in the First and Second Continental Congresses
There were two Continental Congresses. The first lasted barely
six weeks, September 5, 1774 through October 26, 1774.
That should be called the First Continental Congress (see image).
The Second had a much longer
run, May 10, 1775 through March 2, 1789. It must be remembered that
there was no precedent for the gathering of representatives and therefore
there were no rules for the members to follow. It is very exciting
to think about the framework that the members settled on and the
work that they achieved since they started with nothing. In a nutshell,
the “work” was the American Revolution which led to the
establishment of the United States of America. (see map)
In 1774, the unrest
which some residents of the thirteen colonies had been feeling
for as long as a century, and for others just because
of a recent directive from England (such as the Stamp
coming to a boiling point. But that boiling point did not occur
at the same
time or with the same power for each of the colonies. Many colonies
and individual citizens did not have a problem with being ruled
from across the ocean by the King of England. Others had been straining
at the bit for years to protest the actions of a king and his government
in limiting any power of the citizens of the colonies.
is not meant to be a lesson on the enormous work, trials, tribulations
and achievements of the Continental Congresses. Books
have been and are still being written on that subject that are
fascinating and admirable works of scholarship. No, we are here
to discuss Silas Deane and his participation in the First and
In 1774 it was decided by
some of the colonies that discussion should be undertaken about
the role of England
in governing the
At this point there was no majority of residents in the colonies
who felt a break should be made. In fact, quite the opposite
was true. One colony (Georgia) did not even send delegates
to the First
Congress. Most seemed to have felt that something could be
worked out with the crown and all would be well. A little tweaking
all that was needed. So the governments of each colony were
instructed to designate three delegates, and possibly two alternates,
travel to Philadelphia to have some discussions. The Council
Connecticut appointed Eliphalet Dyer, Roger Sherman and Silas
Deane to be its delegates and those three set out at the end
of August 1774 (Docs.
11a and 11b).
In the Documents section
of this web site, Silas Deane Online, you will be able to read
own words letters which describe this journey, his meeting along
the road with delegates from other
New England colonies and Silas’s first
impressions of the men who became the heroes of a new nation.
Also in those letters
are wonderful descriptions of the arduous journey, the lay
of the land and the cities and towns that the group traveled
for yourself Silas’s thoughts on George Washington
and John Adams and many other heroes you have been learning
7, 8 and
And remember that at this point Silas was on exactly the
same level as these national heroes.
he not considered
one himself today? What events later in his life changed
In October of 1774 the First
Continental Congress ended.
The Second Continental Congress began meeting on May 10,
sent the same three delegates who had been appointed for
the First (Docs.
11a and 11b). The mood of the delegates at the Second
much more radical than at the first. Even Georgia was now
the relationship with the crown. The event which changed
the tone was the attack by England at Lexington and Concord.
change of tone, Connecticut eventually had second thoughts
about its delegates. Remember, there were no rules yet
written so the
Connecticut General Assembly, in order to get delegates
that thought exactly
as it did, decided that it had the authority to change
the delegates. Deane and Dyer were not even nominated. Sherman
remained a Connecticut
representative, now joined by Oliver Ellsworth and Oliver
Wolcott. In the Documents section of Silas Deane Online
you can read
Governor John Trumbull’s letter of explanation (Doc.
14) and then Deane’s
letters to his wife expressing his disappointment but also
accepting his fate (Doc.
That first session of the
Second Continental Congress adjourned in December 1775
for a recess with Deane no longer an official
But he did not return to Connecticut with the other delegates,
Dyer and Sherman. Instead he remained in Philadelphia,
working hard on
the Congress’s Naval Committee (Doc.
15) and in March
of 1776 Deane was thought highly enough by members of the
Congress to be
appointed to represent the colonies in France (Doc.
Refer to the Biography and Musings lessons of this
website to learn more
of Silas Deane’s business in France.
We at Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum are often asked why Silas
Deane did not sign the Declaration of Independence
since we say he
was a member
of the Second Continental Congress. Other visitors
come with the mis-information that he was a signer of that
that you have read this lesson, can you answer the
Why was Silas Deane not a signer of the Declaration
ANSWER: By the time the Declaration
of Independence was signed by the members of the Second Continental
July 4, 1776, Silas Deane was no longer a member
the Congress but was in France as an agent of the
Secret Committee of
the Congress (Doc.
17). In fact, Silas Deane had
not even received
notification of the Declaration until August 1776
SIDEBAR: GOOD ADVICE FROM
Read a portion of Silas Deane’s letter of July 20, 1775 to
his wife Elizabeth (Doc.
67). This was written years before car insurance
and dangerous traffic were on the roads, but it should teach all
young drivers a lesson – neither a borrower or a lender be!
Silas should never have loaned his carriage to Roger Sherman.