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First Continental Congress

First Continental Congress

The idea of an intercolonial meeting was advanced in 1773 by Benjamin Franklin, but failed to gain much support until after the Port of Boston was closed in response to the Boston Tea Party. When in May, 1774, the Boston Committee of Correspondence circulated letter urging the colonies to stop trading with England, the response from New York's Committee of 51, where the discussion was dominated by merchants, declined to participate in a boycott of English trade and suggested instead a continental congress:

Upon these reasons we conclude that a congress of deputies from the colonies in general is of the utmost moment; that it ought to be assembled without delay, and some unanimous resolution formed in this fatal emergency, not only respecting your deplorable circumstances, but for the security of our common rights.

On May 27, 1774, the Virginia House of Burgesses proposed a continental congress. A special convention was held on August 1 to elect delegates to the meeting in Philadelphia the following month. Thomas Jefferson, a delegate from Albemarle County, introduced a "Summary View of the Rights of British America." It failed to gain the support of the Virginia convention, but it brought attention to Jefferson as an exponent of the American cause.The First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia's Carpenters Hall on September 5, 1774. Twelve of the 13 colonies sent delegates. Georgia decided against roiling the waters; they were facing attacks from the restive Creek on their borders and desperately needed the support of regular British soldiers.The Congress, which continued in session until late October, did not advocate independence; it sought rather to right the wrongs that had been inflicted on the colonies and hoped that a unified voice would gain them a hearing in London.Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania, representing conservative views, introduced a "Plan of Union of Great Britain and the Colonies," which began on a highly conciliatory note:

Resolved, that this Congress will apply to His Majesty for a redress of grievances under which his faithful subjects in America labor; and assure him that the colonies hold in abhorrence the idea of being considered independent communities on the British government, and most ardently desire the establishment of a political union, not only among themselves but with the mother state, upon chose principles of safety and freedom which are essential in the constitution of all free governments, and particularly that of the British legislature.

Galloway's plan was well received by many delegates but was supported by only five colonies, against six opposed. Galloway's tendency towards compromise was soon eclipsed with the arrival of the Suffolk Resolves.Some of the most prominent figures of the era were among the 55 delegates in attendance, including George Washington, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, John Jay and John Dickinson.They were mostly people of social standing and made their livings from trade, farming and the law. Many were initially unknown to one another and vast differences existed on some of the issues, but important friendships flourished. Frequent dinners and gatherings were held and were attended by all except the spartan Sam Adams.Major actions taken by the Congress included the following:

  • Galloway Plan of Union.The first order of business was consideration of Pennsylvania conservative Joseph Galloway's plan for the creation of an American parliament to act in concert with the existing British body.Galloway's "Plan of Union of Great Britain and the Colonies," began on a highly conciliatory note:
    Resolved, that this Congress will apply to His Majesty for a redress of grievances under which his faithful subjects in America labor; and assure him that the colonies hold in abhorrence the idea of being considered independent communities on the British government, and most ardently desire the establishment of a political union, not only among themselves but with the mother state, upon chose principles of safety and freedom which are essential in the constitution of all free governments, and particularly that of the British legislature.
  • Suffolk Resolves.Before the Galloway proposal could be decided, Paul Revere rode into town bearing the Suffolk Resolves, a series of political statements that had been forwarded to Philadelphia by a number of Boston-area communities.The resulting discussion further polarized the Congress. The radical elements eventually gained the upper hand; a majority of the colonies voted to endorse the Resolves and against Galloway's plan.
  • The Association.The Congress next adopted the Continental Association, or simply, the Association, which established a total boycott by means of non-importation, non-exportation and non-consumption accords.These agreements were to be enforced by a group of committees in each community, which would publish the names of merchants defying the boycott, confiscate contraband, and encourage public frugality.
  • Declaration of Rights and Grievances.The Congress composed a statement of American complaints. It was addressed to King George III, to whom the delegates remained loyal, and pointedly, not to Parliament. In it, the delegates asserted that the colonists had certain rights which included, "life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever a right to dispose of either without their consent."The radical elements were critical of the Declaration because it conceded the right of Parliament to regulate colonial trade, a traditional view long held by most Americans, but one that was losing favor in the mid-1770s.
  • Future Meeting.Finally, the Congress agreed to convene the following spring if colonial complaints had not been properly addressed. That meeting, the Second Continental Congress, was indeed called in May 1775 in the wake of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.The First Continental Congress was regarded as a success by both the general public and the delegates. The latter, despite heated and frequent disagreements, had come to understand the problems and aspirations of people living in other colonies.Many of the friendships forged there would make easier the gargantuan task of governing the new nation in the coming years.
    See timeline of the American Revolution.

  • Continental Congress

    The Continental Congress was a series of legislative bodies which met in the British American colonies and the newly declared United States just before, during, and after the American Revolution. The term "Continental Congress" most specifically refers to the First and Second Congresses of 1774–1781 and may also refer to the Congress of the Confederation of 1781–1789, which operated as the first national government of the United States until being replaced by the bicameral US Congress, which governs today. Thus, the term covers the three congressional bodies of the Thirteen Colonies and the new United States that met between 1774 and 1789.

    The First Continental Congress was called in 1774 in response to growing tensions between the colonies culminating in the passage of the Intolerable Acts by the British Parliament. It met for about six weeks and sought to repair the fraying relationship between Britain and colonies while asserting the rights of colonists. The Second Continental Congress convened in 1775 in response to the breakout of hostilities in Massachusetts. Soon after meeting, this second Congress sent the Olive Branch Petition to King George III while also selecting George Washington as the head of the new Continental Army. After peace was not forthcoming, the same congress drafted and adopted the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, proclaiming that the former colonies were now independent sovereign states.

