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Massachusetts Provincial Congress

Massachusetts Provincial Congress

MASSACHUSETTS PROVINCIAL CONGRESS. 1774. The Massachusetts Government Act of 20 May 1774 virtually annulled the Massachusetts Charter of 1692. It stripped the General Assembly (the lower house of the General Court) of its charter right to elect the Council (the upper house) and prescribed that, effective 1 August, members of the Council would be appointed by the king and hold office at his pleasure. In accordance with the king's orders, Major General Thomas Gage (the royal governor of Massachusetts as well as the British commander in chief in North America) moved the seat of the Massachusetts government to Salem, where on 17 June the Assembly met under protest against its removal from Boston. After locking the door to prevent Gage's order to dissolve the legislature from taking effect, the Assembly proposed that a congress of delegates from all the continental North American colonies be held at Philadelphia in early September 1774 to concert a collective response to these violations of self-government. The Assembly promptly elected five delegates to represent Massachusetts.

A few weeks later Gage appointed thirty-six members to the Governor's Council, the so-called mandamus councillors because they were appointed by a writ of mandamus. Eleven immediately declined to serve, and the others came under such public pressure that they were forced to take refuge in Boston. On 1 September, the same day he sent 250 soldiers to seize government gunpowder from the Cambridge powder house, Gage called for the Council and General Assembly to meet together in a General Court at Salem on 5 October. Dismayed by the enormous turnout of armed citizens who responded to his seizure of the powder, and unable in the subsequent days to find a means to quiet the province, Gage on 28 September withdrew the summons because he realized that his fugitive councillors would not be permitted to attend. Opponents of the Government Act chose to assume that Gage had no right to cancel his call for the Assembly to meet, so a majority of towns around the colony elected delegates to that body, who were seated at Salem on the announced date, 5 October. Gage made it a point not to appear, and after two days the delegates adjourned to Concord, where on 11 October they organized themselves into a provincial congress and elected John Hancock as president of this extralegal body. The Provincial Congress thereafter operated as the government of all Massachusetts outside British-controlled Boston.

SEE ALSO Gage, Thomas; Mandamus Councillors.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alden, John R. General Gage in America: Being Principally a History of His Role in the American Revolution. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1948.

Wroth, L. Kinvin, et al., eds. Province in Rebellion: A Documentary History of the Founding of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1774–1775. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.

                              revised by Harold E. Selesky

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