The First Continental Congress
Call for a congress.—On May 10 a copy of the Port Act was received in Boston. On the twelfth the committee of correspondence met with eight neighboring committees and recommended non-intercourse with Great Britain. The other colonies were asked to follow the same course. While this was taking place the four additional regiments which Gage had called for began to arrive and on June 1, 1774, the port was blocked by men-of-war. Boston began to receive money and supplies from other towns and colonies, and a new impetus was given to the formation of committees of correspondence. Committees in New York and Philadelphia recommended the appointment of delegates to a general congress. The Virginia burgesses resolved to set aside June 1 as a day of fasting and prayer. The governor dissolved the house, but the burgesses assembled on May 27 at the Raleigh Tavern and adopted a resolution calling for a congress. Copies of the resolution were sent to the other assemblies.
On June 17 the Massachusetts assembly resolved, "That a meeting of committees from several colonies ... is highly expedient and necessary, to consult upon the present state of the colonies, and the miseries to which they are and must be reduced by the operation of certain acts of Parliament respecting America, and to deliberate and determine upon wise and proper measures, to be by them recommended to all the colonies, for the recovery and establishment of their just rights and liberties, civil and religious, and the restoration of union and harmony between Great Britain and the colonies, most ardently desired by all good men: Therefore, resolved, that the Hon. James Bowdoin, Esq., the Hon. Thomas Cushing, Esq., Mr. Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine, Esqrs., be appointed a committee ... to meet with such committees or delegates from the other colonies as have been or may be appointed, either by their respective houses of burgesses or representatives, or by convention, or by the committees of correspondence appointed by the respective houses of assembly, in the city of Philadelphia, or any other place that shall be judged most suitable by the committee, on the 1st day of September next; and that the speaker of the house be directed, in a letter to the speakers of the house of burgesses or representatives in the several colonies, to inform them of the substance of these resolves."
Meeting of the First Continental Congress.—Every colony but Georgia responded to the call. In September over fifty delegates assembled in Carpenters' Hall at Philadelphia. Among them were John and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry and George Washington of Virginia, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, John Jay of New York, and Edward and John Rutledge of South Carolina. "The congress of 1774 was not thought of by the people as a congress in the modern legislative sense. It was rather a convention of ambassadors of subordinate, but distinct communities which had found it needful to take counsel of one another regarding a crisis in their common relations to the parent state, in order, if possible, to adopt some common plan of action. It was essentially an advisory or consultative body. In another aspect it may be regarded as the completion of the revolutionary party organization of which the basis was laid in the committees of correspondence."
The Suffolk Resolves approved.—The delegates were soon divided into well-defined groups; the radicals led by Samuel Adams wanted resistance, the conservatives headed by Joseph Galloway favored compromise. The radicals succeeded in getting Congress to approve the resolves recently drawn up in the Suffolk County convention in Massachusetts. The resolves declared that no obedience to the recent acts of parliament was due from Massachusetts, advised that no money be turned into the treasury by the tax-collectors until the restoration of the constitution, denounced as enemies the king's councillors who had not resigned, and threatened armed resistance. Congress published these resolves with its resolutions commending the course of Boston.
A plan of union.—The conservatives favored a plan of union proposed by Galloway, which provided for a crown appointed president-general and a council of deputies chosen every three years by the legislatures. The acts of the council were to be subject to parliamentary veto and acts of parliament relating to the colonies might be vetoed by the council. The plan was defeated by a narrow margin.
The Declaration and Resolves.—On September 7 a committee of two from each colony had been appointed to draw up a statement of the rights of the colonies, instances of their violation, and means of restoring them. Agreement on the committee's report was reached on October 14. The declaration of grievances thus adopted complained that parliament had imposed taxes upon them and under various pretences, but in fact for the purpose of raising revenue, had established a board of commissioners with unconstitutional powers, and had extended the jurisdiction of the admiralty courts, not only for collecting duties, but for trial of causes arising merely within the body of a county. Complaint was also made that judges had been made dependent on the crown for salaries, that standing armies had been kept in times of peace, and that the removal to distant places for trial of prisoners charged with treason and certain other crimes had been legalized. The intolerable acts were described as "impolitic, unjust, and cruel, as well as unconstitutional." Other complaints were the dissolution of assemblies when they attempted to deliberate on grievances, and treating with contempt petitions for redress.
