Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress
The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress (also known as the Declaration of Colonial Rights, or the Declaration of Rights), was a statement adopted by the First Continental Congress on October 14, 1774, in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Declaration outlined colonial objections to the Intolerable Acts, listed a colonial bill of rights, and provided a detailed list of grievances. It was similar to the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, passed by the Stamp Act Congress a decade earlier.
The Declaration concluded with an outline of Congress's plans: to enter into a boycott of British trade (the Continental Association) until their grievances were redressed, to publish addresses to the people of Great Britain and British America, and to send a petition to the King.
Background and text
In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the British government instated the Coercive Acts, called the Intolerable Acts in the colonies. There were five Acts within the Intolerable Acts; the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, the Quartering Act, and the Quebec Act. These acts placed harsher legislation on the colonies, especially in Massachusetts, changed the justice system in the colonies, made colonists provide for the quartering of permanent British troops, and expanded the borders of Quebec. The colonies became enraged at the implementation of these laws as they felt it limited their rights and freedoms. Outraged delegates from the colonies united to share their grievances in the First Continental Congress in Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774 to determine if the colonies should, or were interested in taking action against the British. All the colonies except Georgia sent delegates to this conference. The First Continental Congress produced five resolves, one of which was the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress:
Since the close of the last war, the British parliament, claiming a power, of right, to bind the people of America by statutes in all cases whatsoever, hath, in some acts, expressly imposed taxes on them, and in others, under various presence’s, but in fact for the purpose of raising a revenue, hath imposed rates and duties payable in these colonies, established a board of commissioners, with unconstitutional powers, and extended the jurisdiction of courts of admiralty, not only for collecting the said duties, but for the trial of causes merely arising within the body of a county:
In consequence of other statutes, judges, who before held only estates at will in their offices, have been made dependent on the crown alone for their salaries, and standing armies kept in times of peace:
It has lately been resolved in parliament, that by force of a statute, made in the thirty-fifth year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth, colonists may be transported to England, and tried there upon accusations for treasons and misprisions, or concealments of treasons committed in the colonies, and by a late statute, such trials have been directed in cases therein mentioned:
In the last session of parliament, three statutes were made; one entitled, "An act to discontinue, in such manner and for such time as are therein mentioned, the landing and discharging, lading, or shipping of goods, wares and merchandise, at the town, and within the harbour of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts-Bay in New England; — another entitled, "An act for the better regulating the government of the province of Massachusetts-Bay in New England; — and another entitled, "An act for the impartial administration of justice, in the cases of persons questioned for any act done by them in the execution of the law, or for the suppression of riots and tumults, in the province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New England; — and another statute was then made, "for making more effectual provision for the government of the province of Quebec, etc. — All which statutes are impolitic, unjust, and cruel, as well as unconstitutional, and most dangerous and destructive of American rights:
Assemblies have been frequently dissolved, contrary to the rights of the people, when they attempted to deliberate on grievances; and their dutiful, humble, loyal, and reasonable petitions to the crown for redress, have been repeatedly treated with contempt, by his Majesty’s ministers of state: The good people of the several colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina and South-Carolina, justly alarmed at these arbitrary proceedings of parliament and administration, have severally elected, constituted, and appointed deputies to meet, and sit in general Congress, in the city of Philadelphia, in order to obtain such establishment, as that their religion, laws, and liberties, may not be subverted: Whereupon the deputies so appointed being now assembled, in a full and free representation of these colonies, taking into their most serious consideration, the best means of attaining the ends aforesaid, do, in the first place, as Englishmen, their ancestors in like cases have usually done, for asserting and vindicating their rights and liberties, DECLARE,
That the inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS:
Annotations of Resolves
Resolved, N. C. D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever a right to dispose of either without their consent.
Resolved, N.C.D. 2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural- born subjects, within the realm of England.
Resolved, N.C.D. 3. That by such emigration they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights, but that they were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy.
