The First Continental Congress - dummies

By Steve Wiegand

On September 5, 1774, leaders from all the American colonies but Georgia gathered in Philadelphia to talk things over. There were 56 delegates, all of them men and about half of them lawyers. Some, such as New York’s John Jay, were politically conservative. Others, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry, were fire-breathing radicals.

Despite their differences and the serious state of events, all of them apparently managed to have a pretty good time over the seven-week meeting — except for Massachusetts’s Samuel Adams, who had an ulcer and had to stick to bread and milk.

His cousin John Adams had no such problem. He dined on “flummery [a sweet dessert], jellies, sweetmeats of 20 sorts, trifles and … [he] drank Madeira [a wine] at a great rate, and found no inconvenience in it.”

But the delegates to what is called the First Continental Congress did more than party, even though they had no real powers. Several delegates wrote essays that suggested the colonies stay under the supervision of the king but have nothing to do with Parliament. They petitioned Parliament to rescind the offending laws.

The group also proclaimed that colonists should have all the rights other British subjects had, such as electing representatives to make the laws they were governed by, and that all trade with Britain should cease until the “Intolerable” Acts were repealed.

The Congress also resolved that if one of the colonies was attacked, all the rest would defend it. And, probably much to the dismay of some members, the Congress resolved to abstain from tea and wine (but not rum) and to swear off recreational pursuits like horse racing and cock fighting until the troubles with England were resolved.

The meeting served to draw the colonies closer together than ever before. “The distinctions between New Englanders and Virginians are no more,” declared Patrick Henry. “I am not a Virginian, but an American.”

The Congress adjourned on October 26, pledging to come back in May if things didn’t get better by then. Things didn’t.