouraged and protected in the same manner, as the trade of the United Colonies.

You are also directed to use every wise and prudent measure to introduce and give credit and circulation to the continental money in Canada.

Resolved, That the memorial from the Indian traders, residing at Montreal, be delivered to the Commissioners going to Canada….

Resolved, That Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Samuel Chase be appointed to confer with Mr. Wrixon, to examine into his military abilities, and inquire whether he is willing to engage in the service of the United Colonies, and report to Congress.

Colonel St. Clair informed Congress that three persons had declined their commissions in his battalion.  Congress accepted the recommendations from the committee on qualifications with respect to replacements. 

Resolved, That the committee of safety of New Jersey remove the prisoners from Trenton subject to the regulations formerly made respecting prisoners.

Resolved, That all officers who refuse the parole terms ordered by Congress be imprisoned.

The committee appointed to procure the making of muskets, &c. to whom part of Colonel Dayton’s letter respecting the quality of the arms taken by Colonel Heard was referred delivered their report.  Congress clarified the resolution of March 14 concerning the use of firearms taken in the “disarming of disaffected persons.”

The report of the Committee appointed to consider 1) the best ways and means of supporting the army in Canada and 2) a petition from John Secord were read and postponed until tomorrow.

Congress accepted the report of The Committee of Claims.

Adjourned to 10 o’Clock tomorrow.

Joseph Hewes to Samuel Johnston

The act of Parliament prohibiting all Trade & Commerce between Great Britain and the Colonies has been lately brought here by a Mr. Temple from London.  It makes all American property found on the Sea liable to Seizure & confiscation and I fear it will make the Breach between the two Countries so wide as never more to be reconciled…. I see no prospect of a reconciliation, nothing is left now but to fight it out, and for this we are not well provided, having but little ammunition, no Arms, no money, nor are we unanimous in our Councils; we do not treat each other with that decency and respect that was observed heretofore.  Jealousies, ill natured observations and recriminations take the place of reason and Argument, our Tempers are soured, some among us urge strongly for Independency and eternal separation, others wish to wait a little longer and to have the opinion of their Constituents on that subject.  

James Duane to Robert R. Livingston

Whether we shall be reconciled to Great Britain, or separated from her perhaps forever is a question which a few weeks may probably decide, and on which the Happiness of millions may depend.  I wish for Peace if it can be accompanied by Liberty and Safety.  I expect little from the Justice and less from the Generosity of Administration; but I am not without Hopes that the Interest of Great Britain will compel her ministers to offer us reasonable Terms.

Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.