Summary of the First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia at Carpenter’s Hall from September 5, 1774, to October 26, 1774, to discuss a response to the Coercive Acts. After Britain passed the Boston Port Act to punish Boston for the Boston Tea Party, the political leaders in Boston called for an intercolonial trade boycott against British merchants. However, some of the other colonies were not entirely sure that was the best course of action, and they called for a new intercolonial Congress to discuss the issue. By the time the colonies agreed and the delegates were elected, news reached the colonies of three more acts intended to punish Boston and Massachusetts and a fifth act that dramatically altered the boundaries and laws of the Province of Quebec. Collectively, the five laws are known as the Coercive Acts or the Intolerable Acts. 12 of the 13 colonies sent delegates to the meeting. At the time, Georgia was dealing with a threat on its frontier from Native American Indian tribes and needed British military aid, so the colony decided not to participate in the meetings. Over the course of roughly six weeks, the delegates made several key decisions that organized colonial opposition to British authority. Congress adopted the Suffolk Resolves, discussed a plan of union, and produced a document called the Declaration of Rights and Grievances that was sent to King George III. Congress decided to implement a trade boycott and informed the King the boycott would go into effect if the Coercive Acts were not repealed. In order to enforce the trade boycott, Congress formed the Continental Association. Congress also made one final critical decision — to reconvene in May 1775 if the Coercive Acts were not repealed.
This illustration depicts Reverend Jacob Duché delivering the opening prayer to the First Continental Congress. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.
The Coercive Acts
King George III and some leaders in Parliament wanted to make it clear to all the colonies that rebellious behavior would not be tolerated. Four laws were written that reinforced Britain’s authority over Massachusetts, Boston, and all the colonies, and the fifth law, the Quebec Act, gave preferential treatment to the Province of Quebec.
The first was the Boston Port Act. It closed the port of Boston, with few exceptions, on June 1, until the British East India Company was paid for the tea that was destroyed during the Boston Tea Party.
The second was the Massachusetts Government Act. It revised the governing structure of Massachusetts, consolidating royal authority and severely limiting self-government.
The Administration of Justice Act was the third act. It authorized the governor of Massachusetts to move trials of royal officials accused of committing capital offenses, while performing their official duties, to another colony or to Great Britain, if he believed the accused would not receive a fair trial in Massachusetts.
The fourth was a revision of the Quartering Act of 1765 and expanded the types of buildings in which soldiers could be housed. The Quartering Act of 1774 also removed the requirement the soldiers had to be provided with provisions.
The final act, the Quebec Act, rewarded the loyal Province of Quebec by reestablishing its borders and greatly expanding its size by transferring land in the Ohio Country that had been promised to other colonies.
When news of the Coercive Acts arrived in America, there was outrage. The King and Parliament wanted to make an example of Boston. Instead, the other colonies rallied to help Boston. They sent food and provisions, and the Sons of Liberty called for a boycott of British goods, as they had done before in response to British laws governing the colonies.
The colonial governments called for a Congress to be assembled, and gave Congress the authority to set the terms and conditions of the boycott.
The First Continental Congress helped define common grievances against Great Britain and solidified colonial resolve to band together to encourage or force Parliament to address those grievances.
Leaders of the First Continental Congress
Peyton Randolph, from the colony of Virginia, oversaw the proceedings until the last few days. When he was unable to continue his duties, Henry Middleton of South Carolina took over as President. The Secretary of the Congress was Charles Thomson. He was a leader of the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia and sometimes referred to as the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.”
Other prominent members of Congress included:
Response to the Coercive Acts
At the time, the members of Congress did not seek independence, they wanted to end the enforcement of the Coercive Acts. The members hoped their grievances would be heard in London, and right the perceived wrongs that had been inflicted upon the colonies. Congress allowed the colonies to coordinate their resistance to British rule, worked to balance the interests of different colonies, and established itself as the official liaison to Great Britain.
