The Impact That the First Continental Congress Had on the Revolution

The Boston Tea Party, depicted here, caused Britain to pass the Coercive Acts, which led to the formation of the First Continental Congress.
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The First Continental Congress was a meeting of 56 delegates from 12 American colonies (except Georgia) that occurred in September of 1774. Organized in response to the so-called Coercive Acts enacted by Great Britain earlier that year, the main accomplishments of the Congress was to formalize a boycott of British goods and to set up a Second Continental Congress the next year. The Congress also introduced, and to an extent settled, the debate between the colonies as to whether they should declare independence or remain a part of Britain.

1 Background

The Congress was called in response to the Coercive Acts, known in the colones as the Intolerable Acts, passed in 1774. These acts were a response to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and designed as punishment, and included four different acts which closed the Boston port, brought the Massachusetts government under direct British control, allowed royal officials accused of crimes to be tried in Britain rather than the colonies, and forced private citizens to quarter British troops in their homes.

2 Boycott

The first major accomplishment of the Continental Congress was a boycott of British goods. Previously, in 1764, the colonists had boycotted British goods in response to the unpopular Stamp Act, which had in 1765 led to that Act's repeal. In 1774, after the colonies agreed on a boycott, imports from Great Britain dropped substantially, and while this may only have had a small effect on British industry, it represented an ability among the colonies to work towards a common goal.

3 Second Continental Congress

The other major accomplishment of the delegates was the establishment of a Second Continental Congress in May of 1775, which set the precedent for future meetings. In addition to delegates from the twelve colonies present at the first Congress in 1774, delegates from Georgia and several British colonies of Canada were invited; delegates of Georgia attended this Second Congress, making it the first meeting of the 13 colonies that would become the United States. Additionally, this second Congress would be in session when hostilities broke out between the colonists and Britain in 1775 and would be the one to declare independence from Britain in 1776.

4 Debate Over Independence

In addition to these accomplishments, the First Continental Congress also introduced a debate between the delegates present over whether they would become independent or stay with Britain. While Patrick Henry of Virginia called for independence, Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania called for a Plan of Union, whereby an American Parliament would be created that would be an extension of the British parliament. The Plan, however, was rejected by the delegates at the Congress, demonstrating the colonies' desire for independence from Britain. When fighting broke out in 1775, Galloway would join the loyalists.

Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.