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FIRST CONGRESS OF COLONIAL DELEGATES—ASSERTION OF RIGHTS-NON-INTERCOURSE
-PETITION TO THE KING-ADVICE TO MASSACHUSETTS-LORD NORTH'S MOTION
NATURE BY THE MEMBERS OF CONVENTION-MATTER OF THE DECLARATION
The first Congress of delegates “ chosen and appointed by the several colonies and provinces in North America to take into consideration the actual condition of the same, and the difficulties subsisting between them and Great Britain," was held in Philadelphia, on the 5th of September, 1774. Delegates attended from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Delaware Counties, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. On the 14th of September, delegates appeared from North Carolina. It was not till the following year that an informal representative of Georgia was admitted.
On the following day after the adoption of rules of order, Congress appointed a committee " to state the rights of the colonies in general, the several instances in which those rights had been violated or infringed, and the means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them.” Another committee was appointed “ to examine and report the several statutes which affected the trade and manufactures of the colonies."
On the 24th of September, Congress resolved that the delegates would confine themselves to the consideration of such rights as had been infringed by acts of the British Parliament after the year 1763, postponing the further consideration of the general state of American rights to a future day.
On the 14th of October, Congress made a declaration and adopted resolutions relative to the rights and grievances of the colonies. It was unanimously resolved that the respective colonies are entitled to the common law of England, and more especially to the great and inestimable privilege of being tried by their peers of the vicinage, according to the course of that law ; " " that they were entitled to the benefit of such statutes as existed at the time of their colonization, and which they have, by experience, respectively found to be applicable to their several and local circumstances ; ." and that their ancestors, at the time of their immigration, were “entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural-born subjects within the realms of England."
Previously to this date, resolutions of commercial non-inter. course with Great Britain, until the grievances of America should be redressed, had been adopted, and on the 20th of October, a formal agreement for this purpose was entered into by Congress. At different times afterwards letters were sent to the Canadian colonies, inviting their cooperation; and an address to the people of Great Britain was published, setting forth the grievances and justifying the conduct of the people of the colonies; after which and other unimportant matters, Congress adjourned on the 22d of October, to meet again at Philadelphia on the 10th of May, 1775.
On the appointed day Congress reassembled, and on the 13th Lyman Hall was admitted as a delegate from the parish of St. John's, in the colony of Georgia; but not considering himself as the representative of that colony, he declined voting, except on occasions when Congress did not vote by colonies. Non-intercourse with colonies not represented in Congress was resolved upon, including the colony of Georgia, except the parish of St. John's, represented by Mr. Hall.
On the 26th of May, it was determined “that the colonies be put immediately into a state of defence; that a fresh petition to the king, with a view to reconcile differences, be prepared; and that a letter to the people of Canada be reported.” This letter, which was approved the day following, and ordered to be signed by the President, solicits the friendship of the Canadians, calls upon them to assert their rights, and exhorts them against hostilities.
On the 9th of June, in consequence of a letter from Massachusetts Bay, which had been previously under consideration, Congress resolved that the governor and lieutenant-governor of that colony were to be considered as absent and their offices vacant; and it was recommended to the Provincial Convention to write letters to the inhabitants of the several places which were entitled to representation in Assembly, requesting them to choose representatives; and that the Assembly, when chosen, should elect councillors; and that such Assembly or Council should exercise the powers of government until a governor of his majesty's appointment would consent to govern the colony according to its charter. This decision of Congress, it will be observed, was exactly in accordance with the limitation of rebellion in Magna Charta, to the continuance of wrong on the king's part. It did not assume the extreme position of the Bill of Rights, that the absence of the sovereign or his representative vacates and abdicates his right of sovereignty.
The most important step was now taken, by the organization of an army under Washington, and Congress at the same time resolved that they would "maintain, assist, and adhere to George Washington, with their lives and fortunes, in the same cause. This step was followed by the emission of bills of credit to the amount of two millions of dollars, for the redemption of which the credit of the twelve confederated colonies was pledged. From this time to the close of the session various acts occupied the attention of Congress. A petition to the king; another address to the British people, invoking sympathy and forbearance; a letter of thanks for sympathy, addressed to the corporation of the city of London; a like address of thanks to the Assembly of Jamaica; a further issue of bills of credit; the appointment of Benjamin Franklin as postmaster-general; and an address to the people of Ireland—all indicate a spirit of conciliation, moderation, and determination worthy of their cause. Two more important circumstances
indicate a growing feeling of union among them, and their sense of the increased strength it imparted. On the 20th of July, Congress was informed by a letter from the convention of Georgia that that colony had acceded to the general association, and appointed delegates to attend the Congress. On the 31st, Congress declared a resolution of the British House of Commons, commonly called Lord North's motion, inadmissible as the basis of reconciliation. This resolution proposed, under certain restrictions, to transfer the right of taxing the colonies to the colonial assemblies; and it was rejected, among other reasons, because, in the opinion of Congress it imported only a suspension of the mode, and not a renunciation, of the pretended right to tax the colonies.
On the 1st of August, Congress adjourned to the 5th of September, 1775, and on their reassembling, the delegates from Georgia produced their credentials and took their seats. Its principal acts tending to complete independence of the mother country were as follows: On the 13th of October, Congress ordered two armed vessels to be fitted out. On the 3d of November it was resolved to recommend to the Provincial Council of New Hampshire, which had applied for advice, to call a full and free representation of the people, and to establish such a form of government as would best promote the happiness of the people, &c., during the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies. A similar resolution was entered into in relation to South Carolina. On the 20th of November seizures and captures were authorized under commissions to be granted by Congress, together with the condemnation of British vessels employed against the colonies. On the 2d of December an exchange of prisoners was declared proper. On the 4th of December a proclamation by Lord Dunmore called forth a recommendation to Virginia similar to that formerly made to New Hampshire and South Carolina. On the 6th of December a determination was expressed to retaliate for any undue severities inflicted by the British on persons favoring, aiding, or abetting the cause of the colonies. On the 13th of December a report was sanctioned for fitting out a naval armament of thirteen ships, of which five were to be of thirty-two guns each. On the 17th of February a standing committee of five was appointed for superintending the treasury. On the 27th of February the middle and southern colonies were divided into two military departments. On the 9th of March it was resolved that no oath by way of test should be exacted of the inhabitants of the colonies by military officers. On the 23d of March privateering was authorized against the enemies of the United Colonies.
On the 10th of May it was resolved to recommend to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs had been established, to adopt such governments as should, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular and of America in general. A preamble to this resolution, agreed to on the 15th of May, stated the intention to be totally to suppress the exercise of every kind of authority under the British crown. This resolution was in effect a declaration of independence, only to be consummated by the great measure now to be narrated.
“In Congress, Friday, June 7th, 1776," says Mr. Jefferson, “ the delegates from Virginia moved, in obedience to instructions from their constituents, that the Congress should declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown ; that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a confederation formed to bind the colonies more closely tog her.” The resolutions were debated Saturday, the 8th, and Monday, the 10th, when able arguments for and against their adoption were presented. Omitting references to considerations of mere expediency, the points of constitutional interest in this discussion, as preserved by Mr. Jefferson, may be compared as follows. It was argued :
In favor of the resolutions, by J. Adams, Lee, Wythe, and others :
Against the resolutions, by Wilson, Robert R. Livingston, E. Rutledge, and others :
That though they were friends to
That no gentleman had argued