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8-10-2015, 14:23

The First Continental Congress

If the British thought that their course of action would isolate the rebellious colony of Massachusetts and temper feelings elsewhere, they were sadly mistaken. Throughout the colonies the feeling was widespread that whatever the British did in Boston could be done anywhere. The Virginia House of Burgesses suggested a meeting of colonial representatives

That finally took place in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, "to consult upon the present unhappy state of the Colonies." Every colony except Georgia was represented among the fifty-five men present, who conducted lengthy debates. Realizing that the rebellion had now reached a critical point, if not a point of no return, the delegates understood that unity would be necessary for the colonists to resist British actions. Representatives included Samuel and John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and George Washington and Patrick Henry of Virginia.

The Congress resolved that the colonies were not obliged to obey the coercive acts, adopted a set of resolutions, and agreed to form a "Continental Association" designed to organize anti-British trade policies across all the colonies. Their resolutions asserted that the colonists were "entitled to life, liberty and property" and would never give up anything without their own consent. They claimed their rights as British citizens, arguing that neither they nor their ancestors had forfeited any of those rights by being removed to the colonies. They asserted their right to participate in the legislative process and argued that for practical reasons, their participation in the British Parliament was not possible. They rejected the right of any form of taxation on colonial subjects without their own consent. They also declared that keeping standing armies in the colonies in time of peace was against the law.

The colonists were divided among those who are prepared to fight for their rights; those who favored discussion, negotiation, and compromise and were essentially loyal to the Crown; and the ever-present middle group who would wait to see how things progressed. If King George and the leaders of Parliament had been more circumspect, they might in fact have appealed to the more moderate factions by attempting to lower the temperature and set things right. But King George rejected a petition sent by Philadelphia Quakers and wrote, "The die is now cast, the Colonies must either submit or triumph," thus dealing a blow to those of a loyalist or even moderate disposition.

It should be noted that in 1774 few Americans had the idea of independence in mind. In fact George Washington wrote to a friend in that year that independence was the last thing any thinking man in North America could wish for. But the colonists were determined to assert their rights, and the citizens around Boston began organizing militia groups known as "Min-utemen" and assembling weapons and munitions in the event of possible action of a military nature. The pot was simmering and ready to boil.