The First Continental Congress was held between September 5th and October 26th, 1774, in response to the Coercive Acts (Intolerable Acts) imposed by the British Parliament. Delegates from twelve colonies (with the exception of Georgia) traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended the Congress held in Carpenters’ Hall. After nearly two months of deliberation, the delegates issued a unified Declaration of Colonial Rights and Grievances. They also agreed to condemn the Coercive Acts and boycott British goods. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Online with World History during that time.
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The Boston Tea Party and the Coercive (Intolerable) Acts
In 1766, the British Parliament finally repealed the Stamp Act. It was replaced by the Townshend Acts in the following year which levied taxes on goods such as paint, lead, paper, glass, and tea. To the Parliament’s dismay, the Townshend Acts proved just as unpopular. The colonists responded by boycotting British goods. Riots also engulfed Boston during that time. The authorities tried to suppress the riots by sending additional British troops to Boston in 1768. It seemed like a good idea at first, but the presence of troops only intensified Bostonian resentment.
The unrest in Boston was fueled by colonial propagandists (such as Samuel Adams) and continued as the years passed. The hostilities soon came to a head on March 5, 1770, when a mob of Bostonians attacked the British soldiers assigned to guard the Customs House. Five people died in the clash that ensued, causing even more anger and resentment. In April 1770, the British Parliament led by Lord North abolished all the taxes under the Townshend Acts with the exception of the duties imposed on tea. Despite this concession, relations between Britain and the colonists remained strained.
The Tea Act, the Boston Tea Party, and its Implications
In May 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act. This law granted a loan of 1,500,000 pounds to East India Company and the exclusive right to sell tea in the colonies. In exchange, the East India Company would relinquish the responsibility of appointing their governors to the Parliament. Shipments of tea would not pass through Britain but would go straight to the colonies where the merchandise would eventually be taxed. The Parliament’s goals were to save the finances of the East India Company, as well as lower the taxes on tea in America. For the Americans, however, the Tea Act was just the Crown’s way to control the colonies’ trade.
Protests greeted the arrival of ships loaded with British goods including tea. Some protesters prevented the vessels from docking on several ports of the colonies. Members of the Sons of Liberty prevented workers from unloading the merchandise from the ships. Things came to a head on the night of December 16, 1773, when a group of Bostonians–disguised as Native Americans–boarded the ships docked on the port of the town. They took 350 crates of tea from the hold of the ship, hoisted them on deck, and threw the crates into the sea. The shipment was valued at almost 10,000 pounds. News of this protest (later called the Boston Tea Party) spread to other colonies and served as a warning for ship owners to avoid American ports in the meantime.
Boston Port Act – stipulated that unless the Bostonians pay for the damages which resulted from the Boston Tea Party, their ports would remain closed for operations.
Massachusetts Government Act – this law overhauled the colony’s charter and granted authority to a governor appointed by Parliament. Election of Massachusetts officials was suspended and the right to appoint them was reserved to the governor.
Administration of Justice Act – stipulated that any government official violating any law in the colonies should be sent to London or to other colonies for trial. Bostonians called it the “Murder Act.”
Quartering Act – decreed that British troops should be quartered or housed in the homes of private citizens.
The British Parliament also passed the Quebec Act to punish the colonists further.
Quebec Act – Parliament allowed the formation of government in Quebec more than a decade after the British took the province from the French. The Act also extended the southern border of Quebec to the Ohio River and as far west as the Mississippi River. This law angered the colonists who claimed the area.
The First Continental Congress 1774
King George III and the British Parliament issued the Coercive Acts in hopes that it would isolate Massachusetts into submission. The laws, however, accomplished the opposite. In sympathy, the residents of South Carolina and Virginia sent grain and other foodstuffs north. The people of Connecticut also saved the colony from hunger by sending sheep.
The British authorities hoped that the other colonies would fall in line after issuing the punishment to Massachusetts, but it did not go as they hoped. The Massachusetts legislature sent a circular to other colonies asking them to send delegates for the First Continental Congress. New York agreed to hold a Congress so the colonies could organize a unified boycott, as well as formulate a response to the punitive laws meted out to Massachusetts.
George Washington and the burgesses of Virginia declared June 1 (the day on which the Coercive Acts would take effect) as a day of fasting and prayer as a way to show their solidarity with Massachusetts. Virginia’s governor later dissolved the assembly, but this did not stop the burgesses from planning a Continental Congress. On August 1, 1774, the Virginia House of Burgesses decided to send several delegates (including George Washington) to the First Continental Congress.
The First Continental Congress was held on the 5th of September, 1744 in the Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia. Among the colonies, Georgia alone did not send delegates because it relied on British help in fighting its border wars with the Native Americans. The delegates themselves were divided between the more radical representatives who pushed for complete independence from Britain and the moderates wanted to remain with the motherland but wanted to defend their rights as British citizens. John Jay, John Adams, and George Washington were among the prominent men who attended the Congress.
After more than a month of debates, the First Continental Congress finally issued its Declaration of Colonial Rights and Grievances. In the Declaration, the colonists issued a defiance of the Parliament’s power to impose taxes on the colonies without representation. The delegates also condemned the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act. They chose Peyton Randolph as the president of the First Continental Congress.
The Declaration included a list of the colonists’ grievances against the British Parliament, as well as the laws it had passed since the end of the French and Indian War. The delegates stated their intention to form a Continental Association, as well as boycott British goods after December 1774. They agreed to ban the export of American goods to Britain in the fall of 1775. The delay would give enough time for the Virginia planters to sell their tobacco before the deadline on September 10, 1775. The delegates agreed to hold the Second Continental Congress in May of the following year.
Allison, R. J. The American Revolution: A Concise History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Fleming, Thomas. Liberty!: The American Revolution. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Raphael, Ray. The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord. New York: New Press, 2002
Schmittroth, Linda. American Revolution. Detroit: U.X.L., 2000.
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