September 5, 1774 — The First Continental Congress Convenes at City Tavern in Philadelphia
At 10:00 on the morning of September 5, 1774, the delegates of the First Continental Congress met for the first time at City Tavern in Philadelphia. They were there to discuss a unified colonial response to the Intolerable Acts. They were a series of laws passed by Parliament — four that punished Boston for the Boston Tea Party — and one that increased the size of the Province of Quebec, which restricted the westward expansion of the colonies.
The First Decision of the First Continental Congress
However, the first decision the members of the Continental Congress made had nothing to do with “No taxation without representation” or the Intolerable Acts. No, the first vote they took was on a room to hold their meetings in.
They walked from City Tavern to Carpenter’s Hall — about five minutes — where they were given a tour. John Adams, one of the Massachusetts delegates, wrote the following in his journal of this historic “first decision” of the Continental Congress.
“At Ten, The Delegates all met at the City Tavern, and walked to the Carpenters Hall, where they took a View of the Room, and of the Chamber where is an excellent Library. There is also a long Entry, where Gentlemen may walk, and a convenient Chamber opposite to the Library. The General Cry was, that this was a good Room, and the Question was put, whether We were satisfyed with this Room, and it passed in the Affirmative. A very few were for the Negative and they were chiefly from Pensylvania and New York.”
The Journals of the Continental Congress notes that Joseph Galloway, the Loyalist from Pennsylvania, wanted the meetings to be held a the statehouse.
The First Session of the First Continental Congress Starts
The delegates came together from diverse backgrounds. They came from different colonies with different economic interests. They were connected by their frustration with Great Britain who, since 1763, followed a pattern of trying to subjugate the American Colonies through the enforcement of laws that were often seen as violating the rights of Americans. Americans fully believed they had the same rights as natural-born Englishmen. However, Americans also believed they had no voice — no representation — in Parliament. After two decades of turmoil, the Boston Sons of Liberty staged the Boston Tea Party — an open revolt against the Tea Act. Parliament and King George III were furious and responded by passing the Intolerable Acts. Finally, the American Colonies realized they could only act as one, and the call was made for a “General Congress.”
On September 25, 1774, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and said, “Fifty Gentlemen meeting together, all Strangers, are not acquainted with Each others Language, Ideas, Views, Designs. They are therefore jealous, of each other — fearfull, timid, skittish…”
Introductions — from North to South
The men took their seats and proceeded to introduce themselves to Congress and read the credentials and instructions they had been given by their respective colonies. According to the Journals of the Continental Congress, they went in order, from North to South, as follows:
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- New York
- New Jersey
- South Carolina
Although North Carolina agreed to participate in the meetings, the delegation was not there on the first day.
Georgia did not participate in the First Continental Congress.
The First President of the Continental Congress
After the delegates took their seats, Thomas Lynch of South Carolina nominated Peyton Randolph of Virginia. As President of the Continental Congress, Randolph would also serve as the representative of the whole Congress.
“Then Mr. Lynch arose, and said there was a Gentleman present who had presided with great Dignity over a very respectable Society, greatly to the Advantage of America, and he therefore proposed that the Hon. Peytoun Randolph Esqr., one of the Delegates from Virginia, and the late Speaker of their House of Burgesses, should be appointed Chairman and he doubted not it would be unanimous.—The Question was put and he was unanimously chosen.”
Randolph was the logical choice to preside over the meetings. At the time, he was the Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the highest elected official in the colony. Virginia was also the oldest established colony, and it made sense for the leader to come from a Southern Colony, instead of a New England Colony, which was the target of the Intolerable Acts. The Quebec Act affected most of the colonies, including Virginia.
Official Name of the Congress and Title of President
According to James Duane, the next order of business was to decide what to call the body as a whole and how to refer to Randolph as the leader of the body. Duane wrote, “A Question was then put what Title the Convention should assume & it was agred that it should be called the Congress. Another Question was put what shoud be the Stile of Mr Randolph & it was agreed that he should be called the President.”
A Son of Liberty — and an Immigrant — Plays a Key Role
Charles Thomson of Philadelphia was chosen to serve as the Secretary for Congress. Thomson was born in Ireland and emigrated to the colonies with his father and two brothers in 1739, after the death of his mother. Thomson’s father died during the journey, so he was an orphan when he arrived at New Castle, Delaware. Thomson has the distinction of being the only immigrant to participate in the First Continental Congress.
Thomson eventually made his way to Philadelphia where he met Benjamin Franklin and became involved with the Patriot movement. He opposed the Stamp Act and was a leader of the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty. He came to be known as the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.”
In his role as Secretary, Thomson chose what to include in the official Journals of the Continental Congress.
According to James Duane, he was not as popular of a choice as Randolph. Duane wrote, “The next point was to fix on a Clerk or Secretary. Mr Thompson was proposd by Mr Lynch. Mr. Jay observed that he had Authority to say that one of the members of the Congress was willing to accept the Office & he conceivd the preference was due to him. To which it was answerd that such an appointment woud deprive the Congress of a Member as he woud be too much incumberd by the Duties of a Clerk to attend to the Trust for which he was chosen. The Objection being thought Reasonable Mr. Thompson was appointed by the Stile of Secretary of the Congress.”
However, John Adams remembered the selection of Thomson differently. Adams wrote, “Mr. Lynch proposed that Mr. Charles Thompson a Gentleman of Family, Fortune, and Character in this City should be appointed Secretary, which was accordingly done without opposition, tho Mr. Duane and Mr. Jay discovered at first an Inclination to seek further.”
