Introduction

One manifestation of Americans’ outrage over the Coercive Acts was the convening in Philadelphia of the First Continental Congress, which met from September 5 to October 26, 1774. Although the Coercive Acts were aimed primarily at Massachusetts (which the hardline administration [1770–1782] of Lord North [1732–1792] sought to punish for the Boston Tea Party), colonists throughout America understood that if these laws could deny basic English liberties there, then these rights could be denied anywhere. As a result, the delegates to Congress came from everywhere except Georgia, which needed the help of the British army to fight Creek Indians on its frontier. Virginia’s delegation included Patrick Henry (1736–1799) and George Washington (1732–1799). New York’s included John Jay (1745–1829). Samuel Adams (1722–1803) and his second cousin John Adams (1735–1826) sat among the representatives of Massachusetts. In total, fifty-six men from twelve colonies gathered to debate and decide what to do next.

Philadelphians extended an enthusiastic welcome with a celebration on September 16. This account of the festivities, which took place in the City Tavern and the Pennsylvania State House (later known as Independence Hall), makes clear that, although united against the Coercive Acts, it might not be easy for Congress to help bring about the “happy reconciliation between Great Britain and her colonies” to which they raised their wine glasses. Just about every sympathetic British politician was a Whig—and Lord North, a Tory, enjoyed widespread support within Parliament.


Source: Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet or, the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), September 19, 1774.


On Friday last[1] the honorable delegates, now met in General Congress, were elegantly entertained by the gentlemen of this city. Having met at the City Tavern about 3 o’clock, they were conducted from thence to the State House by the managers of the entertainment, where they were received by a very large company composed of the clergy, such genteel strangers as happened to be in town, and a number of respectable citizens, making in the whole near 500. After dinner the following toasts were drank, accompanied by music and a discharge of cannon.

  1. The KING.
  2. The QUEEN.
  3. The Duke of Gloucester.[2]
  4. The Prince of Wales[3] and Royal Family.
  5. Perpetual union to the colonies.
  6. May the colonies faithfully execute what the Congress shall wisely resolve.
  7. The much injured town of Boston, and province of Massachusetts Bay.
  8. May Great Britain be just, and America free.
  9. No unconstitutional standing armies.
  10. May the cloud which hangs over Great Britain and the colonies, burst only on the heads of the present ministry.
  11. May every American hand down to posterity pure and untainted liberty he has derived from his ancestors.
  12. May no man enjoy freedom, who has not spirit to defend it.
  13. May the persecuted genius of liberty find a lasting asylum in America.
  14. May British swords never be drawn in defense of tyranny.
  15. The arts and manufactures of America.
  16. Confusion to the authors of the Canada bill.[4]
  17. The liberty of the press.
  18. A happy reconciliation between Great Britain and her colonies, on a constitutional ground.
  19. The virtuous few in both houses of Parliament.
  20. The city of London.
  21. Lord Chatham.[5]
  22. Lord Camden.[6]
  23. Bishop of St. Asaph.[7]
  24. Duke of Richmond.[8]
  25. Sir George Savile.[9]
  26. Mr. Burke.[10]
  27. General Conway.[11]
  28. Mr. Dunning.[12]
  29. Mr. Sawbridge.[13]
  30. Dr. Franklin.
  31. Mr. Dulany.[14]
  32. 32. Mr. Hancock.

The acclamations with which several of them were received, not only testified the sense of the honor conferred by such worthy guests, but the fullest confidence in their wisdom and integrity, and a firm resolution to adopt and support such measures as they shall direct for the public good at this alarming crisis.

Study Questions

A. When Philadelphians welcomed members of Congress on September 16, they were extending their hospitality. Did the festivities on that day serve any other purposes? What were they?

B. Compare and contrast this account with Gouverneur Morris’s description (We Shall be under the Domination of a Riotous Mob) of a Patriot meeting in New York City. In which location did the “spirit of the English Constitution” (as Morris referred to it) manifest itself most clearly? Why?

Footnotes

  1. September 16, 1774.
  2. Prince William Henry (1743–1805), younger brother of King George III (1738–1820).
  3. Prince George Augustus Frederick (1762–1830), son of George III, who in 1820 became King George IV.
  4. The Quebec Act of June 22, 1774, which included several objectionable provisions, expanded Quebec’s territory into lands claimed by New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
  5. William Pitt (1708–1778), Earl of Chatham, was a Whig who led Parliament during the French and Indian War and from 1766 to 1768.
  6. Charles Pratt (1714–1794), Earl of Camden, was a Whig politician and civil libertarian who served as advisor to Pitt.
  7. Jonathan Shipley (1714–1788), who served as Bishop of St. Asaph (1769–1788), was a Whig who published a 1774 pamphlet criticizing Britain’s treatment of America.
  8. Charles Lennox (1735–1806), 3rd Duke of Richmond, was a Whig politician known as “the radical duke” because of his support for American colonists in Parliament.
  9. George Savile (1726–1784), 8th Baronet of Thornhill, was a Whig member of the House of Commons (1759–1783) who frequently voiced his sympathy for American colonists.
  10. Edmund Burke (1730–1797) was a Whig member of the House of Commons (1766–1794) who defended Americans’ rights.
  11. Henry Seymour Conway (1721–1795) was a British army officer and Whig politician who opposed the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts as well as attempts to crush American resistance to British policies.
  12. John Dunning (1731–1783) was a Whig member of the House of Commons (1768–1782) who opposed the 1774 Massachusetts Government Act, a key component of the Coercive Acts.
  13. John Sawbridge (1732–1795) was a Whig member of the House of Commons (1768–1780) known for his support of the radical John Wilkes (1725–1797) and the plight of American colonists.
  14. Daniel Dulaney (1722–1797), a member of the Maryland Governor’s Council (1757–1776), had authored an influential 1765 pamphlet opposing taxation without representation. While he had criticized British imperial policies, he would also oppose American independence.