This Day in History: John Adams advocates for a Continental Army

On or around this day in 1775, John Adams gives a speech before the Continental Congress, urging delegates to create a new, unified American army. His proposal was approved within a matter of days. A Continental Army—the predecessor to the United States Army—was born!

The colonies were still trying to get organized following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. That conflict ended with British soldiers under siege in Boston, surrounded by American forces. These Americans were mostly New Englanders, led by northern commanders. It was not an army that represented a unified America.

Indeed, the Provincial Congress in Massachusetts was worried. The forces then gathered outside of Boston had no real authority structure. Many of them had arrived without any supplies and were reliant upon locals for help. Making matters worse, the government in the colony of Massachusetts was in a bit of turmoil, too, as a result of recent events. The troops were getting more defiant.

Joseph Warren, President of the Provincial Congress, wrote to Samuel Adams: “[U]nless some authority sufficient to restrain the irregularities of this army is established, we shall very soon find ourselves in greater difficulties than you can well imagine.”

The Provincial Congress also wrote the Continental Congress: “We are now compelled to raise an Army, which with the assistance of the other colonies, we hope under the smiles of heaven, will be able to defend us and all America from the further butcheries and devastations of our implacable enemies.” It concluded, “[W]e tremble at having an army (although consisting of our countrymen) established here without a civil power to provide for and controul them.”

For his part, John Adams wanted a Continental Army to be formed, but he had difficulty convincing some of his fellow delegates. We may never know everything that occurred during these congressional discussions. At about this time, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “I wish I could write freely to you my Dear, but I can not.” In Congress, he noted, “We are bound to secrecy.”

Despite Adams’s disclaimers, some information on this matter can be found in an autobiography that he wrote later. This autobiography indicates that tension on the matter sprang from a few factors: First, Congress was split between those who wanted independence and those who wanted reconciliation. Second, regional differences were in play. Adams wrote, “Whether this Jealousy was sincere, or whether it was mere pride and a haughty Ambition, of furnishing a Southern General to command the northern Army. But the Intention was very visible to me, that Col. Washington was their Object . . . .” Finally, Adams may have had problems with another member of his own delegation: John Hancock had ambitions to be the Commander-in-Chief!

Sometime before June 14, Adams gave a speech before the Congress, urging delegates to include the forces then around Boston in the creation of a new army. And Congress finally did exactly that on June 14. It voted to raise multiple companies of riflemen who were to “march and join the army near Boston.” Congress then appointed a committee to draft rules and regulations for the new Continental Army.

Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief soon thereafter . . . . but that is a story for another day! 🙂