Congress accordingly resolved that the inhabitants of the English colonies in North America were "entitled to life, liberty and property: and they had never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent;" that they were entitled to the same rights as their ancestors; "that the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council: and as the English colonies are not represented ... in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal policy, subject only to the negative of their sovereign." For the mutual interests of both countries they consented to parliamentary regulation of external commerce. The right of trial by their peers of the vicinage, rights confirmed by royal charters and secured by provincial codes, and the right of assembly and petition were asserted. Keeping of a standing army in time of peace without the consent of the legislature of the colony where the army was kept was declared illegal. The exercise of legislative power by a crown appointed council was declared "unconstitutional, dangerous and destructive to the freedom of American legislation."
"All and each of which the ... deputies, in behalf of themselves, and their constituents, do claim, demand, and insist on, as their indubitable rights and liberties; which cannot be legally taken from them, altered or abridged by any power whatever, without their own consent, by their representatives in their several provincial legislatures."
The acts passed by parliament since 1763 to which they were opposed were then enumerated. "To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot submit, but in hopes their fellow subjects in Great-Britain will, on a region of them, restore us to that state, in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have for the present, only resolved to pursue the following peaceable measures: 1. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreement or association. 2. To prepare an address to the people of Great-Britain, and a memorial to the inhabitants of British America: and 3. To prepare a loyal address to his majesty, agreeable to resolutions already entered into."
Non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation.—By commercial restrictions the delegates hoped to force the British government to change its policy. On September 22 Congress voted to request colonial merchants and others not to place orders for British goods and to delay or suspend orders already sent until Congress could make known its policy. Five days later it resolved that from December 1 there should be no importation of goods from Great Britain or Ireland, or of British or Irish make, and that such goods be neither used nor purchased. On September 30 it was resolved that exportation to Great Britain. Ireland, and the British West Indies ought to cease after September 10, 1775, unless grievances were redressed, and a committee was appointed to formulate a plan for the enforcement of non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation.
The Association.—On October 20 the delegates adopted the "Association" which provided that after December 1 British or Irish goods, East India tea, molasses, syrups, paneles, coffee, and pimento from the British plantations or from Dominica, wines from Madeira or the Western Islands, and foreign indigo should not be imported into British America. It was agreed that slaves should not be imported or purchased after December 1, and slave traders were not to be allowed to rent vessels or purchase goods. Non-exportation was not to be put into force until September 10, 1775, but if redress had not been obtained by that time, American goods would be cut off from Great Britain, Ireland, or the West Indies. Rice, however, might be exported to Europe. Congress agreed to encourage frugality, economy, and industry, to promote agriculture, the arts, and manufactures, especially of wool, and to discourage extravagance and dissipation. Merchants and manufacturers were not to raise prices. A committee in each county, city, and town was to observe the conduct of persons, and if violations of the Association were discovered, the truth was to be published in the newspapers. If any colony did not accede to the Association, intercourse with that colony was to be cut off.
Attempts to obtain coöperation of other Colonies.—Congress also made an effort to obtain the cooperation of neighboring colonies by an address to the people of Quebec and by letters to the inhabitants of St. Johns, Nova Scotia, Georgia, and East and West Florida. A memorial to the people of British America, an address to the people of Great Britain, and a petition to the king were also prepared. May 10, 1775, was set as the date for the assembly of another congress, and on October 26 the First Continental Congress dissolved.
North's conciliatory resolution.—In January, 1775, parliament began consideration of the petition to the king and other papers relating to America. Chatham moved the withdrawal of the troops from Boston but the motion was defeated. On February 1 he presented a plan of conciliation based upon mutual concessions, but this was also rejected. On February 20 Lord North undertook the unexpected rôle of conciliator by a resolution which was considered in committee of the whole and passed by the commons a week later. The resolution provided "that when the Governour, Council, and Assembly, or General Court, of any ... colonies in America, shall propose to make provision ... for contributing their proportion to the common defence, (such proportion to be raised under the authority of the General Court, or General Assembly, of such Province or Colony, and disposable by Parliament,) and shall engage to make provision also for the support of the Civil Government, and the Administration of Justice, in such Province or Colony, it will be proper, if such proposal shall be approved by his Majesty and ... Parliament ... to forbear, in respect of such Province or Colony, to levy any Duty, Tax, or Assessment, or to impose any farther Duty, Tax, or Assessment, except only such Duties as it may be expedient to continue to levy or to impose for the regulation of commerce; the nett produce of the Duties last mentioned to be carried to the account of such Province or Colony respectively."
The Restraining Act.—The effect of North's resolution was nullified by the Restraining Act, which, in spite of Burke's powerful speech on conciliation, became law on March 13. This act confined the commerce of the New England colonies to Great Britain, Ireland, and the British West Indies, and prohibited the New Englanders from fishing in the northern fisheries, until "the trade and commerce of his Majesty's subjects may be carried on without interruption." In April the act was extended to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. The British government thus closed the door of conciliation and made the American Revolution inevitable.
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