Henry Laurens, 4th President of the Continental Congress - A Stan
Second President of the Continental Congress
Served November 1, 1777 to December 9, 1778
To View a Henry Laurens Signed Document
Click on an image to view full-sized
statesman, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1724; died there, 8 December,
1792. His ancestors were Huguenots, who had left France at the revocation of the
edict of Nantes. He was educated in Charleston and became clerk in a
counting-house there, from which he was transferred to a similar house in London
in order to acquire a thorough business education. Upon his return he engaged in
mercantile pursuits and acquired a fortune, he was conspicuous in his opposition
of British aggression, and had frequent contests with the crown judges,
especially in respect to their decisions in marine law and in the courts of
admiralty, and the pamphlets that he published against these measures gave
evidence of great legal ability.
Laurens also served in a military campaign against the Cherokees, of which he
left a diary in manuscript. Retiring from business, he want to England in 1771
to superintend the education of his sons, and traveled through Great Britain and
on the continent. While in London he was one of the thirty-eight Americans who
signed a petition in 1774 to dissuade parliament from passing the Boston port
bill. He returned to Charleston in that year, was , a number of the 1st
Provincial congress there in 1775, and drew up a form of association to be
signed by all the friends of liberty. He also became president of the council of
In 1776 , he was made vice president of South Carolina under the new
constitution and elected a delegate to the Continental Congress. Upon the
resignation of John Hancock he was elected President of Congress on November 1,
1777. His tenure as President of the Continental Congress was during
one of most stormy periods in the Revolutionary War:
the Continental Congress 1777 - November 1
Elects Henry Laurens president of Congress.
November 4 Commends General Gates and
his army for their defense against Burgoyne's invasion and various other
officers and units for their defense of the
November 7 Names new appointees to
reorganized Board of War. November 10-14
Conducts final debates on Articles of Confederation. November 15 Adopts
Articles of Confederation. November 17
Transmits Articles of Confederation to states for their consideration.
November 19 Directs General
Washington to inquire into the treatment of American prisoners.
November 20 Adopts report on pacification
of the western frontier. November 21
Recalls Commissioner Silas Deane from the court of France.
November 22 Adopts economic program asking
the states to levy taxes, call in paper money, and regulate prices.
November 24 Adopts measures for improving
the provisioning of the army. November 27 Recommends confiscation of loyalist property in the
states; completes reconstitution of the Board of War, Horatio Gates named
president. November 28 Appoints
committee to confer with General Washington; orders inquiry into the failures
of the Rhode Island expedition and the Delaware River defenses; appoints John
Adams commissioner to France. November 29
Appoints committee to obtain a French translation of the Articles of
Confederation and to invite Canada "to accede to the union of these
Rejects alteration of the Saratoga Convention to permit embarkation of
Burgoyne's army from Rhode Island. December 3
Resolves to seek $2 million loan from France and Spain; directs suppression of
Delaware loyalists; adopts instructions for retaining continued neutrality of
the Six Nations; endorses proposal for a surprise attack against Lake
Champlain. December 8 Orders Silas
Deane's immediate return to Congress. December 10
Denounces Gen. William Howe's treatment of American prisoners; authorizes
General Washington to impress supplies in Pennsylvania.
December 13 Appoints Gen. Thomas Conway to
newly constituted post of inspector general of the army.
December 16 Receives report of the
committee at head quarters. December 19
Questions General Washington's plans for a winter cantonment.
December 26 Debates implementation of the
Saratoga Convention. December 30 Grants
navy boards increased authority over naval officers; extends General
Washington's powers to impress supplies, discipline officers, and punish
January 2 Dismisses Esek Hopkins from
the -Continental Navy. January 8 Detains
Convention Army in America until properly notified of Britain's "explicit
ratification of the convention of Saratoga." January
11 Appoints committee to repair to headquarters to concert with
General Washington on the reform of the army.
January 12 Examines John Folger on the theft of despatches from the
commissioners in France. January 14
Accepts Baron Steuben's tender of services as a volunteer in the Continental
Army. January 15 Orders creation of
additional magazines for supply of the army in Pennsylvania.
