Boston Committee of Correspondence
BOSTON COMMITTEE OF CORRESPONDENCE
BOSTON COMMITTEE OF CORRESPONDENCE. The American colonies inherited a tradition of forming citizen committees to deal with various common problems. Such committees were most often organized as committees of "safety," "correspondence," and sometimes "inquiry." They were usually formed when the official organs of government either were not functioning, were perceived to be inadequate, or were functioning in opposition to local public will. In the American colonies, officials that were supposed to be provided by the British government were often not available or responsive, and so lacking other legal structures, colonists would elect committees of safety as local provisional governing bodies, and committees of correspondence to inform one another of common threats, such as movements of enemy forces during the French and Indian War (1756–1763). As tensions between the colonies and British government intensified during the 1760s and 1770s, these informal bodies became much more important. A committee of correspondence would focus on investigation, communication with other areas, and publication of information for the public. The Boston Committee of Correspondence was appointed by a town meeting on 2 November 1772, upon the motion of Samuel Adams. It consisted of twenty-one men headed by James Otis. The committee gathered and shaped public opinion and communicated Boston's position on colonists' rights and abuses by British officials, first to other Massachusetts cities, then to other colonies. It requested that similar committees, and committees of safety, be set up in all the colonies. Within a few months, eighty committees had been organized in Massachusetts alone.
Such committees had in the past tended to be temporary organizations that were dissolved shortly after their usefulness was exhausted. But Rhode Island's Gaspee affair, in which a British customs schooner was burned, led Richard Henry Lee and his Raleigh Tavern associates in Virginia to suggest the establishment of an intercolonial standing Committee of Correspondence. On 12 March 1773, Dabney Carr, a close friend of Thomas Jefferson, introduced a resolution for the establishment of a standing Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry. This committee was to contact the legislatures of each colony so that they could join Virginia and offer concerted opposition to British encroachments on colonial rights. The resolution was passed unanimously, and eleven were appointed to serve on the committee. Virginia thus formed the opposite pole to Massachusetts, but also bridged New England and the southern colonies. Within a year, all the colonies had formed committees of correspondence, most within a few months.
Brown, Richard D. Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772–1774. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.
Wells, William V. The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams. 3 vols. Boston: Little, Brown, 1866.