Shortly before the American Revolution, representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies met as the First Continental Congress to send a protest outlining a decade of perceived offenses by King George III and the British Parliament following the French and Indian War. By the time Parliament debated the issues, it was too late to appease the disgruntled colonists as the path to revolution was already in motion, and the Congress met again in 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain.
England staggered under a heavy war debt after the French and Indian War ended in 1763. The British Parliament felt that the American colonists had contributed very little to the war effort, particularly financially. They believed the war was fought for the colonists’ benefit, and they were incurring even more debt by stationing British troops in the colonies. England sought to impose a new system of taxation and other fiscal policies on the colonies to pay for war debt. The colonists bristled at the new taxes, particularly the Sugar Act in 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Tea Act of 1773. Protest of the Tea Act led to the famous Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.
First Continental Congress
Britain’s new policies toward the colonists and the permanent garrison of British troops led to a call among the colonies for a Continental Congress to address these grievances. The First Continental Congress met in September 1774 in Philadelphia with representatives from all the colonies except Georgia. Their goal was to persuade King George III and Parliament to eliminate all the “oppressive” policies enacted since 1763, in addition to the Coercive Acts passed by Parliament in March 1774, which closed the port at Boston in response to the Boston Tea Party. They also wanted to regain the right to self-rule over colonial affairs, which they felt had been lost following the war.
Petition to the King
The first document the Continental Congress sent to George III was the “Petition to the King” in 1774. The colonies were not yet ready to declare independence, and the petition made it clear that they saw themselves as British citizens and that Parliament had the right to regulate trade in the colonies. However, the colonists’ goals were contradictory as they also felt they should be allowed to govern themselves with a somewhat autonomous status. In addition, the Continental Congress wanted an immediate end to the post-1763 taxes and other policies. They agreed to stop all trade with Britain if Parliament could not adequately address their grievances. The Continental Congress also prepared for the defense of Boston should the British attack.
Declaration of Independence
In 1775, Parliament agreed in some sense to concede to many of the colonial grievances with the Conciliatory Propositions. However, it was too late as war had already begun in the colonies on April 19, 1775, when a British attempt at stemming rebellion resulted in a small battle at Lexington, Massachusetts. The next year, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved and adopted the Declaration of Independence and sought to end all ties with Great Britain.
- US Department of State Office of the Historian: Parliamentary Taxation of Colonies, International Trade, and the American Revolution, 1763–1775
- Massachusets Historical Society: The First Continental Congress
- History Channel: British Parliament Adopts the Coercive Acts
- Massachusets Historical Society: The Petition of Grand American Continental Congress, to the King's Most Excellent Majesty
- Public Broadcasting Service: The Continental Congresses
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images