The First Continental Congress

Before the Continental Congress met several events occurred.  The first – the Boston Tea Party.  The second was the Intolerable Acts instituted by Britain where the Boston Harbor was closed until the tea was paid for, and the governor of Massachusetts was given the power of a dictator. These acts incited the colonists to band together and call for action. This meeting became known as the 1st Continental Congress.

The First Continental Congress met from September 5th to October 26th in 1774.  The members from every colony except Georgia met at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia where the Pennsylvania Congress usually met.  Georgia was busy with problems with Creek Indian nation and needed Britain’s help in fighting them. The men who came to discuss the future of this fledgling country were elected by the people, by committees, or by legislatures in the various colonies.  Some of the men who attended are names we recognize today: John Adams (our second president)and his cousin, Samuel Adams from Massachusetts Bay colony, John Jay (our first Supreme Court Justice) from New York, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania, Peyton Randolph (who becomes the president of the 1st Continental Congress), Richard Henry Lee, George Washington (the leader of our army and our first president), and Patrick Henry (Give me liberty!).  There are forty six other names on the list for a total of 56 delegates – none less important than the men already mentioned, but just not as well known.  Every man was given only 1 vote.

Of course they all wanted to show Great Britain and the king they were unified in their arguments over what should be allowed or not, and yet they disagreed on other points.  For instance, the delegates from Pennsylvania and New York actually thought they (the men who gathered) could resolve the issues with Great Britain (who really didn’t want to resolve anything – they wanted the colonies to just follow their rules).

In May of the same year, the House of Burgesses in Virginia held its own special convention to elect delegates to meet and discuss the issues. Thomas Jefferson (whose name is not mentioned above) actually introduced his own view of the rights in a document called “Summary View of the Rights of Great Britain”.  This first Continental Congress did not ask for freedom from Great Britain.  What they really wanted was Great Britain to recognize wrongs done to the colonists.  They wanted to be heard in Parliament.
Peyton Randolph's portrait (from his home in Williamsburg)

John Galloway, from Pennsylvania, presented his own plan which was mostly supported (only 6 were opposed). Many of the colonists supported his plan.  Remember many still wanted to resolve the issues with Britain. Without the support of everyone present, the plan fell through. Some believed it failed because of the Suffolk Resolves. These resolves declared the Coercive Acts unconstitutional and illegal; urged Massachusetts to become a free state; wanted any taxes collected to be held by the government and not given to Britain; asked everyone to support a boycott of British goods; asked for the development of a militia; stated than anyone who arrested citizens would also be arrested; and finally that the colonists did not owe any loyalty to the King who violated their rights.  Paul Revere brought a set of these resolves to the Continental Congress.  While some were opposed to these drastic measures, they were passed by the majority of members.

Next came the Association – where a total boycott was called for of non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption agreements. Every community would enforce the boycott – publishing the names of merchants who defied the boycott. They could confiscate contraband, and could encourage the people economize.

From here, the Continental Congress put together a list of grievances to submit to King George III. They announced the colonists had certain rights – “life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever a right to dispose of either without their consent.”  The key point in this list was – it was address to the King, not to Parliament because the colonists felt the Parliament did not have the authority to regulate their trade.  The colonists wanted their grievances addressed by the king.  Once the declaration was sent to the King, the men had no choice but to wait for their reaction and pray the King would see their position and agree they had been wronged.

On October 25th, 1774 – the petition is signed and sent to the King.
George III

To read journals about the 1st Continental Congress written by its secretary, Charles Thomson – go to

So what happened when King George received these Suffolk Resolves?  On November 30th, 1774, King George III condemned Massachusetts and the resolves.  Obviously the king did not feel the colonies had the right to send him a petition, and he especially did not feel they had rights.  Something would have to be done with those upstart colonists!!!

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