The history of the First Continental Congress



MONDAY, the 5th of September, 1774, was a great and important day in the annals of English America. It was the day on which the Congress of the United Provinces met in solemn session at Philadelphia. The members deputed by the several colonies had been arriving for some days, and they greeted one another with enthusiasm as the vanguard of liberty in the young Western world.. The representatives of the provinces were resolved to discuss their wrongs in a freely-elected Parliament of their own. They were in no mood to pay homage either to the English throne or to the English legislature, and they set to work without delay to organize a chamber for the efficient consideration of every subject bearing on the political well-being of their widely-separated, but still in some respects homogeneous, communities. The first meeting took place in a tavern, and it was determined to accept the offer of the carpenters of Philadelphia, who placed their spacious hall at the disposal of the delegates. The number of members was at least fifty-five, including such men as George Washington, Samuel and John Adams, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and others of high repute, if not of equal renown; and the colonies represented were eleven.

The resolution with respect to the voting power of each colony was arrived at on the second day of the meeting, when Patrick Henry, speaking on behalf of Virginia, drew forth in long array the many injuries inflicted on America by the action of the English Parliament. His speech was the first utterance of the Congress after its organization.. The magnificent oratory of Patrick Henry breathed, or rather flashed, a spirit of life into the dead assemblage, which had before sat in embarrassed silence.. British oppression, he said, had made one nation of the several colonies, so that he no longer considered himself a Virginian, but an American. Many contradictory opinions were expressed; but in the end the matter was settled in the way indicated by Henry [namely, to consider the colonies as a federation of independent States, with democratical representation, each State to have a voice in accordance with the numbers of its population]..

The Continental Congress sat eight weeks. On the 26th of October it was dissolved, after having recommended the appointment of a similar assembly, to meet on the 10th of May following unless a redress of grievances had been obtained ere then; and, to further the creation of this second Congress, it was recommended that all the colonies should elect deputies as soon as possible. Thus ended a most important experiment in American legislation. That experiment must be regarded as one of the great turning-points in the history of the United States. The assembling of a Congress representing most of the colonies was a plain assertion of national existence, and foreshadowed the nature of the independent government which was clearly coming on. The scattered forces of Anglo-American life were concentrated in a great assembly which embodied the will of many distinct communities. The old divisions and jealousies were to some extent healed; a country was slowly forming itself out of the chaos of discordant settlements.. As Patrick Henry observed, the oppression of the English government had effaced the boundaries of the several States, and a common pressure on the freedom and well-being of all had compacted the diffused and straggling life of the colonies into an intense and indivisible force. The debates in Congress had proved, on a grander scale than had yet been seen, that the Americans possessed a large amount of debating power, and the genius of statesmanship in no stinted measure. Chatham himself -- an authority not easily to be surpassed -- declared that the delegates assembled at Philadelphia were, in solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conduct, second to no human assembly of which history has preserved the memorial. Sweeping and facile statements of this character were very much in the taste of the eighteenth century, but in this particular instance the compliment involved no great exaggeration.





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