Marc Schulman

 


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First Continental Congress Meets 1774

The first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, from September 5th to October 26th 1774. The Congress's major accomplishment was agreeing to a new non-importation agreement.


A cry went on among the colonies after the implementation of the intolerable Acts by the British, in response to the Boston Tea Party. Once again colonists called to organize a meeting or Congress of all the colonies, modeled on the Stamp Act Congress.

Leaders of the various colonies all agreed that such a meeting was welcome and necessary to coordinate their response to the British actions. The various colonies selected their delegations. The representatives all set out for Philadelphia, the agreed location.

Nowhere was the Congress more welcome than in Massachusetts. On May 25th, 1774, the Massachusetts General Court elected members to the Governor's Council. Governor Hutchison vetoed 12 of the members, including John Adams. The governor then left to England for consultations. The Governor left behind General Gage in charge. Gage promptly adjoined the council, which met anyway.

The council appointed a delegation to the Continental Congress. The delegation consisted of Thomas Cushing, James Bowdoin, Robert Treat Paine, John and Samuel Adams. When Gage heard of their decision, he disbanded the Great and Gnarl Court. Gage wrote Lord Dartmouth, informing him of the plans of the Congress. He wrote: “It is not possible to guess what a body, composed of such heterogeneous matter will determine; but members from hence, I am assured will promote the most haughty and insolent resolves; for their plans has ever been by high-sounding sedition to terrify and intimidate."

On August 10th, John Adams and the delegation set off for Philadelphia. The delegation arrived in Philadelphia twenty days later, after visiting Hartford, New Haven and New York on the way. They began meeting members of the other delegations.

On September 5, 1774 the entire delegation met. All of the colonies, with the exception of Georgia, had sent representatives. The Congress was divided between militant and conservative delegates. The conservative delegates wanted to buy time to allow the British government to come to its senses. The more militant delegates wanted to take immediate action against the British. It was clear, early on, that the conservatives were a minority-- as the hard line opponents to British rule were elected by the Chairman of the Congress, as well as, the secretary. 

The Congress debated various options. In the end, the Congress settled on passing a call for non-Importation and non-Exportation, unless the British repealed the actions they had taken against Massachusetts. The delegates called for the immediate non-importation of good from England, while putting off the non exportation clause for one year. The Congress also agreed to meet again in one year if Britain had not changed its policies.

The accomplishments of the First Continental Congress were modest. None of the delegates were under the illusion that the implementation of the non-importation agreement would change British policies, even if it were possible. Rather, it was the very meeting of the Congress that was important. Delegates from 12 different colonies had assembled. Despite their regional differences the colonist successfully reached an agreement. During one of the early discussions Patrick Henry of Virginia gave a rousing speech in which he stated: "today I am no longer a Virginian, but an American." While state allegiances have not disappeared to this day, the First Continental Congress was an essential milestone in establishing a collective identity for colonists as Americans. The First Continental Congress led, of course, directly to the Second Continental Congress, where momentous events would transpire.