    The Second Continental Congress served as the provisional government of the U.S. for most of the War of Independence. In March 1781, the nation's first Frame of Government, the Articles of Confederation, came into force, at which time the body became the Congress of the Confederation. This unicameral governing body would convene in eight sessions prior to being disbanded in 1789, when the 1st United States Congress under the new Constitution of the United States took over the role as the nation's legislative branch of government.

    Both the First and Second Continental Congresses convened in Philadelphia, though with the capture of the city during the Revolutionary War, the Second Congress was forced to meet in other locations for a time. The Congress of Confederation was also established in Philadelphia and later moved to New York City when it became the U.S. capital in 1785.

    Much of what is known today about the daily activities of these congresses comes from the journals kept by the secretary for all three congresses, Charles Thomson. Printed contemporaneously, the Papers of the Continental Congress contain the official congressional papers, letters, treaties, reports and records. The delegates to the Continental and Confederation congresses had extensive experience in deliberative bodies, with "a cumulative total of nearly 500 years of experience in their Colonial assemblies, and fully a dozen of them had served as speakers of the houses of their legislatures." [1]

    Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention

    Note: Congress gave the Department of State custody of the records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses, 1789. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering received the official records of the Constitutional Convention from President Washington, 1796. All but a few of the records were transferred to the Library of Congress, 1903-22. Those records in the Library, as official records of the Federal Government, were transferred to the National Archives, 1952.

    Finding Aids: Kenneth E. Harris and Steven D. Tilley, comps., Index: Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (1976) John P. Butler, comp., Index: Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (1978). Howard H. Wehmann, comp., and Benjamin L. DeWhitt, rev., A Guide to Pre-Federal Records in the National Archives (1989).

    Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and of the Constitutional Convention in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.


    History: First Continental Congress met September 5-October 26, 1774, following calls for a general congress from Rhode Island (May 17), Pennsylvania (May 21), New York (May 23), and Massachusetts (June 17). Second Continental Congress met May 10, 1775, by resolution of the First Continental Congress, October 22, 1774 became the Confederation Congress ("United States in Congress Assembled"), March 2, 1781, following ratification of the Articles of Confederation, March 1, 1781. Confederation Congress superseded by the Federal Government, March 4, 1789.

    Note: Most of the records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses, 1774-89, are arranged (in 518 bindings) in a numerical sequence of 196 series referred to as item numbers (Items). The numbers 1-194 were assigned by William A. Weaver, a clerk in the Department of State, and listed in his Catalogue of Manuscript Books (1835). The numbers 195 and 196 were added after the records came into the custody of the Library of Congress, 1903. The miscellaneous records of the Continental Congress that are not a part of the numbered series (Items) of bound volumes are described UNDER 360.3.

    Microfilm Publications: M247.

    360.2.1 Records relating to Congressional activities

    Textual Records: Rough journals, 1774-89 transcript journals, 1775-79 and secret journals, 1775-88. Letter books of the Presidents of the Congresses, 1775-87, including those of John Hancock, Henry Laurens, John Jay, Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, John Hanson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, and Arthur St. Clair and letters addressed to the Congresses, 1775-89. Letter books of Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Congress, including letters sent, 1779-89 a general index to the records of the Confederation Congress, 1781-89 and other letters and records, 1781-89. Reports of the Committee of the Week, 1781-85 and of the Secretary of the Confederation Congress, 1785-88. Credentials of Delegates from the states to the Confederation Congress, and registers and indexes kept by the Secretary, 1781-89. Books of motions made in the Congress, 1777- 88 sundry motions and resolves of the Congress, 1775-86, 1788 and memorials, petitions, and remonstrances addressed to the Congress, 1775-89. Ordinances of the Confederation Congress, 1781-88. Letter book of the Executive Committee, Second Continental Congress, 1776-77. Records of the Office of Congress, 1781-89 and intercepted letters, 1775-81. Committee reports of the Congresses, including those of the Committee of the States, 1784, appointed to transact the business of the Confederation Congress (June 4-October 31, 1784). Reports on the administrative affairs of the Congress, establishment of a residence for its president, and the qualifications of its members, 1775-88 and proceedings of the Convention of Committees at New Haven, CT, 1778, and Hartford, CT, 1779-80. Drafts of the Articles of Confederation and a record of the proceedings of the Second Continental Congress, relating to the adoption and ratification of the Articles and proposals on locating the seat of government and printing the journals, 1777-89.

    360.2.2 Records relating to foreign affairs

    Textual Records: Letters and reports of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and of Secretaries for Foreign Affairs Robert R. Livingston and John Jay, 1776-83, 1785-88. Foreign letters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of State, 1785- 90. Departmental daily journal or dispatch book, 1781-83, 1784- 90 and resolve book, 1785-89. Treaties and contracts, 1778-88. Commissions and letters of credence of foreign ministers and consuls, 1778-1821. Letters from the Joint Commissioners for Negotiating Treaties with France and Great Britain, 1774-84 and the Joint Commissioners for the Formation of Treaties of Amity and Commerce, 1784-86. Letters with enclosures from diplomatic and consular representatives of France in the United States, 1778-90. Letters from ministers of France in the United States, 1779-84 and ministers representing the United Provinces of the Netherlands, 1783-96. Records relating to the Barbary Powers, 1779-92, 1795 and Spain, 1780-89. Records relating to American trade in the French West Indies, 1788-89. Applications for passports or sea letters, 1788-93. Records and accounts of Silas Deane, Beaumarchais, and Arthur Lee, 1776-84. Letters from U.S. diplomatic representatives, including Arthur Lee, 1776-80 Benjamin Franklin, 1776-88 William Carmichael, 1776-91 Charles W.F. Dumas, 1776-96 William Bingham, 1772-82 Ralph Izard, 1777- 84 John Adams, 1777-88 William S. Smith, 1779-89 Thomas Barclay and John Lamb, 1782-88 and Thomas Jefferson, 1785-89. Records relating to the claims for captured vessels, 1777-84. Committee reports relating to Canada, treaties, and foreign loans, 1776-86 and to foreign affairs, 1776-88.

