When the Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775, a war for American  independence was increasingly likely. Shots had been fired in Lexington and Concord. American colonists needed to establish new governments while preparing for war against the powerful British army.

The members of the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, considered delegate John Adams their greatest scholar of forms of government. During late 1775 and early 1776, several delegates solicited Adams's views on the best plan of government for free and independent states, should the colonies declare independence. Adams recorded his thoughts in letters. In April 1776, his ideas were published as an influential and widely-distributed pamphlet titled, Thoughts on Government.