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History Brief: The Second Continental Congress and the Olive Branch Petition

In this video, Second Continental Congress meets and George Washington is selected to lead the Continental Army.

For teaching resources to accompany this video series, click here:


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In this video:

King George III refused to consider the concerns colonial leaders had mentioned in the Declaration and Resolves, and in May of 1775, delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met again in Philadelphia for what became known as the Second Continental Congress. What did the delegates discuss there?
Although far from unified, the delegates had several pressing issues to deal with. Some called for war with Britain, while others insisted that peace should still be sought. Once again, compromise would be needed. While they did not vote to openly rebel against the Crown, the representatives expressed their growing dissatisfaction with George III and Parliament.
The delegates decided to request that each of the 13 colonies draft a new state constitution, and the large militia besieging Boston was declared the Continental Army. Since the “soldiers” were all New Englanders, many argued that someone from New England should be named commander.

John Hancock felt he should be given command since he was one of the wealthiest and most respected men from the area, but John Adams saw the importance of naming a non-Yankee General. He was determined to name a stout, engaging militia leader from Virginian to be the commander.

First, Adams’ candidate was 43. He wasn’t too old to function, but not too young to command respect. He had been a leading figure in the colonial resistance for several years and had substantial military experience during the French and Indian War. In fact, he had more military experience than any other American.

Finally, he was Virginian. His selection would show that the struggle wasn’t merely a Boston or New England thing, but something all of the colonies supported. Upon being nominated, the Virginian left the room so the others could discuss openly. After the debate, George Washington was unanimously voted the leader of the Continental Army.

In July, Congress sent the Olive Branch Petition to George III as a final attempt to avoid conflict. It blamed Parliament for the war and asked George III to call off the fighting for peace talks. John Adams was disgusted by the document but signed it anyway.

George III refused the petition and sent the Royal Navy to blockade the colonies. He also authorized Parliament to hire 18,000 German Hessians from Europe. These professional soldiers for hire, known as mercenaries, had a particularly ruthless reputation, and the king believed the Hessians would “bring the colonists to their knees.” When word of the king’s agreement with several German princes reached the colonies, many argued that the act was solid proof that George III was an enemy of American liberty.

As General Washington began to put his staff together in preparation to depart for Boston, news of a major battle and British atrocities in and around the city began to trickle in. Benjamin Franklin, who had left Britain to take a seat in Continental Congress, wrote one of his companions back in London:

Mr. Strahan: You are a Member of Parliament and one of that majority which has doomed my country to destruction. You have begun to burn our towns and murder our people. Look upon your hands! They are stained with the blood of your relations! You and I were long friends. You are now my enemy and I am

B Franklin
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