    360.2.3 Records relating to fiscal affairs

    Textual Records: Committee reports on the operation of the Board of Treasury and the national finances, 1776-88. Reports of the Committee of Commerce reports on the 1781 public debt and estimates of expenses, 1779-86. Letters and reports from the Comptroller of the Treasury and claims of Canadian refugees, 1783-86. Reports on domestic loans and loan offices and on foreign loans, 1776-86. Records of the Board of Treasury, 1776- 81, 1784-89, including reports on applications from the states, a plan for selling public lands, letters, and bonds required by appointed commissioners. Letters and reports of Superintendent of Finance and Agent of Marine Robert Morris, 1781-85, with an appendix volume, 1776-78, 1781-86. Estimates and statements of receipts and expenditures, 1780-88. Estimates and other records relating to the Treasury, including records on the Grand Committee of Congress which considered the national debt, 1780- 88. Records of bankers in Holland and contracts for loans, 1779- 90. Records relating to investigations of Treasury offices, 1780- 81. Accounts of the Register's Office, 1781-83. Records respecting unsettled accounts, 1788, and returns of stores, 1783- 84. Incidental accounts (office expenses) of Charles Thomson, 1785-89.

    360.2.4 Records relating to military affairs

    Textual Records: Oaths of allegiance of military and public officers, 1776-89. Reports on the army and its various units, 1775-85. Reports of the Commissioners of Accounts from the Clothing and Hospital Departments, 1777-88 reports on the War Office and the Department of War, 1776-88 and reports on the Prisoners' Department, 1776-86. Reports of the Committees of Conference with the Commander in Chief at Cambridge, 1775, and at Valley Forge, 1778-79. Reports of committees on the Philadelphia mutiny and the peacetime establishment, 1783-86. Records of the Committee to Headquarters appointed to confer with the Commander in Chief, 1780. Reports on the Commissary Department and on the loss of certain army posts, 1776-86. Records relating to the British evacuation of New York, 1783. Records and affidavits relating to British depredations, 1775-84. Records of the Board of War and Ordnance, 1776-81, including letters from the Secretary and Paymaster of the Board. Records concerning the "convention troops," 1777-80. Letters and reports from Secretary at War Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, 1781-83 and letters and reports from Secretary at War Maj. Gen. Henry Knox, 1785-88. Letters from Gen. George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Army, 1775-84. Letters of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, 1780-83, with various records relating to the Quartermaster's Department, 1778-80. Letters from generals and other officers, 1775-89, including transcripts of letters from military officers, 1775-83. Letters from the Comte d'Estaing, 1777-86. Letters and records relating to the exchange of officers, 1778, 1780. Letters and reports from the Paymaster General and Commissioner for Army Accounts, 1781-88. Records relating to charges against Gen. John Sullivan and Dr. John Morgan and to British advances in the Mohawk Valley, 1776-79 and to the trial of Capt. Richard Lippincott, 1782.

    360.2.5 Records relating to naval affairs

    Textual Records: Reports on the Board of Admiralty and Agent of Marine, 1776-86 and of the Marine Committee and Board of Admiralty, 1776-81. Ship bonds required for letters of marque and reprisal granted by the states, 1776-83. Letters and records of John Paul Jones, 1777-91, including transcripts of letters, 1778- 80. Correspondence of Capt. Jones, and records relating to the trials of Capt. Peter Landais and Lt. James Degge, 1778-81.

    360.2.6 Records relating to territorial and state affairs

    Textual Records: Narrative of a journey to the western country by an Indian, n.d. Petitions about the Indiana region, 1779-83. Ordinances of the Confederation Congress and other records relating to the Western Territory of the United States, 1787-88. Memorials of the inhabitants of Illinois, Kaskaskia, and Kentucky, 1780-89. Reports relating to communications received from governors and other state officials, 1777-88. Committee reports on relations between the Congress and the states, 1775- 86. Reports on lands in the Western Territory, 1776-88. Committee reports and records on claims of New York and Vermont to the New Hampshire Grants, 1776-84. Letters received by Congresses (State Papers), 1775-91, from governors and other state officials, committees of safety, and state assemblies, relating to the coordination of the Congress and the state governments and including records relating to claims of territory by Pennsylvania and Connecticut, 1780-85. Letters from Thomas Hutchins, relating to his duties as Geographer of the United States in surveying state boundaries, 1781-88. Statistics on population of certain states and calculations of the land area of the United States and the Western Territory, 1774-86.

    360.2.7 Records relating to Indian affairs

    Textual Records: Proceedings of commissioners to negotiate a treaty with the Six Nations of Indians, 1775. Records relating to negotiations with northern Indians, 1776-79. Copies of Indian treaties, 1784-86. Committee reports, 1776-88. Miscellaneous records relating to Indians, 1765-89.

    360.2.8 Other records

    Textual Records: Reports on the Executive departments, 1776-86. Records of Postmasters General, and of committees of the Congress on the post office, 1776-88. Committee reports on applications from individuals, 1776-89. Reports on hospitals and applications of invalids, 1776-88.