January 16 Instructs committee at camp to
evaluate an attack on Philadelphia. January 17
Resolves to issue an additional $10 million in loan office certificates.
January 20 Appoints Charles Carroll and
Gouverneur Morris to the committee at camp to replace members named from the
Board of War. January 21 Adopts measures
to secure improved British treatment of American prisoners of war.
January 23 Names General Lafayette to
command an invasion of Canada. January 27
Appoints committee to confer on the reform of the hospital department.
January 30-31 Studies proposals for reform
of the quarter master department and for retaining the neutrality of the
Indians in the northern department.
2 Appoints officers for Canadian expedition.
February 3 Prescribes oath required of all
officers of the United States. February 4
Directs commissioner to the court of Tuscany to seek $1 million loan; receives
Committee at Camp recommendation that Jeremiah Wadsworth be appointed
commissary general of purchases. February 6
Reforms medical department; appoints middle department physician general.
February 11 Adopts regulations for commissary
general of military stores. February 13
Requests North Carolina beef and pork embargo.
February 16 Resolves to emit additional $2 million in bills of
credit. February 17 Suspends Board of
War's special purchasing agents. February 19
Relocates Convention Army for security purposes.
February 23 Appoints committee to reexamine feasibility of Canadian
expedition. February 26 Adopts resolves
for arranging a prisoner exchange; adopts new Continental Army quotas and
recruiting regulations. February 27
Prescribes death penalty for persons convicted of aiding the enemy.
Appoints Nathanael Greene quartermaster general and adopts new quartermaster
regulations; urges cavalry recruitment; suspends Canadian expedition.
March 3 Authorizes General Burgoyne's
return to England. March 4 Authorizes
Washington to employ Indians with the army. March 5
Resolves to emit additional $2 million in bills of credit.
March 7 Designates April 22 a day of
fasting and prayer. March 12 Urges
states to keep three delegates in constant attendance.
March 13 Adopts new commissary regulations;
reassigns Lafayette and de Kalb. March 16
Orders return of Pennsylvania pacifists exiled to Virginia; orders study of
state compliance with recommendations of Congress.
March 18 Increases Washington's authority to negotiate prisoner
exchanges. March 21 Adopts measures for
defense of the northern department. March 24
Resolves to resume once daily sessions. March 26
Orders arrest of Delaware loyalists to thwart invasion threat.
March 28 Appoints Casimir Pulaski to
command independent cavalry corps. March 30
Adopts revised prisoner exchange instructions.
Resolves to emit additional $1 million in bills of credit; empowers Washington
to call New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland militia.
April 7 Adopts contract terms for Commerce
Committee to execute with Roderique Hortalez & Co.
April 9 Sets pay and allowances for commissary officers and
appoints Jeremiah Wadsworth commissary general of purchases.
April 10 Holds acrimonious debate on letter
criticizing Washington, sparking walkout of Thomas Burke and Edward Langworthy.
April 11 Orders Thomas Burke to answer
charges of disrupting proceedings of Congress; resolves to emit additional $5
million in bills of credit. April 14
Adopts regulations for commissary general of purchases.
April 15 Responds to Delaware protest that
General Smallwood's seizure of loyalists infringed the internal police of the
state; directs General Gates to take command of the northern department.
April 16 Rejects motion to refer
issue of Continental officers' pensions to the states.
April 18 Orders inquiry into the loss of
the Virginia. April 22 Orders
publication of statement on North Ministry's peace proposals.
April 23 Urges states to pardon and forgive
penitent loyalists; requests Maryland to send troops to suppress Delaware
uprising. April 25 Resolves that Thomas
Burke's withdrawal from Congress was "disorderly and contemptuous."
April 26 Holds Sunday debate on half-pay
proposal for Continental officers. April 28
Accepts General Conway's resignation. April 29
Adopts plan to encourage desertion of British mercenaries seeking land and
citizenship in the United States.
Holds Sunday session to consider treaties of commerce and alliance negotiated
with France. May 4 Ratifies the treaties
with France. May 5 Instructs commissioners to
secure revocation of two treaty of commerce articles.
May 8 Adopts an address to the inhabitants
of the United States.
