Second Continental Congress: May 20, 1776
May 20, 1776
1)Georgia is finally represented, 2) Maryland delegate Thomas Stone abandons the tactics of delay on the Preamble to the Congressional Resolution to create state governments, 3) a popular demonstration in Philadelphia in response to the Resolutions is criticized by Stone and praised by Elbridge Gerry and John Adams, and 4) the middle colonies emerge as critical whether reconciliation or independence will be chosen.
Link to date-related documents.
Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]
The Provincial Congress of Georgia, chose five persons to represent the Province in the Continental Congress, for the Term of nine Months: Archibald Bulloch, John Houstoun, Lyman Hall, Button Gwinnett, and George Walton. That three of the Delegates be a Quorum, but in case three shall not be present, one or more of the Delegates being present, shall be sufficient to represent Georgia. Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett, in attendance today.
A letter from General Lee, dated Williamsburg, 10 May with three papers enclosed, was laid before Congress, read and referred to a committee of five: Richard Henry Lee, James Wilson, Arthur Middleton, Robert Treat Paine, and Oliver Wolcott.
Certain resolutions from South Carolina, respecting the battalions raised in that colony; and the manner in which commissioners, coming from England, are to be received and treated, were laid before Congress, and read.
The resolutions respecting the battalions raised was referred to a committee of five: John Adams, Roger Sherman, William Floyd, William Livingston, and John Morton.
The proceedings of the Committee of Secret Correspondence were read under the injunction of secrecy.
The Congress then resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to consider the state of the United Colonies; and, after some time, Benjamin Harrison reported that the committee had not completed their work.
Resolved, That this Congress will, tomorrow, again resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the state of the United Colonies.
Resolved, That Edward Rutledge, at his request, be discharged from serving on the Marine Committee, and that Arthur Middleton be his replacement.
Adjourned to 10 o’Clock tomorrow.
Elbridge Gerry to James Warren
In this colony [Pennsylvania] the spirit of the people is great, if a judgement is to be formed by appearances. They are well convinced of the injury their assembly has done to the continent by their instructions to their delegates. It was these instructions which induced the middle colonies and some of the southern to backward every measure which had the appearance of independency: to them is owing the delay of Congress in agitating questions of the greatest importance, which long ere now must have terminated in a separation from Great Britain: to them is owing the disadvantages we now experience for want of a full supply of every necessary for carrying on the war. Alliances might have been formed, and a diversion been given to the enemy’s arms in Europe or the West Indies, had these instructions never appeared. But they have had their effect; and while we endeavor to recover the continent from the ill consequences of such feeble politics, we ought to show the cause of such miserable policy.
It appears to me that the eyes of every unbeliever are now open; that all are sensible of the perfidy of Great Britain, and are convinced there is no medium between unqualified submission and actual independency. The colonies are determined on the latter. A final declaration is approaching with great rapidity. May the all-wise Disposer of events so direct our affairs that they may terminate in the salvation of these afflicted colonies.
Thomas Stone to James Hollyday [Maryland Committee of Safety]
The Dye is cast. The fatal Stab is given to any future Connection between this Country & Britain….We postponed the Question somedays, and did everything to prevent that destructive Precipitancy which seems so agreeable to the Genius of some. Further delay could not be obtain[ed] although there was the strongest reason for it. Two Colonies being unrepresented & a representation shortly expected, it was in vain to reason or expostulate. The Majority of Colonies attending was known to be for the Proposition & the opportunity not to be let slip. We conceived ourselves bound to withdraw from Congress immediately on the Vote upon the Preamble, & have not voted since. Having once determined in our Judgments against the Propriety of the Measure and of its Tendency, it became us not to hesitate obeying the Instructions of our constituents which in all Cases with me (& I am persuaded with my Brother Delegates) are sacred…. A little Time & delay might be profitably used…. I wish much to be with you & to remain with you to share in all your perplexities, Difficulties & Dangers be they what they may….
