First Continental Congress | Summary, Outcomes, Facts

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    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created AmericanRevolution.org in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.

    Contents

      The First Continental Congress, which occurred in Philadelphia in September and October 1774, was the first major unified colonial response to British overreach in America.

      In this article, we’ve summarized the lead up to the First Continental Congress, and what happened at the meeting. We’ve also provided some interesting facts about the First Continental Congress.

      Leadup to the Congress

      Throughout the mid-to-late 1760s, the British government implemented a series of new taxes and other restrictions on the Thirteen Colonies of America, causing outrage among the colonists.

      Those living in the Thirteen Colonies thought that the British had no right to collect taxes in America under laws such as the Stamp Act of 1765, given the colonists had no representation in British parliament.

      The colonists heavily protested against the Stamp Act, leading to its repeal a year later. However, the British continued to implement new taxes and other regulations that were perceived as unfair.

      Colonial merchants were upset by British laws such as the Townshend Acts (1767-68), which gave customs officers greater powers to search merchant ships and seize goods, to try and prevent illegal smuggling. The acts also levied new indirect taxes on certain goods, and attempted to undercut tea merchants, by giving tax breaks to the British East India Company.

      From 1770 onwards, tensions continued to grow at a rapid rate. After the killing of five colonial civilians by British soldiers in Boston in 1770, the British implemented the Tea Act in 1773, to once again try and stop smuggling, and encourage the colonists to pay British taxes under the Townshend Acts.

      Resistance to the Tea Act was fierce. Tensions came to a head in December 1773, when the Sons of Liberty, a Patriot rebel group, destroyed a British tea shipment in Boston, in an incident known as the Boston Tea Party.

      The British were quick to respond, passing the Coercive Acts in 1774. These laws effectively punished the Thirteen Colonies for their rebellion, for example by closing Boston Harbor. The Coercive Acts became known as the Intolerable Acts in America.

      The Intolerable Acts led to a marked increase in colonial unity. Boston received shipments of rice and other essential goods from other colonies while their port was closed. Colonial politicians knew that they had come together to respond to British overreach.

      Summary

      Painting of the First Continental Congress.

      On September 5, 1774, representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies met at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, marking the start of the First Continental Congress.

      Representatives from Georgia did not attend, as politicians in the colony at the time were predominantly loyal to the British cause.

      For nearly two months, delegates at the Congress debated how they should respond to British tyranny, and work out a plan to resolve the conflict.

      At the time, although people despised the Coercive Acts, most colonists were still loyal to the British Crown, and wanted a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

      However, attitudes were shifting, due to the extent of British overreach. There were two opposing voices at the congress:

      • Radicals such as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams argued for greater independence from Great Britain. They wanted the colonies to adopt a strong, unified response that could include military preparation. They did not want to completely separate from Britain at this stage – instead, they argued for a separate system of governance for the Thirteen Colonies.
      • Conservatives¬†such as Joseph Galloway and John Dickinson wanted to use a more conciliatory approach, to encourage the British to revoke the Coercive Acts. They believed they could reason with the British government and King George III to de-escalate the conflict.

      Apart from debating governance structures and coordinating a response to the Coercive Acts, the delegates also discussed how best to uphold their rights as Englishmen. Certain rights enshrined in British law were being openly violated, such as the right to self-governance, and the delegates discussed how best to approach this issue.

      The Congress ran until October 26, 1774. In the end, the conservative arguments won the day, and the Congress decided to adopt a relatively moderate response compared to what the radicals were proposing.

      Outcomes of the First Continental Congress

      • Beginning on December 1, 1774, the Thirteen Colonies would stop importing British goods, until the Intolerable Acts were repealed. This would be a strict rule enforced across all of the colonies, to try and put financial pressure on Britain.
      • Beginning September 10, 1775, the Thirteen Colonies would cease exports to Great Britain, if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed by this date.
      • The Congress drafted a document titled the¬†Declaration of Rights and Grievances which was sent to King George III. The document reaffirmed the colonists’ rights as Englishmen, and listed grievances with the British government, such as taxation without representation. It requested the repeal of the Coercive Acts.
      • The Congress would reconvene in May 1775 if British tyranny continued, laying the groundwork for the Second Continental Congress.
      • The Thirteen Colonies would increase military readiness, in preparation for a possible future conflict.

      The economic resolutions of the Congress were contained in a document known as the Continental Association.

      King George III ignored the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, refusing to listen to colonists’ demands.

      Facts

      • The First Continental Congress had two presidents, who oversaw proceedings and facilitated discussions. Peyton Randolph was president until he retired for health reasons on October 22, when Henry Middleton took the role.
      • Many future Founding Fathers attended the First Continental Congress, including George Washington, John Jay, and John Adams.
      • Much of the contents of the deliberations held at the Congress were kept secret, to prevent British authorities from retaliating against the delegates.
      • One of the reasons Georgia did not participate was because the colony heavily relied on British military support against Native American tribes. Georgia had stronger economic links to Britain, meaning it did not want to risk upsetting the British government in 1774.
      • At the end of the First Continental Congress, other settlements outside of the Thirteen Colonies were invited to participate in the Second Continental Congress scheduled for May 1775, including West Florida, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. However, these regions, having stronger economic and political ties to Britain, did not send delegates.

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