May 9 Issues proclamation denouncing
seizures of neutral shipping by American armed vessels.
May 11 Instructs Massachusetts on
safeguarding the rights of the owners of an illegally seized Portuguese
vessel. May 13 Rejects motion to refer
proposed officer pension plan to the states. May 15
Adopts plan to provide half pay for officers for seven years after the
conclusion of the war. May 18 Receives
"plan for regulating the army" from the committee at camp.
May 19 Orders emission of $6.3 million in
bills of credit to pay interest on loan office certificates.
May 21 Authorizes Massachusetts to assist
Nova Scotia revolutionaries at Continental expense; adopts principles for
governing prisoner exchanges. May 22
Resolves to emit additional $5 million in bills of credit.
May 26 Adopts revised "rules" of
Congress. May 27 Adopts new
"Establishment of the American Army." May 28
Revises commissions of the American commissioners to Vienna, Berlin, and
Tuscany. May 30 Resumes twice daily
sessions "for the space of one month."
1 Debates instructions for the American commissioners in Europe.
June 4 Recommends suspension of state price
regulations; directs Washington to "proceed in arranging" the army.
June 6 Rejects peace proposals submitted by
Lord Howe and Sir Henry Clinton. June 8
Embargoes provisions (effective June 10-November 15, 1778).
June 11 Receives notice of the arrival of
the Carlisle peace commission at Philadelphia; orders expedition against Fort
Detroit; orders quartermaster department inquiry.
June 13 Receives letter from the Carlisle peace commission.
June 17 Adopts reply to the Carlisle peace
commission orders halt to personal "correspondence with the enemy."
June 20 Receives notice of the British
evacuation of Philadelphia; resolves to emit additional $5 million in
Continental currency. June 22-25 Debates
proposed state amendments to the Articles of Confederation.
June 25 Orders reinforcements for Rhode
Island. June 26 Orders Articles of
Confederation to be engrossed for signing. June 27
Adjourns from York, "to Thursday next, to meet at the State House in
Convenes in Philadelphia, but adjourns "from day to day" for lack of a
quorum. July 7 Achieves quorum; thanks
Washington for "gaining the important victory of Monmouth."
July 9 Corrects engrossed Articles of
Confederation and begins the signing; directs committee of arrangement to
repair to headquarters. July 11 Receives
news of the arrival in Delaware Bay of the French fleet carrying Conrad
Alexandre Gerard and Silas Deane; directs Washington to prepare for a joint
Franco-American offensive. July 14
Appoints committee to arrange public reception for the French minister Gerard.
July 18 Rejects renewed overtures from
the Carlisle peace commission. July 20
Endorses Ebenezer Hazard's plan to collect "various state papers relative
to the origin and progress of the several European settlements in North
America." July 23 Orders inventory
of goods left in Philadelphia at the time of the British evacuation; receives
Jean Holker's commissions as French marine agent and consul in Philadelphia.
July 25 Defers attack on Fort Detroit;
adopts measures for Pennsylvania and New York frontier defense.
July 30 Emits additional $5 million in
Continental currency. July 31 Appoints
committee to "superintend an entertainment" for the French minister
Consigns tobacco for payment of Beaumarchais' contract claims.
August 3 Investigates commissaries Benjamin
Flower and Cornelius Sweers for fraud. August 6
Holds formal audience with French minister Gerard.
August 7 Debates proposal to discipline board of war members for
disregarding an order of Congress. August 10
Postpones proposal to exchange former New Jersey governor William Franklin for
Delaware president John McKinly. August 11
Adopts declaration denouncing peace commissioner George Johnstone for
attempted bribery of American leaders. August 13
Curtails issuance of passes for travel to British occupied New York; orders
Silas Deane to at tend Congress. August 15
Orders Silas Deane to prepare an oral report on his mission to France; adopts
resolution for maintaining the secrecy of correspondence of the committee for
foreign affairs. August 17 Hears Silas
Deane's testimony; receives resignation of Maj. Gen. Thomas Mifflin.
August 20 Refers report on the inspector
general's department to Washington; rejects motion to exchange William
Franklin for John McKinly. August 21
Orders printing of the proceedings of Gen. Charles Lee's court-martial; hears
Silas Deane conclude "the general account" of his mission to France.
