Committees of Correspondence2018-01-13T16:46:12+00:00
Portrait of Sam Adams.

Sam Adams was involved with the Boston Committee of Correspondence.

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Committees of Correspondence

In an era before modern communications, news was generally disseminated in hand-written letters that were carried aboard ships or by couriers on horseback. Those means were employed by the critics of British imperial policy in America to spread their interpretations of current events.

Committees of Correspondence

Volumes and volumes of written work was emerging in the American colonies on the subject of British policies. Apart from major documents and publications, much writing had been produced as letters, pamphlets, and newspaper editorials. The arguments set forth in this way were at times very convincing. American patriots of the 1770s did not have modern means of communication at their disposal. To spread the power of the written word from town to town and colony to colony, COMMITTEES OF CORRESPONDENCE were established.

The Committee of Correspondence: Moving Towards Independence

Committees of Correspondence were not unknown to colonial legislatures. For many years, various colonies had used these committees to deal with important matters usually between the individual colony and the mother country.3 They tended to be temporary organizations which were dissolved shortly after their usefulness was exhausted until backcountry counterfeiting and Rhode Island's Gaspee Affair spurred Richard Henry Lee and his Raleigh Tavern associates to suggest the establishment of an intercolonial standing Committee of Correspondence.4

The Formation of the Committees of Correspondence

In the fall of 1772, Bostonians address the latest rumors from Parliament: judges of the Superior Court of Judicature will no longer be paid by the colony's General Court. Instead, judges will be paid directly from the royal treasury, using money collected by the American Board of Customs Commissioners. Fearing this new process will "pervert the judgment of men," Bostonians petition their selectmen to act. In the process of debating the matter, Samuel Adams proposes the creation of a corresponding society to gauge the sentiments of other Massachusetts towns. On 2 November 1772, a committee is born when the Boston selectmen vote to establish a twenty-one-member Committee of Correspondence.

Committees of Correspondence

Committees of Correspondence were used in eighteenth-century America to maintain contact among institutions and communities. The Massachusetts Assembly established such a committee to deal specifically with the problem of British policy as early as 1764. In 1771 the Boston Town Meeting appointed a committee to rouse fervor elsewhere in Massachusetts. The committee was the idea of Samuel Adams. Relations with Britain were quiescent at the time, but Adams believed Britain's seeming retreat in 1770 by its repeal of four of the five Townshend taxes had only been tactical and that colonials needed to be prepared for another crisis.

Circular Letter of the Boston Committee of Correspondence; May 13, 1774

Transcript of a circular letter of the Boston Committee of Correspondence following the passage of the Boston Port Act (1774)

Committees of Correspondence

Throughout the eighteenth century, colonial assemblies designated some of their members as committees of correspondence to communicate with their agents in Britain and with other assemblies. Merchants used similar bodies to keep in touch and to lobby politicians. The most significant committee of correspondence, however, had different purposes and a more crucial impact.

Committee of Correspondence

A committee of correspondence was a body organized by the local governments of the American colonies for the purposes of coordinating written communication outside of the colony. These served an important role in the American Revolution and the years leading up to it, disseminating the colonialinterpretation of British actions between the colonies and to foreign governments. The committees of correspondence rallied opposition on common causes and established plans for collective action, and so the network of committees were the beginning of what later became a formal political union among the colonies.

Proceedings of the New York Committee of Correspondence, July 19, 1774

Transcript of the proceedings of the New York Committee of Correspondence, in response to the enactment of the Coercive Acts, July 19, 1774

Committees of Correspondence

colonial groups organized prior to the American Revolution to mobilize public opinion and coordinate patriotic actions against Great Britain. They were established by private citizens, town councils, and legislatures in the American colonies. Although colonial legislatures had appointed committees and charged them with communicating with their counterparts in other provinces during the 1760s, the first revolutionary use of Committees of Correspondence occurred in Massachusetts in 1772.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Committees of Correspondence External Links
  • Coverage 1764–1773
  • Author
  • Keywords committees of correspondence
  • Website Name American History Central
  • URL
  • Access Date June 26, 2019
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 13, 2018

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