Congress Adopts the Suffolk Resolves
While Congress met in Philadelphia, representatives in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which included Boston, held their own meeting to discuss a response to the Coercive Acts. The meeting produced 19 resolutions, which were primarily written by Joseph Warren, a leading Patriot in Boston. The Resolutions are known as the Suffolk Resolves They were approved by the delegates at the Suffolk Convention on September 9.
The Resolves were given to Paul Revere, who rode his horse from Boston to Philadelphia and delivered the document to the Massachusetts representatives at the Congress. Revere delivered the Resolves on September 16 and the Massachusetts delegates presented the Resolves to Congress on September 17.
The Resolves were controversial. Some members believed Massachusetts had gone too far because the Resolves instructed people to ignore the Coercive Acts and told the towns to raise militia forces.
After a debate, Congress endorsed the Suffolk Resolves and ordered them to be printed in the newspapers.
Articles of Association and the Continental Association
On October 20, 1774, it adopted the Articles of Association, which stated that if the Coercive Acts were not repealed by December 1, 1774, a boycott of British goods would begin in the colonies. The Articles also provided plans for an embargo on exports if the Acts were not repealed by September 10, 1775. A formal petition to King George III was drafted on October 26 that outlined the grievances of the colonies. The Congress voted to reconvene in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775.
Galloway’s Plan of Union
Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania proposed a plan that suggested the creation of an American Parliament, which would work along with the British Parliament. Galloway’s “Plan of Union” was supported by John Jay and Edward Rutledge, but opposed by delegates such as Patrick Henry. Galloway’s plan was defeated by a vote of six to five on October 22, 1774.
Delegates to the First Continental Congress
New Hampshire Delegates
Rhode Island Delegates
- Stephen Hopkins
- Samuel Ward
New York Delegates
- James Duane
- John Jay
- Philip Livingston
- Isaac Low
- Simon Boerum
- John Haring
- Henry Wisner
- William Floyd
- John Alsop
New Jersey Delegates
- Stephen Crane
- John De Hart
- James Kinsey
- William Livingston
- Richard Smith
- Edward Biddle
- John Dickinson
- Joseph Galloway
- Charles Humphreys
- Thomas Mifflin
- John Morton
- Samuel Rhoads
- George Ross
- Samuel Chase
- Robert Goldsborough
- Thomas Johnson
- William Paca
- Matthew Tilghman
- Richard Bland
- Benjamin Harrison
- Patrick Henry
- Richard Henry Lee
- Edmund Pendleton
- Peyton Randolph
- George Washington
North Carolina Delegates
- Richard Caswell
- Joseph Hewes
- William Hooper
South Carolina Delegates
Presidents of The First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was the first governing body of the 13 Original Colonies that existed before the United States Constitution was ratified. As with all meetings, the members selected someone to preside over the sessions. This person was usually been referred to as the President, and sometimes is mistakenly referred to as “President of the United States.” It is important to understand the role and authority of the position in the Continental Congress, prior to the implementation of the United States Constitution, was not the same as it is today. There were two men who oversaw the proceedings of the First Continental Congress.
Peyton Randolph, First President of the Continental Congress
Peyton Randolph of Virginia was the first President of Congress. He served from September 5, 1774, to October 22, 1774. He was nominated by Thomas Lynch of South Carolina.
Before he was elected to Congress, he led militia forces during the French and Indian War, served as the Attorney General of the colony, and was a member of the House of Burgesses.
Randolph was elected unanimously by the members of Congress to preside over the meetings. He resigned as President in October so he could return to Virginia to tend to his responsibilities as Speaker of the House of Burgesses.
Henry Middleton, Second President of the Continental Congress
Henry Middleton of South Carolina was the second President of Congress. He served from October 22, 1774, to October 26, 1774. Technically, he was still President when Congress disbanded, so he still held the position when Congress reconvened in May 1775. He was replaced by Peyton Randolph on May 10, 1775.
President Middleton came from a wealthy family. When his father died in 1737, he inherited property in South Carolina, Britain, and Barbados.
Before he was elected to Congress, he served in the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly and was a member of the Royal Council. He resigned from the Council in 1770 and joined the Patriot cause.