This commission formally designated George Washington general and commander in chief of the Continental forces. Washington had been one of the Virginia delegates to the First Continental Congress in the autumn of 1774 and was reelected to the Second Continental Congress in March 1775. As an indication of his willingness to serve, Washington wore a military uniform when he attended the second Congress in May. His service during the French and Indian (or Seven Years') War made Washington an experienced military man who was well-known, especially in the southern colonies, as a superior soldier. He served on the congressional committee that established the army.
On June 15, 1775, Congress elected him commander of the new army and issued him this commission four days later. Under Washington, the colonists were organized into an orderly, battle-ready army rather than the haphazardly organized local militia units that fought prior to his commission. During the eight and a half years Washington served as commander in chief, he refused to accept any salary, taking only reimbursement for his expenses. He took command of the New England troops that had British-occupied Boston surrounded on July 3, 1775, one year and one day before Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.
1. Who was president of the Second Continental Congress?
2. Which colony was not represented when George Washington's commission was issued?
1. The Second Continental Congress organized an army and named a commander in chief, yet they were a year away from declaring independence. Why did the delegates believe it was necessary to organize an army before declaring independence?
2. What other options did the Americans have besides fighting the British? Is there anyway they could have peacefully reconciled?
3. Why was Washington chosen for this post? Explore his life and career up to this point. What challenges did he face in his role?
Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
Marston, Jerrilyn Greene. King and Congress: The Transfer of Political Legitimacy, 1774–1776. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005