August 24 Orders the release of commissary
Benjamin Flowers and the prosecution of deputy commissary Cornelius Sweers.
August 28 Receives news of failure of the
Franco-American attack on Newport. August 31
Adopts measures to improve recruitment of the Continental Army.
Refers passport application of British secret agent John Temple to the state
of Pennsylvania. September 2 Recommends
granting exemptions to the provisions embargo.
September 3 Resolves to permit recruitment of German mercenary
deserters; postpones expedition planned against Seneca Indians.
September 5 Ignores appeal of secret
British agent Dr. John Berkenhout for release from Pennsylvania jail; emits
additional $5 million in continental currency. September 9 Votes thanks to Gen. John Sullivan for the conduct
of his forces at Rhode Island; orders Rhode Island expedition inquiry
September 11 Authorizes dispersal of Gen.
John Burgoyne's Convention Army for its more convenient subsistence; urges
Maryland to curb evasions of the embargo. September
14 Appoints Benjamin Franklin minister plenipotentiary to France;
approves exchange of William Franklin for John McKinly.
September 19 Reads committee of finance
report; orders finance report printed. September 22
Orders examination of William Carmichael on the activities of Silas Deane in
France. September 25 Appeals to Virginia
and North Carolina to aid South Carolina and Georgia; appoints Benjamin
Lincoln to command the southern department.
September 26 Reorganizes the offices of the treasury; emits an
additional $10 million in Continental currency.
September 28 Conducts examination of William Carmichael.
September 30 Conducts examination of
William Carmichael; reassigns Casimir Pulaski's legion.
Extends embargo to January 31, 1779; requests states to seize provisions to
prevent engrossing and speculation. October 3
Informs Casimir Pulaski "that it is the duty of every military officer in
the service of these states, to yield obedience" to the laws of the
states. October 5 Conducts examination
of William Carmichael on the activities of Silas Deane in France.
October 6 Invites Dr. Richard Price
to become a citizen and move to the United States to assist "in regulating
their finances." October 8 Lifts
limitations on the price of silver and gold.
October 12 Adopts resolves to suppress "theatrical
entertainments, horse racing, gaming, and such other diversions as are
productive of idleness, [and] dissipation."
October 13 Orders Washington to take measures for frontier defense.
October 14 Receives documents from Silas
Deane and schedules continuation of inquiry into charges made against him.
October 15 Receives intelligence of the
distribution of a "Manifesto and Proclamation" from the British peace
commissioners. October 16 Orders seizure
of persons attempting to distribute "manifestoes" of the British
commissioners; orders removal of the Convention Army to Charlottesville, Va.
October 17 Commends comte d'Estaing for
his attempts to assist the forces of the United States.
October 21 Orders arrest of British
commissary of prisoners in Philadelphia; declares opposition to "partial
and parole exchanges" of prisoners of war in favor of "a general
exchange"; commends the marquis de Lafayette and declares thanks to the
king of France. October 22 Assigns Horatio Gates to command of the eastern
department; adopts instructions for the American minister to France and a
"Plan of an Attack upon Quebec." October 26
Appoints a committee to prepare a publication on "matters relating to"
negotiations with the British peace commissioners.
October 27 Responds to the Governor of Havana for his introduction
of Juan de Miralles, unofficial Spanish agent to the United States.
October 29 Reorganizes the Board of War.
October 30 Adopts a "Manifesto"
vowing to take "exemplary vengeance" against future acts of enemy
barbarity. October 31 Rejects proposal
from the Spanish Governor of New Orleans for an attack on West Florida.
Authorizes an attack on East Florida. November 3
Appoints a comptroller, auditor, treasurer, and commissioners of accounts for
the reorganized treasury office. November 4
Orders printing of the Franco-American treaties; resolves to emit additional
$10,000,000 in Continental currency. November 7
Orders December 30 set apart as "a day of general thanksgiving";
reaches compromise in dispute over provisioning prisoners of war.
