Continental Congress

 

The First Continental Congress: The Patriots React To The Intolerable Acts

September to October 1774
As the name suggests, the Intolerable Acts were not received well amongst the colonies. Before the shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, the colonies made an attempt to settle the concerns and frustrations raised with the Intolerable Acts through debate and discussion. Thus, the First Continental Congress was called to order on September 5th, 1774. 55 colonial representatives, including famous Patriots like John Adams, Samuel Adams, George Washington, and Patrick Henry, from twelve colonies met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to formulate a plan of action. Georgia was the only colony that did not send representatives. Virginia’s representative, Peyton Randolph, was elected president of the First Continental Congress. It was decided that each colony would be allotted one secret ballot.

“That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: And they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent”
~ Excerpt from the Declaration of Rights

Negotiations did not necessarily come easily. While many of the delegates were known for their debate and leadership skills, each colony was accustomed to debating in independent environments at home in their individual colonies. Therefore, some degree of distrust and discomfort was present. Furthermore, while each representative believed in the heinous and unjust nature of the Intolerable Acts, they differed with respect to proper solutions. Some preferred more defensive and potentially violent courses of action, such as the Suffolk Resolves, while others believed in peaceful protest like the Declaration of Rights. Despite these difficulties, the delegates overcame such obstacles and produced several highly significant results of the First Continental Congress.

These results included:

 

A Plan of Union of Great Britain and the Colonies

Initially, Joseph Galloway proposed a plan of union with Britain that offered a form of peaceful reconciliation. Galloway proposed that the colonies create a form of government to act in conjunction with that of the British, with a colonial parliament and leaders elected by Britain. This would offer the colonists their own representation while remaining loyal to England. This plan was ultimately rejected when the Suffolk Resolves were presented, a much more drastic proposal.

The Suffolk Resolves

Proposed on September 9th, 1774, by Dr. Joseph Warren and accepted by Congress on September 17th, this plan encouraged Massachusetts to protest the Intolerable Acts by stockpiling military supplies, operating an independent government, boycotting British goods, and announcing no allegiance to Britain and a king who failed to consider the wishes of the colonists.

Reaction to these Resolves was mixed. While some supported such a bold proposal and felt it was an appropriate reaction to the British, others feared it would cause war. In truth, war was already imminent because of the differing definitions of liberty offered by the Patriots and the British. These tensions would be brought to the forefront later in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Declaration of Rights

For those members of the Congress who were in favor of a more peaceful protest, the Declaration of Rights was developed. These rights included life, liberty, property, and the right to establish their own taxes within the colonies. It also outlined reasons for a rebellion, including the Boston Port Act, Quebec Act, an oppressive presence of royal governors in the colonies, and unjust taxation without representation in government.

The final draft was accepted on October 14th, 1774, and constituted a formal declaration to King George III and the Parliament that the actions of the British must cease or else a revolution would result.

Continental Association

On December 1, 1774, the Continental Association was created to boycott all contact with British goods. By reversing the economic sanctions placed on the colonists, the delegates hoped Britain would repeal its Intolerable Acts. While this was quite a sacrifice to make, the Patriots were willing to do so in the name of liberty and justice for the colonies.

Continental Congress meeting
The First Continental Congress, Allyn Cox, 1973-1974. Architect of the Capitol.
Tensions Continued to Rise

Following these proposals, the First Continental Congress adjourned on October 22nd, 1774, after fifty-one days of deliberation and tactical planning. In the event that the Intolerable Acts were not lifted, the Congress decided to meet again. While Parliament debated its next course of action in response to the persistent acts of the colonists, tensions continued to rise between the Loyalists, Patriots, royal governors, British soldiers, and various other factions of people present in the colonies. These intense emotions were preparing to surface and culminate in “the shot heard round the world,” a direct act of war between the colonies and the British. Following debate in the Parliament, the British passed the Restraining Act on March 30th, 1775, which only succeeded in further frustrating and infuriating the colonists. The New England colonies were prevented from trading with anyone except the British and fishing was forbidden in New England waters, cutting off a critical fishing ground and food source for the Patriots.

Colonial Raids: Britain Attempts to Quell the Rebellious Colonists

While most colonies felt a great deal of distrust towards Britain, Boston had perhaps the strongest anti-British feelings.

Following the aftermath of the Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress, rumors began to circulate that war was imminent. The Second Continental Congress was preparing to meet in May since the Intolerable Acts had not been remedied or retracted. While most colonies felt a great deal of distrust towards Britain, Boston had perhaps the strongest anti-British feelings. These sentiments concerned General Thomas Gage as he pondered ways to remedy the situation and reassure those in Britain that the colonies were secure. One such way was to conduct routine raids on colonial military supplies.

The British Continue to Concord

Now alerted of a fairly organized colonial militia’s presence, the British forces continued on to Concord with caution. When they reached Concord, grenadiers began searching for supplies while the light infantry acted as guards in the event of open fire. Open fire was soon to come. After the Patriots had time to rouse more minutemen, a surprisingly large number gathered to fight the British. At the North Bridge, an unexpected shot was fired from a British soldier. Colonial commander Major Buttrick yelled, “fire!” in response and a fight began. Approximately 400 minutemen fought 700 British soldiers. Although the numbers were still in favor of the British forces, the minutemen successfully forced a British retreat back to Boston. During this retreat, minutemen (many of whom were snipers and could pick off British soldiers from hidden locations) repeatedly besieged the British troops until the Earl of Percy arrived with his British reinforcements and offered shelter to Smith and Pitcairn’s battered forces.