    Note: The miscellaneous records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses consist of those records not a part of the numbered series of volumes comprising the main body of records.

    Microfilm Publications: M332.

    360.3.1 Records relating to foreign affairs

    Textual Records: Ordinance establishing the Department of Foreign Affairs, 1781. Records of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, 1782-88 (bulk 1782-83). Diplomatic letters and dispatches, many duplicating those in the numbered series, received from Charles W.F. Dumas, 1777-82 Benjamin Franklin, 1777, 1779-84 John Adams, 1779-83, 1785 Francis W. Dana, 1780-83 William Carmichael, 1780-83, 1785 Ralph Izard, 1777, 1779 Arthur Lee, 1777-79 Ralph Laurens, 1781 Henry Laurens, 1781-84 and John Jay, 1781. Letters, memorials, and notes from the Ministers of France in the United States, 1778-79, 1782. Letters of Louis XVI of France received by the Congress, 1778-87. Letters from the Marquis de Lafayette, 1782-83. Letters relating to Spain and the Barbary States, 1779-86. Draft of the proclamation by the Confederation Congress, declaring the cessation of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain, April 10, 1783. Draft of a commission for John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to negotiate a commercial treaty with Denmark, May 12, 1784. Copy of the treaty signed by the United States and Prussia and ratified by the Confederation Congress, 1786.

    360.3.2 Records relating to fiscal affairs

    Textual Records: Edict of Louis XVI providing for the payment at Amsterdam of interest and capital of certain royal loans due in the United Provinces of the Netherlands, June 1, 1786. Correspondence of the Amsterdam firm of John de Neufville and Son with American diplomats, 1778-85 and letters from the Amsterdam firms of Jacob van Staphorst, Wilhelm and Jan Willink, and DeLande and Fynje, 1782-89. Bills, 1782-83, drawn on Ferdinand Grand, Parisian banker records of issuance and payment of numbered notes issued by the Superintendent of Finance, 1782-83 and bonds submitted to Congress by the Board of Treasury Commissioners, 1785-87.

    360.3.3 Records relating to naval affairs

    Textual Records: Reports of the Marine Committee, 1776-79. Marine Committee letter book, 1776-80. Account of commissions for private armed vessels, received and forwarded to the several states, 1779-83.

    360.3.4 Records relating to territorial and state affairs

    Textual Records: Records relating to VA, MA, and NY, and to the PA and CT boundary dispute, 1779-1802. Deeds of cession of western lands, with related documents, for CT, GA, MA, NY, NC, SC, and VA, 1779-1802.

    360.3.5 Records relating to Congressional affairs

    Textual Records: Credentials of delegates from each state to Congress, 1774-89. Broadsides and other imprints issued by Congress, 1775-88. "Bankson's Journal," prepared for Secretary Charles Thomson and containing copies of various reports, resolutions, credentials, and acts of the period, 1786-90.

    360.3.6 Founding documents

    Textual records: The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, "fairly engrossed on parchment," as directed by the Continental Congress, July 19, 1776. Copies of the Articles of Confederation, July 9, 1778 proceedings of the Annapolis Convention, Sept. 11- 14, 1786 and the Articles of Association, Oct. 20, 1794.


    History: The Constitutional Convention, attended by delegates from each of the states except Rhode Island, met in Philadelphia, May 14-September 17, 1787.

    Textual Records: Journal of the Convention, May 14-September 15, 1787. Journal of the Proceedings of the Committee of the Whole House, May 30-June 19, 1787. Volume containing a detail of the yeas and nays given on questions in the Convention, 1787, including loose sheets of yeas and nays (now bound into one volume). Two copies of the Virginia Plan as amended in the Philadelphia Convention, June 13, 1787. Washington's annotated printed draft of the Constitution, as reported by the Committee of Detail, August 6, 1787. Draft of the letter from the Convention to the Confederation Congress, to accompany the Constitution, n.d. Letters received by the Convention from various sources, 1787. Documents transmitted (May 22, 1818) by David Brearley, a New Jersey delegate, to John Q. Adams, Secretary of State, including a copy of the propositions offered to the Convention by William Paterson, June 15, 1787 a copy of a plan for a constitution ("Plan of Government") presented in a speech to the Convention by Alexander Hamilton, June 18, 1787 two copies of the population returns of the several states, 1787 a copy of the resolutions submitted to the Convention by Edmond Randolph of Virginia on May 29, 1787 a copy of the report of the grand Committee on the eighth resolution reported from the Committee of the Whole House, and as much of the seventh as had not been decided upon, July 5, 1787 an annotated printed draft of the Constitution brought into the Convention, August 6, 1787, and reported by the Committee of Detail and an annotated printed draft of the Constitution brought into the Convention by the Committee on revision of Style and Arrangement, September 12, 1787. An original motion in the hand of Elbridge Gerry, July 24, 1787.

    Microfilm Publications: M866.

    Related Records: Engrossed copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights their instruments of ratification and the resolution of the Constitutional Convention accompanying the Constitution, in RG 11, General Records of the U.S. Government.

    1 item

    Map: Revolutionary War battlefield of Yorktown, VA, compiled by Lt. Col. Jean-Baptiste Gouvion, 1781.

    Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
    3 volumes, 2428 pages.

    This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.

    First Continental Congress

    The First Continental Congress was held from September 5 to October 26, 1774, at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this brief meeting, delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies tried to resolve their differences with Britain over the Intolerable Acts through diplomacy rather than warfare. Only Georgia, which still needed British military protection from Indian raids, failed to attend. A total of 56 delegates participated in the meeting, including eventual Founding Fathers George Washington, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Adams.