November 10 Augments plans for an
expedition against East Florida. November 11 Exempts embargoed flour purchased
in Virginia for the French navy. November 12
Denies John Connolly's plea to be treated as a prisoner of war because of
parole violations. November 14 Adopts
incentives for naval enlistments. November 17
Orders closer confinement of John Connolly; adopts thanksgiving day resolve.
November 19 Authorizes Washington to
appoint commissioners to negotiate a prisoner exchange; receives Thomas
McKean's charges against Gen. William Thompson.
November 20 Hears General Thompson's denial of Thomas McKean's
charges. November 23 Examines witnesses
in McKean-Thompson dispute. November 24
Adopts rules for settling rank and seniority disputes in the Continental Army;
authorizes Board of War "to finish the arrangements of the army agreeably
to the resolutions of Congress." November 26
Receives New Jersey ratification of Articles of Confederation.
November 27 Rejects petition for exempting
grain for Bermuda from the embargo. November 28
Responds to Adm. James Gambier's threat to retaliate against American
prisoners of war.
Confirms Gen. Philip Schuyler's court-martial acquittal; receives letters
recommending secret British agent John Temple.
December 5 Endorses Washington's recommendations for suspending
preparations for a Canadian invasion; confirms Gen. Charles Lee's
court-martial conviction. December 7
Orders Silas Deane to report in writing on "his agency . . . in Europe";
hears testimony in McKean-Thompson dispute.
December 9 Receives Henry Laurens' resignation as president of
In 1779 he was appointed minister to Holland to
negotiate a treaty that had been unofficially proposed to William Lee by Van Berekel, pensionary of Amsterdam. He sailed on the packet "Mercury,"
which was captured by the British frigate "Vestal," of twenty-eight guns,
off Newfoundland. Mr. Laurens threw his papers overboard; but they were
recovered, and gave evidence of his mission. The refusal of Holland to punish
Van Berckel, at the dictation of Lord North's ministry, was instantly followed
by war between Great Britain and that country. Mr. Laurens was taken to London,
examined before the privy council, and imprisoned in the Tower, on 6 October,
1780, on "suspicion of high treason" for nearly fifteen months, during
which his health was greatly impaired. He was ill when he entered, but no
medical attendance was provided, and it was more than a year before he was
granted pen and ink to draw a bill of exchange to provide for himself. But he
obtained a pencil, and frequent communications were carried by a trusty person
to the outside world, and he even corresponded with American newspapers.
When his son John appeared in Paris in 1781 to negotiate a loan with
France, Mr. Laurens was informed that his confinement would be the more rigorous
because the young man had openly declared himself an enemy to the king and his
country. It was suggested that if Mr. Laurens would advise his son to withdraw
from his commission, such action would be received with favor at the British
court; but he replied that his son was a man who would never sacrifice honor,
even to save his father's life. Laurens received attention from many friends,
among whom was Edmund Burke. Twice he refused offers of pardon if he would serve
the British ministry. While a prisoner he learned of his son John's death in a
skirmish in South Carolina, and on 1 December, 1781, he addressed a petition to
the house of commons, in which he said that he had striven to prevent a rupture
between the crown and colonies, and asked for more liberty.
He was soon afterward exchanged for
Lord Cornwallis and commissioned by congress one of the ministers to
negotiate peace. He then went to Paris, where, with
John Jay and
Benjamin Franklin, he signed the preliminaries of the treaty, 30 November.
17S2, and was instrumental in the insertion of a clause prohibiting, on the
British evacuation, the "carrying away any negroes or other property of the
On his return to Charleston he was welcomed with enthusiasm and offered
many offices, which his impaired health forced him to decline. He retired to his
plantation near Charleston and devoted his life to agriculture. His will
concluded with this request: " I solemnly enjoin it on my son, as an
indispensable duty, that, as soon as he conveniently can, after my decease, he
cause my body to be wrapped in twelve yards of tow-cloth and burned until it be
entirely consumed, and then, collecting my bones, deposit them wherever he may
think proper." This was the first cremation in this country.
Some of Laurens's political papers have been published in the collections
of the South Carolina historical society, and his rebus letter to Lord George
Gordon is reprinted in the "Magazine of American History" (December,