These resolves relate to the colonists' status as British citizens since their emigration from various European countries. Since early settlement, both by virtue of local laws and later Imperial law, alien colonists had been entitled to and were granted equal rights with other native-born British subjects, and this equal treatment should be continued. This is in reference to the termination of their rights under the Plantation Act 1740 in December 1773, about the same time as the Boston Tea Party and before passage of the Intolerable Acts. The colonists saw this as limiting their freedom, their ability to grow, and placing them at a lower political and social level than the citizens of Britain. As was the case, this resolve controversially suggests that colonial interpretations of their rights had been disrespected for many years, as well as more recently prior to the opening of the Continental Congress.
Resolved, 4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council: and as the English colonists are not represented, and from their local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and accustomed: But, from the necessity of the case, and a regard to the mutual interest of both countries, we cheerfully consent to the operation of such acts of the British parliament, as are bonfide, restrained to the regulation of our external commerce, for the purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the whole empire to the mother country, and the commercial benefits of its respective members; excluding every idea of taxation internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects, in America, without their consent.
The colonists did not have direct representation in British Parliament, and felt that the government couldn’t place taxes on the colonists unless they had representatives in government. The colonists did not want to have taxes levied on them to raise money for the British government when they had no say in the legislature of such taxes. In reality, the British were implementing these taxes to raise the revenue they lost in the French and Indian War, as well as will the colonies into submission as the British felt their loyalty was wavering. The colonists slogan for this issue was “No taxation without representation” It is up for debate who the individual is who coined this expression. Different sources say it was Patrick Henry in 1750, while another says it was Jonathan Mayhew (also in 1750)
Resolved, N.C.D. 5. 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.
In the Administration of Justice Act it was made law that the colonists had to be tried in British courts for crimes, and British soldiers accused of crimes could be tried in British courts. The colonists called this the ”murder act” because they felt soldiers could get away with murder by fleeing when they were supposed to go to Britain for trial. This resolve is depicting the colonists demand that they be tried in their own courts for crimes committed in the colonies.
Resolved, N.C.D. 6. That they are entitled to the benefit of such of the English statutes, as existed at the time of their colonization; and which they have, by experience, respectively found to be applicable to their several local and other circumstances.
Resolved, N.C.D. 7. That these, his Majesty's colonies, are likewise entitled to all the immunities and privileges granted and confirmed to them by royal charters, or secured by their several codes of provincial laws.
These resolves state the colonists are entitled to the rights stated in their individual colony’s charters, and have been since colonization. This is important for colonial rights as it ties into the issue of colonial legislative rights, in comparison to the rights of the monarch over the colonies. This document states that colonial rights cannot be altered too much, as the colonial charter must be respected.
Resolved, N.C.D. 8. That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the king; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal.
The purpose of this resolve is to ease the tension and the colonies by making sure they have the right to assemble and petition the king, in the forms of committees of correspondence. Committees of correspondence were formed in the period between 1772 and 1774 as a way for colonists and colonial leaders to express their grievances towards the King.
Resolved, N.C.D. 9. That the keeping a standing army in these colonies, in times of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that colony, in which such army is kept, is against law.
The resolution above was included in the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress as the British had placed a permanent army in Massachusetts in 1768. The colonists were angered that these troops were to be quartered in their houses, fed with their food, and showed a blatant mistrust from Britain and increased control in the colonies.
Resolved, N.C.D. 10. It is indispensably necessary to good government, and rendered essential by the English constitution, that the constituent branches of the legislature be independent of each other; that, therefore, the exercise of legislative power in several colonies, by a council appointed, during pleasure, by the crown, is unconstitutional, dangerous and destructive to the freedom of American legislation.
All and each of which the aforesaid deputies, in behalf of themselves, and their constituents, do claim, demand, and insist on, as their indubitable rights and liberties, which cannot be legally taken from them, altered or abridged by any power whatever, without their own consent, by their representatives in their several provincial legislature.