    While all of the colonies agreed on the need to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Intolerable Acts and other cases of taxation without representation, there was less agreement on how to best accomplish this. While most delegates favored remaining loyal to Great Britain, they also agreed that the colonies should be treated more fairly by King George and Parliament. Some delegates refused to consider taking any action beyond seeking a legislative resolution. Others favored pursuing total independence from Great Britain.

    After extensive debate, delegates voted to issue a Declaration of Rights, which expressed the colonies’ continued loyalty to the British Crown while also demanding voting representation in Parliament.

    In London, King George III opened Parliament on November 30, 1774, by delivering a scathing speech denouncing the colonies for failing to respect the rule of the Crown. Parliament, already considering the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, refused to take any action on their Declaration of Rights. It was now clear that the Continental Congress needed to meet again.

    Continental Congress

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    Continental Congress, in the period of the American Revolution, the body of delegates who spoke and acted collectively for the people of the colony-states that later became the United States of America. The term most specifically refers to the bodies that met in 1774 and 1775–81 and respectively designated as the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress.

    In the spring of 1774 the British Parliament’s passage of the Intolerable (Coercive) Acts, including the closing of the port of Boston, provoked keen resentment in the colonies. The First Continental Congress, convened in response to the Acts by the colonial Committees of Correspondence, met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. Fifty-six deputies represented all the colonies except Georgia. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was unanimously elected president, thus establishing usage of that term as well as “Congress.” Charles Thomson of Pennsylvania was elected secretary and served in that office during the 15-year life of the Congress.

    To provide unity, delegates gave one vote to each state regardless of its size. The First Continental Congress included Patrick Henry, George Washington, John and Samuel Adams, John Jay, and John Dickinson. Meeting in secret session, the body rejected a plan for reconciling British authority with colonial freedom. Instead, it adopted a declaration of personal rights, including life, liberty, property, assembly, and trial by jury. The declaration also denounced taxation without representation and the maintenance of the British army in the colonies without their consent. Parliamentary regulation of American commerce, however, was willingly accepted.

    In October 1774 the Congress petitioned the crown for a redress of grievances accumulated since 1763. In an effort to force compliance, it called for a general boycott of British goods and eventual nonexportation of American products, except rice, to Britain or the British West Indies. Its last act was to set a date for another Congress to meet on May 10, 1775, to consider further steps.

    Before that Second Continental Congress assembled in the Pennsylvania State House, hostilities had already broken out between Americans and British troops at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. New members of the Second Congress included Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. John Hancock and John Jay were among those who served as president. The Congress “adopted” the New England military forces that had converged upon Boston and appointed Washington commander in chief of the American army on June 15, 1775. It also acted as the provisional government of the 13 colony-states, issuing and borrowing money, establishing a postal service, and creating a navy. Although the Congress for some months maintained that the Americans were struggling for their rights within the British Empire, it gradually cut tie after tie with Britain until separation was complete. On July 2, 1776, with New York abstaining, the Congress “unanimously” resolved that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” Two days later it solemnly approved this Declaration of Independence. The Congress also prepared the Articles of Confederation, which, after being sanctioned by all the states, became the first U.S. constitution in March 1781.

    The Articles placed Congress on a constitutional basis, legalizing the powers it had exercised since 1775. To underline this distinction, the Congress that met under the Articles of Confederation is often referred to as the Congress of the Confederation, or the Confederation Congress. This Congress continued to function until the new Congress, elected under the present Constitution, met in 1789.

    The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.

    10d. First Continental Congress

    Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses
    Peter F. Rothermel, 1851' href='images/patrick_henry.jpg'>
    What do you do if you fail as a storekeeper and farmer? Become a lawyer! That's what Patrick Henry did. By the time he became a member of the First Continental Congress, Henry was known as a great orator.

    Americans were fed up. The "Intolerable Acts" were more than the colonies could stand.

    In the summer that followed Parliament's attempt to punish Boston, sentiment for the patriot cause increased dramatically. The printing presses at the Committees of Correspondence were churning out volumes.

    There was agreement that this new quandary warranted another intercolonial meeting. It was nearly ten years since the Stamp Act Congress had assembled.

    It was time once again for intercolonial action. Thus, on September 5, 1774, the First Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia.

    • Quartering Act (March 24, 1765): This bill required that Colonial Authorities to furnish barracks and supplies to British troops. In 1766, it was expanded to public houses and unoccupied buildings.
    • Boston Port Bill (June 1, 1774): This bill closed the port of Boston to all colonists until the damages from the Boston Tea Party were paid for.
    • Administration of Justice Act (May 20, 1774): This bill stated that British Officials could not be tried in provincial courts for capital crimes. They would be extradited back to Britain and tried there.
    • Massachusetts Government Act (May 20, 1774): This bill annulled the Charter of the Colonies, giving the British Governor complete control of the town meetings.
    • Quebec Act (May 20, 1774): This bill extended the Canadian borders to cut off the western colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

    Colonists came together at the First Continental Congress to protest the Intolerable Acts.

    This time participation was better. Only Georgia withheld a delegation. The representatives from each colony were often selected by almost arbitrary means, as the election of such representatives was illegal.

    Still, the natural leaders of the colonies managed to be selected. Sam and John Adams from Massachusetts were present, as was John Dickinson from Pennsylvania. Virginia selected Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, and Patrick Henry. It took seven weeks for the country's future heroes to agree on a course of action.

    First and most obvious, complete nonimportation was resumed. The Congress set up an organization called the Association to ensure compliance in the colonies.

    A declaration of colonial rights was drafted and sent to London. Much of the debate revolved around defining the colonies' relationship with mother England.

