Journals of the Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress: May 21, 1776

May 21, 1776

Congress is concerned with the 1) invasion by foreign mercenaries, 2) treatment of prisoners, 3) Canadian situation, 4) invasion of Detroit, 5) arrival of Washington, and 5) emission of five million dollars.  Josiah Bartlett fears “convulsions” in Pennsylvania.  Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee embrace independence.

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Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]

Resolved, That three letters, and papers, from General Washington, and one each from William Palfrey, paymaster general, and John Langdon be referred to a committee of 5: John Adams, William Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Roger Sherman. That the committee also prepare an address to the foreign mercenaries who are coming to invade America. Another petition was presented to Congress and read, together with a proclamation of General Howe. Resolved, That they be referred to the committee of five just created.

The Congress then resumed consideration of the report of the committee on prisoners, especially the way prisoners are to be treated. The Report was read, debated, amended, and agreed to.  Congress passed a “Form of Parole” that was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on June 5, 1776.

The committee, to whom the letter, from General Lee, of the 10th, was referred, brought in their report, which was read, and after some debate, Resolved, That further consideration be postponed till the arrival of General Washington.

The Committee to whom the letter from General Lee [May 10, 1776] with its enclosures were committed recommended that an expedition against 1) Detroit ought immediately to be undertaken, and 2) Niagara be for the present suspended.

The committee to whom were referred the letters and papers from General Washington, Major General Schuyler, and the commissioners of Congress in Canada, brought in their report, which was taken into consideration; and after some time spent thereon, Resolved, That further consideration be postponed till tomorrow.

The committee for superintending the treasury reported how to put into effect the resolution of Congress for emitting 5 million dollars.

Adjourned to 10 o’Clock tomorrow.

Josiah Bartlett to John Langdon

Yesterday the City met agreeable to notification in the field before the State House, a stage being erected for the Moderator and the chief speakers. I am told they unanimously voted that the present House of Assembly are not competent to changing the form of Government and have given orders for calling a Convention. Pennsylvania Assembly was to meet yesterday. I fear some convulsions in the Colony. The infamous instructions given by the Assembly to their Delegates which they, at their last meeting refused to alter, is the cause of their losing their confidence of the people. [See also John Adams to James Warren, May 20, 1776]

Richard Henry Lee to Charles Lee

Excessive writing and constant attention to business afflicts me a good deal I own, but they are far from depressing my spirits in the great cause of America, and if you were to consult with our moderate men in and out of doors you would think me possessed of something else than languor. The mischievous instructions from some Colonies have indeed fettered Congressional Councils, but many of these are done away, and the rest will be so immediately. The Resolve of Congress respecting government hath wrought a great change hereabouts, and very soon the Public affairs will wear a different aspect, and be directed with better spirit. I expect an expedition to Detroit will be undertaken, Niagara will probably be suspended, as the Indians thereabout wish it to continue a place of trade yet awhile.

Francis Lightfoot Lee to Landon Carter

Perhaps it would be well if Congress was allowed to form a Government for the Colonies; but it does not pretend nor will ever be allowed, to interfere with their internal policy. All it can do is to recommend it to them to establish such governments as will best contribute to their happiness, & this is done. However, as I find there are many good men in the Convention I hope they will make such an establishment…. The violent struggle we have to go through this summer, the hardships we must suffer, make it necessary to cultivate the utmost harmony among ourselves.

This & the adjoining Colonies are going fast into Independency & constituting new Governments convinced of the necessity of it, both for the security of internal peace & good order; and for the vigorous exertion of their whole force against the common Enemy. I agree with you that the arbitrary & cruel proceedings of the British Court And The slavish indolence of the people of England, has made more independents, than Common Sense…. Letters & intelligence from London received yesterday, leave no room to doubt of the diabolical intentions of Administration against us & their people are so plunged in Corruption, & willing slavery that nothing is to be expected from them so that we must stand entirely upon our own legs for the future. Indeed if we had our choice, I think any further connection with them, would be infamy & pollution.

Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.