In the course of our inquiry, we find many infringements and violations of the foregoing rights, which, from an ardent desire, that harmony and mutual intercourse of affection and interest may be restored, we pass over for the present, and proceed to state such acts and measures as have been adopted since the last war, which demonstrate a system formed to enslave America.
This resolve was created to demand and proclaim that colonial legislatures shouldn’t be controlled by a council appointed by the crown, but rather by colonists and leaders of their own choosing. The addition of this resolve is further demanding colonial independence by placing additional control in the hands of the colonial government.
Resolved, N.C.D. That the following acts of parliament are infringements and violations of the rights of the colonists; and that the repeal of them is essentially necessary, in order to restore harmony between Great Britain and the American colonies, viz.
The several Acts of 4 George III. ch. 15, and ch. 34. 5 George III. ch. 25. 6 George III. ch. 52. 7 George III. ch. 41, and ch. 46. 8 George III. ch. 22, which impose duties for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, extend the power of the admiralty courts beyond their ancient limits, deprive the American subject of trial by jury, authorize the judges certificate to indemnify the prosecutor from damages, that he might otherwise be liable to, requiring oppressive security from a claimant of ships and goods seized, before he shall be allowed to defend his property, and are subversive of American rights.
Also 12 Geo. III. ch. 24, intituled, "An act for the better securing his majesty's dockyards, magazines, ships, ammunition, and stores," which declares a new offence in America, and deprives the American subject of a constitutional trial by jury of the vicinage, by authorizing the trial of any person, charged with the committing any offence described in the said act, out of the realm, to be indicted and tried for the same in any shire or county within the realm.
Also the three acts passed in the last session of parliament, for stopping the port and blocking up the harbour of Boston, for altering the charter and government of Massachusetts-Bay, and that which is entitled, "An act for the better administration of justice, etc."
Also the act passed in the same session for establishing the Roman Catholic religion, in the province of Quebec, abolishing the equitable system of English laws, and erecting a tyranny there, to the great danger (from so total a dissimilarity of religion, law and government) of the neighboring British colonies, by the assistance of whose blood and treasure the said country was conquered from France.
Also the act passed in the same session, for the better providing suitable quarters for officers and soldiers in his majesty's service, in North-America.
Also, that the keeping a standing army in several of these colonies, in time of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that colony, in which such army is kept, is against law.
The final resolve in this document refers to all of the intolerable acts, and states that under the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, they are prohibited and illegal. The anger over the Intolerable Acts was no secret to the British government, and the issue of taxation without representation was voiced loudly, however this resolve questions the authority of the monarch's and parliament's rule in the colonies.
Reactions to the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress
At this time in history the colonies were perceptibly unhappy with the British monarch and parliament. Despite the palpable tensions that existed between the groups, King George did not waver or give in to colonial demands. He meant to maintain political unity between the colonies and the United Kingdom even at the expense of the happiness of the colonists. King George famously said to the Prime Minister Lord North "The die is now cast, the colonies must either submit or triumph." This sentiment continued after the publication of the Declarations and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, as he would not negotiate with them.
Reacting to the Declaration, Samuel Johnson published a pamphlet called Taxation No Tyranny, questioning the colonists' right to self-government and asking "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"
In the Colonies
The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress served many purposes. Among those who supported achieving full autonomy from Britain, it served to rouse their spirits together towards gaining independence. For those who were on the fence about supporting or opposing American independence, this document, which outlined all the wrongdoings of the King, could turn their support against the King. In addition, before this document was released the goal of the Continental Congress was to discuss grievances, however after the publication American opinion turned from wanting respect and recognition from the crown, to wanting to become separate from the mother country. Not all Americans felt this way, there were many loyalists who wanted to remain a part of the empire of Great Britain especially in the South, but the public opinion was turning.
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- Samuel Johnson (1775). Taxation No Tyranny, p. 89.
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