    A plan introduced by Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania proposed an imperial union with Britain. Under this program, all acts of Parliament would have to be approved by an American assembly to take effect.

    Such an arrangement, if accepted by London, might have postponed revolution. But the delegations voted against it &mdash by one vote.

    One decision by the Congress often overlooked in importance is its decision to reconvene in May 1775 if their grievances were not addressed. This is a major step in creating an ongoing intercolonial decision making body, unprecedented in colonial history.

    When Parliament chose to ignore the Congress, they did indeed reconvene that next May, but by this time boycotts were no longer a major issue. Unfortunately, the Second Continental Congress would be grappling with choices caused by the spilling of blood at Lexington and Concord the previous month.

    It was at Carpenters' Hall that America came together politically for the first time on a national level and where the seeds of participatory democracy were sown.

    What Did the First Continental Congress Do?

    The First Continental Congress convened in 1774 to organize opposition to the Coercive Acts, known to Americans as the Intolerable Acts. It drafted and sent a declaration of rights to London, organized a boycott of British goods and arranged for a Second Continental Congress if its demands were not met.

    The Coercive Acts, a British response to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, closed the port of Boston, imposed martial law in Massachusetts, obliged colonists to house British troops and freed British officials from prosecution. Delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia to formulate a response. They chose Peyton Randolph as president of the Congress. Other delegates included George Washington, John Adams and John Jay. The declaration of rights professed loyalty to England but denied Parliament's right of taxation of the American colonies. Besides the cessation of imports from England, the delegates planned a future ban on exports to England.

    The decision of the First Continental Congress to reconvene created an ongoing political body that functioned as the American government during the war. England ignored the demands of the colonists, and by the time the Second Continental Congress was convened in 1775, the Revolutionary War had begun. Among the tasks of the Second Continental Congress were the management of the war effort and drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence.

    First Continental Congress

    The First Continental Congress convened in Carpenters&rsquo Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, between September 5 and October 26, 1774. Delegates from twelve of Britain&rsquos thirteen American colonies met to discuss America&rsquos future under growing British aggression. The list of delegates included many prominent colonial leaders, such as Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, and two future presidents of the United States, George Washington and John Adams. Delegates discussed boycotting British goods to establish the rights of Americans and planned for a Second Continental Congress.

    The First Continental Congress was prompted by the Coercive Acts, known in America as the Intolerable Acts, which Parliament passed in early 1774 to reassert its dominance over the American colonies following the Boston Tea Party. The Intolerable Acts, among other changes, closed off the Boston Port and rescinded the Massachusetts Charter, bringing the colony under more direct British control.

    Across North America, colonists rose in solidarity with the people of Massachusetts. Goods arrived in Massachusetts from as far south as Georgia, and by late spring 1774, nine of the colonies called for a continental congress. Virginia&rsquos Committee of Correspondence is largely credited with originating the invitation.

    The colonies elected delegates to the First Continental Congress in various ways. Some delegates were elected through their respective colonial legislatures or committees of correspondence. As for Washington, he was elected with the other Virginia delegates at the First Virginia Convention, which was called in support of Massachusetts following the passage of the Intolerable Acts. Georgia was the only colony that did not send any delegates to the First Continental Congress. Facing a war with neighboring Native American tribes, the colony did not want to jeopardize British assistance.

    When Congress convened on September 5, 1774, Peyton Randolph of Virginia was named President of the First Continental Congress. One of the Congress&rsquos first decisions was to endorse the Suffolk Resolves passed in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. The Suffolk Resolves ordered citizens to not obey the Intolerable Acts, to refuse imported British goods, and to raise a militia. Congress&rsquos early endorsement of the Suffolk Resolves was a clear indication of the mood and spirit in Carpenters&rsquo Hall.

    Furthermore, the delegates promptly began drafting and discussing the Continental Association. This would become their most important policy outcome. The Association called for an end to British imports starting in December 1774 and an end to exporting goods to Britain in September 1775. This policy would be enforced by local and colony-wide committees of inspection. These committees would check ships that arrived in ports, force colonists to sign documents pledging loyalty to the Continental Association, and suppress mob violence. The committees of inspection even enforced frugality, going so far as to end lavish funeral services and parties. Many colonial leaders hoped these efforts would bond the colonies together economically.

    Virginia secured the Continental Association&rsquos delay in ending exports to Britain. Before the Continental Congress, Virginia had passed its own association that delayed ending exports to avoid hurting farmers with a sudden change in policy. The delegates from Virginia showed up to the Continental Congress united, and refused to waiver on the issue of delaying the ban on exports to Britain.

    The idea of using non-importation as leverage was neither new nor unexpected. Prior to the Continental Congress, eight colonies had already endorsed the measure and merchants had been warned against placing any orders with Britain, as a ban on importation was likely to pass. Some colonies had already created their own associations to ban importation and, in some cases, exportation. The Virginia Association had passed at the Virginia Convention with George Washington in attendance.

    Washington&rsquos support of using non-importation as leverage against the British can be traced back as far as 1769 in letters between him and George Mason. When the colonies first started publicly supporting non-importation, Bryan Fairfax, a longtime friend of Washington&rsquos, wrote to him urging him to not support the Continental Association and to instead petition Parliament. Washington dismissed this suggestion, writing &ldquowe have already Petitiond his Majesty in as humble, & dutiful a manner as Subjects could do.&rdquo 1 Washington, like many delegates at the First Continental Congress, no longer saw petitioning as a useful tool in changing Parliament&rsquos ways.

