The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution. The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress lists 343 men who attended the Continental Congress, including the future U.S. Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, along with another 90 who were elected as delegates but never served. The Congress met from 1774 to 1789 in three incarnations.
The First Continental Congress, which met briefly in Philadelphia in 1774, consisted of 56 delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies that would become the United States. Convened in response to the Coercive Acts passed by the British Parliament in 1774, the delegates organized an economic boycott of Great Britain in protest and petitioned the king for a redress of grievances.
By the time the Second Continental Congress met in 1775, shooting in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) had begun. Moderates in the Congress still hoped that the colonies could be reconciled with Great Britain, but a movement towards independence steadily gained ground. Congress established the Continental Army (June 1775), coordinated the war effort, issued a Declaration of Independence in July 1776, and designed a new government in the Articles of Confederation, which were ratified in 1781.
The ratification of the Articles of Confederation gave the Congress a new name: the Congress of the Confederation, which met from 1781 to 1789. The Confederation Congress helped guide the United States through the final stages of the war, but in peacetime the Congress declined in importance. Under the Articles, the Confederation Congress had little power to compel the individual states to comply with its decisions. Increasingly, delegates elected to the Congress declined to serve, the leading men in each state preferred to serve in state government, and the Congress had difficulty establishing a quorum. When the Articles were replaced by the United States Constitution, the Confederation Congress was superseded by the United States Congress and people started to have a war between each other.
Delegates who attended
The following table shows the names of the delegates who at some point attended the Continental Congress. Because a delegate did not necessarily take his seat in Congress in the same year that he was elected, nor did he necessarily stay for the duration of his term, there are slight discrepancies in the sources regarding the years of service for some delegates. Only those years that the delegate actually attended Congress are shown on the table. All data is from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, except where entries been corrected using more detailed sources, particularly the American National Biography.
The table also indicates (with an X) which delegates signed the Continental Association (1774), the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), the Articles of Confederation (1778–1781), and the United States Constitution (1787). The first three documents were created by Congress, and so all signers were necessarily delegates; the United States Constitution was signed at a special convention outside of Congress, and its signatories were not all current or former members of Congress.
John Dickinson has two entries on the table because he served as a delegate from both Pennsylvania and Delaware. The person who most frequently attended Congress was not a delegate: he was Charles Thomson, who served as secretary throughout Congress' existence.
Elected but did not attend
This table shows those who were elected as delegates to the Continental Congress but never attended a session. All data is from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.