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The Birth and Government

of the

United States of America

Before the American Revolution

Ancient Times to 1775

Page 8

FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS

With colonial resentment toward the British at a fever pitch, the First Continental Congress met from September 5 to October 26, 1774 in Philadelphia with 56 delegates, representing all the colonies, except Georgia. In attendance were future presidents George Washington and John Adams. On October 14, the Congress adopted the Declaration and Resolves which called upon all American colonists to oppose the Coercive Acts, the Quebec Act and all other laws designed to supplant self-rule. It also asserted the right of colonists to “life, liberty and property.”

On October 20, the Congress adopted the Continental Association (the Association). This called for a boycott of English imports, an embargo of exports to Britain, and the discontinuance of the slave trade. These measures were to be enforced by a group of committees in each community, which would publish the names of merchants who defied the boycott, confiscate contraband and encourage public frugality.

The Congress also produced the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, a statement of American complaints addressed directly to King George III.

Before adjourning, the First Continental Congress agreed to a second meeting the following spring if colonial complaints had not been addressed appropriately.

WAR CLOUDS LOOM

On February 1, 1775, a provincial congress commissioned John Hancock and Joseph Warren to begin defensive preparations for a state of war. Eight days later the English Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.

In Virginia, on March 23, Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech against British rule, stating, “Give me liberty or give me death!” The speech is printed in newspapers throughout the colonies and becomes a rallying cry for revolution. Seven days later King George III approved the New England Restraining Act requiring New England colonies to trade exclusively with England and banned fishing in the North Atlantic. Fishing rights were very important to the economic health of the colonies and would be a continuing point of contention with the British.

On April 14, 1775 Britain ordered the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage to enforce the Coercive Acts and suppress open rebellion among the colonists by any means possible. Four days later General Gage sent 700 British soldiers to Concord to destroy the colonists’ weapons depot. That same night, colonists Paul Revere and William Dawes left Boston on a mission to warn the colonists of the arrival of British soldiers.

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