    Many delegates felt that using the Continental Association as leverage would be impractical without explicit demands and a plan of redress. However, Congress struggled to come up with a list of rights, grievances, and demands. Furthermore, to only repeal laws that were unfavorable to the delegates without a list of rights would be a temporary fix to the larger issue of continued British abuse. To address these issues, Congress formed a Grand Committee.

    All debate was stalled for weeks while a statement of American rights was debated at length. Producing this statement required answering constitutional questions that had been asked for over a century. The hardest constitutional question surrounded Britain&rsquos right to regulate trade. Joseph Galloway, a conservative delegate from Pennsylvania, insisted on releasing a statement clarifying Britain&rsquos right to regulate trade in the American colonies. However, other delegates were opposed to giving Britain explicit rights to colonial trade.

    During this debate, Galloway introduced A Plan of Union between the American Colonies and Britain. The Plan of Union called for the creation of a Colonial Parliament that would work hand-in-hand with the British Parliament. The British monarch would appoint a President General and the colonial assemblies would appoint delegates for a three-year term. Galloway&rsquos plan was defeated in a 6-5 vote. Congress put aside the debate over Britain&rsquos right to regulate trade and focused on the Continental Association.

    Congress later returned to the discussion of Congress&rsquos right to regulate trade and settled on the original suggested text by the Grand Committee and included it as Section 4 in the body&rsquos Declaration of Rights and Grievances. Section four states the &ldquothe foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council.&rdquo 2 This allowed for Congress to move forward in their discussion and assert their right to participation in their government, but did not explicitly place limits on Parliament&rsquos regulation of colonial trade.

    The First Continental Congress&rsquos most fateful decision was to call for a Second Continental Congress to meet the following spring. Congress intended to give Britain time to respond to the Continental Association and discuss any developments at the Second Continental Congress. Washington went shopping for muskets and military apparel before leaving Philadelphia for Mount Vernon. Furthermore, he placed an order for a book on military discipline. Though war had not been declared and many delegates were still hoping for redress, there was no doubt that the American colonies and Britain were on the brink of conflict. Many delegates learned of the Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775), in route to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress.

    Katherine Horan
    George Washington University

    1. &ldquoFrom George Washington to Bryan Fairfax, 20 July 1774,&rdquo Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-10-02-0081. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 10, 21 March 1774?&ndash?15 June 1775, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, pp. 128&ndash131.]


    Ammerman, David. In the Common Cause American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. New York: Norton, 1975.

    Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: First Vintage Books, 2004.

    Irwin, Benjamin. Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors. New York: Oxford, 2011.

    Middlekauff, Robert. Washington&rsquos Revolution: The Making of America&rsquos First Leader. New York: Random House, 2015.

    The 12 Colonies Who Attended The First Continental Congress

    • Pennsylvania
    • New York
    • North Carolina
    • South Carolina
    • New Hampshire
    • Virginia
    • Massachusetts
    • Connecticut
    • Maryland
    • Rhode Island
    • Delaware
    • New Jersey

    There were a total of 56 patriotic leaders who participated here from the 12 colonies above.

    The First Congress And Its History

    Some of The Most Important Names Are:

    • George Washington (later the first president of the USA)
    • Patrick Henry
    • Edmund Pendleton
    • Richard Bland
    • Peyton Randolph
    • John Adams
    • John Jay
    • Richard Henry Lee
    • Benjamin Harrison
    • Samuel Adams
    • John Dickinson
    • Henry Middleton
    • Joseph Galloway
    • Edward Rutledge
    • Roger Sherman, etc.

    Patriotic leader Peyton Randolph was elected as the first president of the Continental Congress.

    He served from September 5th to October 22nd, 1774.

    However, later due to ill health, Peyton Randolph had to retire from the president’s seat.

    So, then Henry Middleton elected for balancing and running the meeting till 26th October 1774.

    Although, Randolph arrived back for the Second Continental Congress in 1775.

    Due to his first presidency in Congress, many historians also want to call him the first president of the United States of America.

    However, the nation was still under British rule.

    So, I hope, now you have got your answer on who attended the First Continental Congress.

    What 3 Things Did The First Continental Congress Do?

    The First Continental Congress did so many great things for the 13 colonies.

    Among them, 3 things are considered as the most important.

    1. The First Congress unified the people of the 13 colonies.

    Though, Georgia didn’t participate due to some obligations but emotionally, they also unified via this meeting.

    In simple words, the meeting began the journey towards the formation of the United States of America.

    2. This was the meeting where collectively the colonies decided to impose a heavy economic boycott over British goods’ supply to the colonies.

    This was one of the major initiatives from the colonists’ side, which also got massive success.

    Till 1775, this boycott succeeded in causing heavy economic losses to British businesses.

    According to some sources, it reduced English goods’ imports to the markets by 97 percent.

    3. The third big thing executed by the Continental Congress lead the whole struggle towards the Revolutionary War of Independence.

    In this initiative, the delegates of the Congress decided to set up their own militias for inevitable major armed conflicts against the British Royal army.

    The First Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from twelve of the Thirteen Colonies who met from September 5 to October 26, 1774 at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania early in the American Revolution.

    Committees of Correspondence. — The colonies all had what they termed “Committees of Correspondence,” and through these committees they kept one another informed by letter of what was going on. In Boston, only one town meeting a year was permitted by the governor. The citizens accordingly held one town meeting, and by adjourning from time to time made it last through all the year. Throughout the colonies first steps were being taken. They knew not whither these steps would lead they hoped to a redress of grievances. As the result showed, they could lead only to independence.

