American Revolution: Continental Congress

It is October 1777. Delegates from each of the 13 colonies convene in York, Pennsylvania during the fifth session of the Second Continental Congress. The Continental Army has just claimed victory at the decisive Battle of Saratoga, creating hope amidst the colonists’ previously inadequate efforts.

Of course, the Battle of Saratoga was part of a long-standing conflict between Britain and the 13 colonies. Before then, the lead-up to the revolution included a series of statutes passed by the British government—including the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, and Intolerable Acts—that placed regulations on the American colonial economics throughout the late 1760s and the early 1770s (Britannica 2020). Colonists then convened at the first Continental Congress in 1774, calling for the reversal of the Intolerable Acts and establishing a boycott of British goods. The British government responded by sending more troops to the colonies, increasing tensions (Smith 2021). Eventually, the conflict between the American colonies and the British empire erupted in April 1775 at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. (Britannica 2020). The following May, the Second Continental Congress met for the first time and assumed the role of the de facto government of the American colonies. It passed the Declaration of Independence and the Model Treaty for establishing foreign relations (Office of the Historian 2021). The Second Continental Congress functioned as a national government, appointing ambassadors and generals, establishing diplomatic relations, and raising an army (Britannica 2020).

Now, in late 1777, the war has continued, and the Continental Congress has maintained its role as a government. The colonists have just won the Battle of Saratoga, where British General John Burgoyne attempted to invade New England from Canada. Meanwhile, American General Horatio Gates and his forces managed to surround the British and forced them to surrender (Smith 2021). Although there is optimism from this win, delegates find themselves at a crossroads. Likewise, tensions occur between delegates, as each colony functions like a sovereign unit.

At this critical time, delegates must develop a comprehensive plan to continue the newfound momentum from Saratoga. Delegates will have to make crucial decisions around finance, military leadership, and diplomatic relations. First, the Congress struggles to finance the war efforts. During the first phase of the war, states made no financial contributions, and the Congress-issued Continental Dollar has now lost 70% of its value in an episode of mass inflation (Baack 2001). Thus, delegates should consider restructuring finance in the colonies. However, they must exercise caution as to not reflect the restrictive policies of the British government, as described above. Second, the Congress is under pressure to address military leadership and organization. General Gates has informed Congress of his victory directly rather than notifying George Washington, commander-in-chief (NPS 2021). Washington, meanwhile, has recently lost the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown (Stockwell 2021). Delegates must assess these tensions and consider whether it should adopt new military leadership. Likewise, they must examine the various inefficiencies of the Continental Army and consider possible reforms, such as pensions, quotas, and promotion systems. Finally, the recent win at Saratoga may open up opportunities for foreign aid and assistance. The Congress has already developed the Model Treaty as an outline for commercial relations, but it does not contain provisions for direct military support (Office of the Historian 2021). Delegates must develop a comprehensive plan for establishing relations and whether they should also seek direct military support.


  • How can Congress maintain economic freedoms and win the war of independence?
  • Does your colony have the means to contribute more to the military effort?
  • What are the potential ramifications of economic policies in a postwar era?
  • What economic and military policies does your colony already have in place, if any?
  • What is the social structure of your colony and does this limit your stances?
  • Should America take an isolationist stance, or should it extend foreign relations?


  • Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott
  • Delaware: George Read
  • Georgia: George Walton, Lyman Hall
  • Maryland: William Paca, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Samuel Chase
  • Massachusetts: John Hancock, John Adams, Samuel Adams
  • New Hampshire: William Whipple
  • New Jersey: John Witherspoon, Abraham Clark
  • New York: Philip Schuyler, John Jay
  • North Carolina: William Hooper, James Duane
  • Pennsylvania: Benjamin Rush, Robert Morris, James Wilson
  • Rhode Island: William Ellery
  • South Carolina: Henry Laurens, Thomas Heyward Jr.
  • Virginia: Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison V


Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, 2016. “American Archives.” Northern Illinois University Digital Library.

Library of Congress, 2021. “Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789.” United States Library of Congress.

Office of the Historian. 2021. “Continental and Confederation Congresses.” History, Art, & Archives United States House of Representatives.

Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute. 2021. “The Model Treaty, 1776.” United States of America Department of State, 2021.

The Avalon Project. 2008. “18th Century Documents: 1700-1799.” Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library.


Baack, Ben. 2001. “Forging a National State: The Continental Congress and the Financing of the War of American Independence.” The Economic History Review, November 2001.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Overview of the American Revolution”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 Sep. 2020,

National Park Service. 2021. “Horatio Gates.” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2021.

Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute. 2021. “The Model Treaty, 1776.” United States of America Department of State, 2021.

Smith, Troy. 2021. “Battle of Saratoga.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2021.

Stockwell, Mary. 2021. “Letter to the Camp Committee.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2021.