A Committee to Draw Up the Rules of Conduct
Next, James Duane made a motion that a committee should be set up to determine the rules by which Congress would operate.
According to Adams, he asked Duane to clarify what he meant. Duane “mentioned particularly the Method of voting—whether it should be by Colonies, or by the Poll, or by Interests.”
Patrick Henry of Virginia agreed a committee was needed. According to Adams, Henry, “…arose, and said this was the first general Congress which had ever happened — that no former Congress could be a Precedent — that We should have occasion for more general Congresses, and therefore that a precedent ought to be established now. That it would be great Injustice, if a little Colony should have the same Weight in the Councils of America, as a great one, and therefore he was for a Committee.”
John Sullivan of Rhode Island spoke and said the stakes for small colonies, such as his, were just as great as they were for the larger colonies, like Virginia.
John Adams took the floor and replied to Duane’s three options.
First, in regards to voting by colonies, Adams said, “This is a Question of great Importance.—If We vote by Colonies, this Method will be liable to great Inequality and Injustice, for 5 small Colonies, with 100,000 People in each may outvote 4 large ones, each of which has 500,000 Inhabitants.”
Second, Adams addressed voting by poll, “If We vote by the Poll, some Colonies have more than their Proportion of Members, and others have less.”
Third, he discussed voting by “Interests” and said, “If We vote by Interests, it will be attended with insuperable Difficulties, to ascertain the true Importance of each Colony.”
He continued, and made it clear there was no obvious solution, “Is the Weight of a Colony to be ascertained by the Number of Inhabitants merely — or by the Amount of their Trade, the Quantity of their Exports and Imports, or by any compound Ratio of both. This will lead us into such a Field of Controversy as will greatly perplex us. Besides I question whether it is possible to ascertain, at this Time, the Numbers of our People or the Value of our Trade. It will not do in such a Case, to take each other’s Words. It ought to be ascertained by authentic Evidence, from Records.”
Eventually, the delegates voted to continue the discussion the next day.
End of the First Session of the First Continental Congress
The members voted to adjourn and agreed to reconvene on September 6, 1774, at 10:00 in the morning.
Delegates in Attendance on September 5, 1774
The Province of New Hampshire
The New Hampshire delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
The Province of Massachusetts Bay
The Massachusetts delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
The Rhode Island delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- The Honorable Stephen Hopkins, Esqr.
- The Honorable Samuel Ward, Esqr.
The Colony of Connecticut
The Connecticut delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- The Honorable Eliphalet Dyer, Esqr.
- Silas Deane, Esqr.
- The Honorable Roger Sherman, Esqr.
The City and County of New York
The delegates from the city and county of New York in attendance at the first meeting were:
- James Duane, Esqr.
- John Jay, Esqr.
- Philip Livingston, Esqr.
- Isaac Low, Esqr.
Suffolk County in the Colony of New York elected a delegate to attend.
- Colonel William Floyd, Esqr.
Colony of New Jersey
The New Jersey delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- James Kinsey, Esqr.
- William Livingston, Esqr.
- John Dehart, Esqr.
- Stephen Crane, Esqr.
- Richard Smith, Esqr.
Province of Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- Samuel Rhoads, Esqr.
- Thomas Mifflin, Esqr.
- Charles Humphreys, Esqr.
- John Morton, Esqr.
- Edward Biddle, Esqr.
New Castle, Kent, and Sussex, on Delaware
The Delaware delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- Caesar Rodney, Esqr.
- George Read, Esqr.
Province of Maryland
The Maryland delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- Robert Goldsborough, Esqr.
- William Paca, Esqr.
- Samuel Chase, Esqr.
Colony of Virginia
The Virginia delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- The Honorable Peyton Randolph, Esqr.
- George Washington, Esqr.
- Patrick Henry, Esqr.
- Richard Bland, Esqr.
- Benjamin Harrison, Esqr.
- Edmund Pendleton, Esqr.
The South Carolina delegates in attendance at the first meeting were:
- Henry Middleton, Esqr.
- John Rutledge, Esqr.
- Christopher Gadsden, Esqr.
- Thomas Lynch, Esqr.
- Edward Rutledge, Esqr.
Frequently Asked Questions About September 5, 1774
Benjamin Franklin was not a delegate to the First Continental Congress. He was in London, serving as the colonial agent for the Province of Pennsylvania. Had Franklin been present, it is possible he would have been elected instead of Randolph, as Franklin was well known in the colonies and in Europe. Franklin returned to America and was part of the Second Continental Congress.
Thomas Jefferson was in Virginia. Although he is well known for being a member of the Committee of Five and the author of the Declaration of Independence, those events took place during the Second Continental Congress. Jefferson was not elected to represent Virginia at the First Continental Congress.
For various reasons, there were some important delegates that missed the first session of Congress, including Richard Henry Lee (Virginia), Thomas McKean (Delaware), Thomas Johnson (Maryland), Matthew Tilghman (Maryland), John Alsop (New York), Henry Wisner (New York), George Ross (Pennsylvania), John Haring (New York), Simon Boerum (New York), and, finally, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania.
Georgia did not participate in the First Continental Congress. The consensus is the Colony was embroiled in a conflict with the Creek Indians and needed British military support to help defend the colony. On top of that, it appears a significant amount of the population of Georgia was loyal to the Crown.
North Carolina agreed to send delegates to Congress, but the North Carolina Provincial Congress was in session until the end of August. The delegates were delayed in arriving in Philadelphia. Joseph Hewes and William Hooper arrived on September 14. William Hooper arrived on September 17.