On September 5, 1774, every colony but Georgia sent representatives to what is now called the First Continental Congress. They met in secret because they did not want the British to know that the colonies were uniting. At first there were 44 delegates who met in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Twelve other delegates reported late. Some of those who came were George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Jay, John Adams, and Samuel Adams. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was chosen president.
Joseph Galloway from Pennsylvania suggested they work out a way that the colonies could have their freedom under British rule, but not many delegates agreed with him. They made a list of basic rights they wanted and a list of complaints to send to King George III. They signed a petition demanding the Intolerable Acts be repealed and sent it to England with the demand they would be repealed.
John Adams thought the First Continental Congress was like a school for American leaders. George Washington, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry were all part of this Congress. Benjamin Franklin was in England and presenting the colonists’ demands in person to the British Parliament. The Continental Association was created at this Congress. This was an agreement of the colonies to stop all trade with Britain until their demands were met. Men from the colonies came to Philadelphia to represent their colonies. Soon they were able to see past just their colony and started to think of all the colonies together as America. Patrick Henry said: “I am not a Virginian, but an American.”
When the governor of Massachusetts started taking some warlike steps, John Adams’ wife, Abigail, wrote him to warn him. The colonists were also preparing. This showed the men at the Congress that the people were ready to stand behind their decisions, stop all trade with British companies, and to fight England.
The men adjourned the Congress on October 26, 1774 and decided to meet again in May of 1775 in Philadelphia if King George III did not repeal the Intolerable Acts.
When King George III heard of the colonists’ demands, he answered: “The die is now cast. The colonies must either submit or triumph.”
When Patrick Henry went to the Virginia Convention in Richmond, he made a speech. It was from this speech that his famous quote comes:
“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
King George III’s decision not to repeal the Intolerable Acts or any of the other taxes finally caused the Revolutionary War that led to the Colonies Independence.
In 1776, when the Continental Congress declared independence, formally severing relations with Great Britain, it immediately began to fashion new objects and ceremonies of state with which to proclaim the sovereignty of the infant republic.
In this marvelous social and cultural history of the Continental Congress, Benjamin H. Irvin describes this struggle to create a national identity during the American Revolution. The book examines the material artifacts, rituals, and festivities by which Congress endeavored not only to assert its political legitimacy and to bolster the war effort, but ultimately to exalt the United States and to win the allegiance of its inhabitants. Congress, for example, crafted an emblematic great seal, celebrated anniversaries of U.S. independence, and implemented august diplomatic protocols for the reception of foreign ministers. Yet as Irvin demonstrates, Congress could not impose its creations upon a passive American public. To the contrary, “the people out of doors”-broadly defined to include not only the working poor who rallied in the streets of Philadelphia, but all persons unrepresented in the Continental Congress, including women, loyalists, and Native Americans-vigorously contested Congress’s trappings of nationhood.
Vividly narrating the progress of the Revolution in Philadelphia and the lived experiences of its inhabitants during the tumultuous war, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty sharpens our understanding of the relationship between political elites and crowds of workaday protestors as it illuminates the ways in which ideologies of gender, class, and race shaped the civic identity of the Revolutionary United States.
The First Continental Congress was in business from September 5 to October 26, 1774. In those fifty-two days, a group of fifty-six men laid the groundwork for American independence. This is their story.