The First Continental Congress: Functioning Government under Strain


The First Continental Congress, 1774 / Wikimedia Commons

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.

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.

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 1774, the First Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia.

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.

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

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.

Carpenters’ Hall — the meeting place of the First Continental Congress

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.

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 — 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 ongoingintercolonial 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.

 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 — 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 ongoingintercolonial 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.


Originally published by The Independence Hall Association under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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