    A Continental Congress proposed. — On the 17th of June, 1774, Samuel Adams proposed in the Massachusetts General Court, held at Salem, that a Continental Congress should be called to meet in Philadelphia the first of September. Five delegates from Massachusetts were chosen. Two days earlier, Rhode Island had elected delegates to such a congress.

    The Massachusetts Provincial Congress. — A few months later, the House again met in Salem and resolved itself into a Provincial Congress to be joined by such other members as should be chosen. They then adjourned to Concord, and there elected John Hancock president. After transacting what business was necessary, they adjourned to Cambridge, and there, October 21st, 1774, a committee drew up a plan for the immediate defence of the colony. A committee of safety was appointed to attend to all military matters, and a committee of supplies to furnish resources for the committee of safety.

    Massachusetts raises an Army. — In November, this Congress decided to raise an army of twelve thousand men, and appointed proper officers for it. Thus a revolutionary government was in full operation in Massachusetts. The drift toward revolution was apparent in every colony. The Provincial Congress remained the government of the people in Massachusetts until the 19th of July, 1775, when it dissolved itself, and a new House of Representatives, whose members had been chosen by the several towns, according to their usage and their charter, organized, by choosing James Warren as speaker. James Bowdoln was made president. The present seal of the Commonwealth was adopted.

    The First Congress. — The First Continental Congress met in Carpenters’ Hall, Philadelphia, on the 5th of September, 1774. This Congress resulted from an almost universal and simultaneous demand from the various colonies. The first call came from Virginia.

    Proposed by Massachusetts. — The Massachusetts General Court, at Salem, on June 17th, appointed five delegates to a Congress “That might be convened the first of September at Philadelphia.” All the colonies except Georgia appointed delegates. This Congress included many sagacious men, well versed in governmental affairs. Among them may be named George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, Peyton Randolph, Patrick Plenry, and Benjamin Harrison, of Virginia Samuel Adams and John Adams, of Massachusetts John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania Christopher Gadsden and John Rutledge, of South Carolina Dr. John Witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey Stephen Hopkins, of Rhode Island Roger Sherman, of Connecticut and John Jay, of New York.

    What it Did. — All votes taken by this Congress were by States, every State having one vote. The important action was as follows: —

    1. A declaration of rights.
    2. An agreement to stop exports to Great Britain and imports from there, and to discontinue the slave trade after the first of December.
    3. An address to the British people.
    4. A petition to the king.
    5. The formation of the “American Association.”
    6. An address to the people of Canada, Nova Scotia, and the Floridas.
    7. A provision for another Congress, to be held in May, 1775.

    How it was Done. — The business of this Congress was executed with remarkable skill. William Pitt said:

    For solidity of reason, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion under a combination of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia. The histories of Greece and Rome give us nothing equal to it, and all attempts to impose servitude upon such a mighty continental nation roust be in vain.”

    Under The Flag History of the Stars and Stripes… Inception, Birth, Evolution, Development or Growth of the Stars and Stripes. Woelfly, Simon John, 1847 and Stine, Milton H. 1853-1940.

    First Continental Congress - History

    The First Continental Congress was a gathering of thirteen North American delegates during the convention on September 5, 1774 at the Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. This was during the early stages of the American Revolution and was initiated after the Coercive Acts were passed. Coercive Acts refers to the response by the British government to the Colonial American’s Intolerable Acts that fought for justice during the Boston Tea Party.

    The Gathering

    Congress saw 56 members in attendance. This included 12 of the 13 North American colonies appointed by legislatures, with the Province of Georgia an exception since at that time Georgia was a convict state and had no state considerations.

    The purpose of the congress was to take into consideration all options including the boycott of British trade, fight for the ever-growing list of grievances and rights, and petition for redress of such rights to King George.

    Stopping the Acts

    The First Continental Congress also summoned for another Continental Congress if their efforts were unsuccessful in stopping the Intolerable Acts. Appeals to the Royal Empire and British Parliament were unsuccessful. This led to another convention, which was known as Second Continental Congress. This was aimed at organizing of the defense act at of the ensuing American Revolutionary War. The delegates were also encouraged to train and build their own militia.

    The First Continental Congress on September 5 to October 26 1774 was presided over by Peyton Randolph. Henry Middleton was made president of Congress from October 22 to October 26. The leader of Philidelphia Committee of Correspondence was made Secretary of the Continental Congress.

    Patrick Henry sought for a fresh system, believing that the government was already dissolved. The delegate from Pennsylvania Joseph Galloway was still in a reconciliatory mood with Britain, with his proposed “Plan of Union” in tow. His plan was to form a legislative body using some authority and required consent for imperial measures. The ones that went with Galloway’s “Plan of Union” were Edward Rutledge and John Hay as well as other conservatives. Galloway later became one of the loyalists.


    There were two significant accomplishments of the Congress, the first being the compact between the colonies to boycott British trade starting on December 1, 1774. West Indies did not like boycotts unless it was

    a unanimously decided in the island to boycott British goods. British imports decreased by 97%in 1775. Observation and Inspection committees were formed in every colony to enforce the Association. There was a unanimous approval during the proceedings in the colonial House of Assembly. The only province that was contested was New York.

    The colonies would have stopped exports to Britain after September 10, 1977 had the Intolerable Acts” not been repealed. With the success of the implementation of the boycott added to the cutoff of British colonial policy, everything was gearing up as planned until the outbreak of the war called The American Revolution.

    Another accomplishment of the Congress was to initiate a Second Continental Congress on May 22, 1775. Aside from the attendance of the first Congress, the Second Congress sent invitations to Quebec, Nova Scotia, Georgia, East Florida Saint John Island and West Florida.

    Watch the video: First Continental Congress (January 2022).