The People of this Province [Pennsylvania] are thrown into the most violent Convulsions by the resolve of Congress sent you, the result of which it is impossible to foresee. A considerable number of People met this morning in Consequence of an hand Bill for that purpose, & determined that Government ought to be assumed, the Assembly suppressed, the Instructions to the Delegates rescinded & a Convention called for the purpose of judging of the Propriety of forming a new Government, & to form the same. This Meeting as I am informed consisted of the people only who are of one side, & that all their Determinations were very unanimous….
Should the most reasonable Terms be offered preserving the subordinate relation of this Country to Britain I much question if they would be accepted by the present haughty Temper of America….
I am principled against quitting any Post where my Countrymen think I may be useful however disagreeable it may be to myself or whatever my own Opinion may be on the Subject provided it be not against my Principles of Morality, in which I will ever retain the absolute Dominion. [On May 21 the Maryland Convention reelected Stone to represent Maryland in Congress “until the end of the next session of Convention.”]
John Adams to James Warren
Every Post and every Day rolls in upon Us Independence like a Torrent. The Delegates from Georgia made their Appearance, this Day, in Congress, with unlimited Powers, and these Gentlemen themselves are very firm. South Carolina has erected her Government and given her Delegates ample Powers, and they are firm enough. North Carolina have given theirs full Powers after repealing an Instruction given last August against Confederation and Independence. This Days Post has brought a Multitude of Letters from Virginia, all of which breath the same Spirit. They agree they shall institute a Government-all are agreed in this they say. Here are four Colonies to the Southward, who are perfectly agreed now with the four to the Northward. Five in the Middle are not yet quite so ripe. But they are very near it. I expect that New York will come to a fresh Election of Delegates in the Course of this Week, give them full Powers, and determine to institute a Government. [See James Duane to John Jay, May 18, 1776]
The Convention of New Jersey, is about Meeting, and will assume a Government.
Pennsylvania Assembly meets this Day and it is Said will repeal their Instruction to their Delegates which has made them So exceeding obnoxious to America in general, and their own Constituents in particular.
We have had an entertaining Maneuvre, this Morning in the State House Yard. The Committee of the City Summoned a Meeting at Nine O’Clock in the State House Yard, to consider of the Resolve of Congress of the fifteenth instant. The Weather was very rainy, and the Meeting was in the open Air, like the Comitia of the Romans. A Stage was erected, extempore for the Moderator, and the few orators to ascend….It was the very first Town Meeting, I ever Saw in Philadelphia and it was conducted with great order, Decency and Propriety….The Drift of the whole was that the assembly was not a Body properly constituted, authorized and qualified to carry the Resolve for instituting a new Government into Execution and therefore that a Convention should be called, and at last they voted to support and defend the Measure of a Convention, at the utmost Hazard, and at all Events &c. [The Pennsylvania Assembly changed the instructions to its Congressional delegates on June 8, 1776]
The Delaware Government, generally is of the Same opinion with the best Americans, very orthodox in their Faith and very exemplary in their Practice. [See Caesar Rodney to John Haslet, May 14, 1776] Maryland remains to be mentioned. That is so eccentric a Colony-some times so hot, sometimes so cold-now so high, then so low-that I know not what to say about it or to expect from it. I have often wished it could exchange Places with Halifax. When they get a going I expect some wild extravagant Flight or other from it. To be sure they must go beyond everybody else, when they begin to go.
What do you think must be my sensations, when I see the Congress now daily passing Resolutions, which I most earnestly pressed for against Wind and Tide, Twelve Months ago? And which I have not omitted to labor for, a Month together from that Time to this?… I assure you this is no Gratification of my Vanity….
Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant to John Adams
Ever since I have seen the Inside of the Congress I have trembled. Nothing short of a radical Change in the Councils of our Middle Colonies can I am persuaded, by any Means save us. I preach this Doctrine continually; but I cannot make so many Proselytes as Parson Whitfield. With us the old Demagogues I fear are against us. Next Week is our Election. [New Jersey] I wish I may obtain a Seat in the Convention; but am not over sanguine in my Hopes: though I believe I could easily accomplish it by going out of my present County into the one I came from. [Sergeant was re-elected on June 22, but declined his selection]
Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.