First Continental Congress, Declarations and Resolves of (October 1, 1774)

views updated


The Coercive or Intolerable Acts, passed by Parliament in 1774, threatened colonial self-government. The Boston Port Act sought to starve Boston into paying a tax on tea and making reparations for the "Boston Tea Party." The Massachusetts Government Act altered the charter of the colony: it stripped the lower house of power to choose the upper house, which became the creature of the royal governor; it took from the town meetings the power to choose jurors and vested that power in sheriffs appointed by the governor; and it banned all town meetings not approved by the governor. The Administration of Justice Act allowed the governor to transfer to England trials involving the enforcement of revenue acts. The Quartering Act and the Quebec Act also contained provisions deemed reprehensible by many colonists.

To decide on measures for the recovery of American liberties, delegates from all colonies but Georgia assembled in Philadelphia. After defeating the plan of union proposed by joseph galloway, the congress adopted a statement that defined the American constitutional position on the controversies with Parliament. Congress grasped a rudimentary principle of federalism, asserted various American rights, and condemned as "unconstitutional" the Coercive Acts and all the acts by which Parliament sought to raise a revenue in America. Rejecting Parliament's claim of unlimited power to legislate for America, the congress repudiated taxation without representation and any parliamentary governance over "internal polity" but recognized Parliament's power to regulate "external commerce." Congress also grounded American rights, for the first time, in "the immutable laws of nature" as well as the British constitution and colonial charters. Among the rights claimed were free government by one's own representatives, trial by a jury of the vicinage according to the common law, freedom of assembly and petition (holding town meetings), freedom from standing armies in time of peace, and, generally, the rights to life, liberty, property, and all the liberties of English subjects. The document was a forerunner of the first state bills of rights.

Leonard W. Levy


Burnett, Edmund Cody 1941 The First Continental Congress. Pages 33–59. New York: Macmillan.

About this article

First Continental Congress, Declarations and Resolves of (October 1, 1774)

Updated About content Print Article