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Definition: Continental Congress from Chambers Dictionary of World History

In North America, the federal legislature consisting of delegates from each of the 13 colonies (the United States after 1776). The First Continental Congress met from 5 Sep to 26 Oct 1774, in response to Britain's passing the Intolerable Acts, and its delegates petitioned the King. When no appropriate response was received, the Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775, shortly after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and created an army. Agreeing to seek independence in the summer of 1776, the Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. The Congress remained the political voice of the young country under the Articles of Confederation until the US Constitution took effect in 1789. → American Revolution; Northwest Ordinance of 1787

Summary Article: Second Continental Congress Address
From Encyclopedia of the Fourth Amendment

On July 8, 1775, a time between the battles of Lexington and Concord and the writing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress sent an address to the inhabitants of Great Britain in hopes of facilitating reconciliation. It was preceded by a letter sent to the British Parliament that relayed the specific grievances the colonists had against Parliament but that had not produced the desired effect of mitigating what the colonists considered to be British tyranny over them. In the address, the colonists appealed to those in England whom they considered to be their fellow countrymen. The address, known as the Second Continental Congress Address, is particularly significant to the Fourth Amendment because it reveals the reverence that Americans held for the right to privacy.

In this address, the colonists accused the British Parliament of subjecting them to an arbitrary code of law that was inconsistent with the British (unwritten) Constitution. Colonists further accused British soldiers of ignoring colonial charters and the Parliament of condemning entire colonies without any form of trial or public accusation. The address asserted that unjust and unwritten powers had been added to the British Constitution that invaded the colonists’ property rights. If parliament was stripping the colonists of their liberties, the address warned, then it might seek to do the same to Britons in the mainland. The colonists concluded that the only excuse for Parliament's behavior was a "wanton exercise of arbitrary power." In resisting the arbitrary power, colonists were attempting to reestablish their "violated laws of justice."

Through this address, the colonists wanted the inhabitants of Great Britain to understand four things regarding their quarrel with Parliament. First, Great Britain was tyrannizing the colonists by stripping them of their liberties. Second, being British servants and lovers of liberty, the colonists had no choice but to fight against the violations of liberty. Third, the colonists were justified in their fighting but continued to hold out hope for reconciliation. Fourth, there was no hope for reconciliation as long as their liberties were withheld. The colonists would not surrender "these glorious privileges."

The colonists emphasized that the British government, which once protected the innocent, was in the late 1700s infringing on their liberties. The Fourth Amendment was subsequently added to the Bill of Rights to prevent the new government, created in 1787 under the Constitution, from engaging in transgressions against its citizens, such as those the British soldiers had carried out against colonists. British soldiers searched and confiscated property under the authority of general warrants that did not establish probable cause. Such actions, the address claimed, deprived citizens of their privacy and subjected them to the like treatment of criminals or slaves.

The crux of the Fourth Amendment is the prevention of such violations of the colonists’ rights, including their right to privacy. These sentiments are present in the use of the word violated. Under the Fourth Amendment, "[T]he right of the people… shall not be violated." The purpose of American government under the 1787 Constitution is not despotism but accountability to the people, and the Fourth Amendment ensures citizens’ rights and liberties.

See also General Warrants; Probable Cause.

  • Rakove, Jack N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.
Stephanie R. Davis
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