1. The First Continental Congress (September 1774):
The coercive acts of the British government directed against Massachusetts raised a suspicion in the minds of other colonies, that their rights were not safe. In the face of such a danger all the colonies were ready to unite and support Massachussetts.
In response to the call of Massachussetts, the Colonial Congress met at Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. Fifty-six delegates from all the colonies except Gregoria came. Peyton Randolf was elected as the President. The delegates decided to have one vote for each colony.
(i) Suffolk Resolves:
Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania, leader of moderates, presented a plan of Union designed to reconcile the difference between the two parts of the British empire. The Congress rejected the plan. On the other hand, the Radicals succeeded in getting their resolutions known as Suffolk Resolves (put forward by Suffolk County of Massachussetts) passed.
The Resolutions (a) declared the coercive Acts unconstitutional; (b) urged the people of Massachussetts to form a government to collect taxes; (c) advised the people to form their own militia; (d) recommended stringent economic sanctions against Britain.
(ii) Declaration of Rights and Grievances:
The Congress also passed a set of resolutions known as Declaration of Rights and Grievances. They were appeals to the king and people of Great Britain. They declared that by the English Constitution they were entitled to ‘life, liberty and property’ and possessed all the rights, liberties and immunities of free, natural subjects within the realm of England. Their assemblies alone had power to tax and frame internal policy.
They asserted the right to assembly and to petition the King. They enumerated Thirteen Parliamentary Acts passed since 1763 and asserted that they cannot submit to these grievous Acts. It was expected that the obnoxious Acts would be repealed. The Congress formed the American Association for the non-importation and non-consumption of British goods, as well as non-exportation of American goods to Britain.
This tantamounted to the breaking off commercial relations with England. The resolution also provided for the establishment of Committees throughout the country to see its proper implementation. Before adjourning, the Congress prepared addresses to the people of British American colonies, to the people of Canada, and to the people of Great Britain. The Congress dispensed with a decision to meet again on May 10,1775.
(iii) England rejects colonial demands:
The petition and declarations of the Congress were laid before Parliament. Earl of Chatham moved a I resolution in the House of Lords for the withdrawal of the troops from Boston but the move was defeated. Next lie introduced a plan for reconciliation, but that too was rejected by the Lords. On the other hand, a declaration by both the Houses termed Massachusetts to be in rebellion.
However, Lord North succeeded in getting a conciliatory bill passed, which provided that any assembly in America that would raise its share of revenue for the common cause would be exempted from Parliamentary taxation except for the regulation of commerce and trade. This conciliatory measure fell short of the expectations of the colonists.
It said nothing of the grievance set forth by the First Continental Congress and there was no effort or move made to clarify the constitutional rights of the colonists. To add insult to injury at the same time when North’s meagre conciliation measures were being passed, another coercive measure was I’ passed in March 1775. This Restraining Act forbade the commerce of New England with Great Britain, Ireland and the British West Indies; it also prohibited New Englanders from fishing in the waters of New Foundland.
Soon these restrictions were extended to all other colonies except New York, North Carolina and Georgia, which were loyal colonies. These measures infuriated the colonists and they felt that the coercive measures were on the increase and the Britishers were in no mood to look into the grievances of the colonies.
In Boston (Massachusetts) Governor Hutchinson was feeling weak in the face of protests from the citizens of Boston. Therefore, General Gage was sent by the British Government in May 1774 to take over as Governor of Massachussetts in place of Hutchinson. General Gage started fortification of Boston. In September 1774, British troops moved to Charlestown and Cambridge and seized cannon and powder belonging to the province. In October, the Massachussetts House met in Salem in defiance of Genera! Gage’s orders, constituted itself a provincial Congress, and named John Hancock to head a Committee of Safety empowered to call out the militia.
(iv) Massachussetts declared rebellious:
In December a band of milkmen broke into Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth and carried away arms and gun powder by over-powering the small garrison force. This incident led to the Parliamentary declaration that colony of Massachussetts was rebellious.
Consequently Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of State for Colonies, sent a letter to General Gage ordering him to use force if necessary to execute- the coercive acts and to strike at once even if it meant beginning of the hostilities. Earlier in February the Massachussetts Provincial Congress had met at Cambridge and framed measures to prepare the colony for-war. This all meant that war was at hand and only an excuse was needed to spark the flame.
(v) Lexington and Concord:
Having received a free hand General Gage decided to march on to Concord and strike at once to seize the major supply depot of the militia. He also wanted to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Though Gage failed in arresting these two leaders, he succeeded in destroying the supplies and stores at Concord and Lexington.
However, when the news of this attack reached the country side the people with their rifles ran to attack the British troops. As a result, the Britishers were compelled to retreat to Boston. The Britishers escaped complete disaster due to timely arrival of reinforcements at Lexington. The British took shelter in Charlestown Harbour but suffered heavy casualties.