Declaration and Resolves on Colonial rights of the First Continental Congress
October 14, 1774 1
[Following the Boston Tea Party and the adoption of the
Intolerable Acts, delegates gathered on September 5, 1774, at
Philadelphia, in what was to become the First Continental Congress. Every
colony but Georgia was represented. They voted on September 6 to appoint a
committee "to state the rights of the Colonies in general, the
several instances in which these rights are violated or infringed, and the
means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them"
(Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Washington,
1904, I, 26).
Joseph Galloway (173l -1803), a Philadelphia merchant
and lawyer, led a conservative attempt to unite the colonies within the
Empire. He had served as speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly from 1776 to
1774. In the war Galloway supported the British cause and after 1778
became spokesman for the Loyalists in England. In the First Continental
Congress the more radical delegates thrust aside Galloway's proposal and
on October 14 adopted instead, by unanimous action, the Declaration of
Colonial Rights reproduced here. The first draft of these resolutions was
written by Major John Sullivan (1740-95 ), delegate from New Hampshire,
lawyer, major of the New Hampshire militia, major general in the
Continental Army, judge, and eventually governor of his state.
Before they dissolved, on October 26, the members voted
to meet again in the same city on May 10, 1775, "unless the redress
of grievances ... be obtained before that time" (ibid., p.
The Congress met according to adjournment, and resuming
the consideration of the subject under debate -- came into the following
... Whereas, since the close of the last war, the
British Parliament, claiming a power of right to bind the people of
America, by statute in all cases whatsoever, hath in some acts expressly
imposed taxes on them, and in others, under various pretenses, but in fact
for the purpose of raising a revenue, hath imposed rates and duties
payable in these colonies, established a board of commissioners, with
unconstitutional powers, and extended the jurisdiction of courts of
admiralty, not only for collecting the said duties, but for the trial of
causes merely arising within the body of a county.
And whereas, in consequence of other statutes, judges,
who before held only estates at will in their offices, have been made
dependent upon the crown alone for their salaries, and standing armies
kept in times of peace:
And it has lately been resolved in Parliament, that by
force of a statute, made in the thirty-fifth year of the reign of King
Henry the Eighth, colonists may be transported to England, and tried there
upon accusations for treasons, and misprisions, or concealments of
treasons committed in the colonies; and by a late statute, such trials
have been directed in cases therein mentioned.
And whereas, in the last session of Parliament, three
statutes were made; one, entitled "An act to discontinue, in such
manner and for such time as are therein mentioned, the landing and
discharging, lading, or shipping of goods, wares and merchandise, at the
town, and within the harbor of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts
Bay, in North America"; another, entitled "An act for the better
regulating the government of the province of the Massachusetts Bay in New
England"; and another, entitled "An act for the impartial
administration of justice, in the cases of persons questioned for any act
done by them in the execution of the law, or for the suppression of riots
and tumults, in the province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England."
And another statute was then made, "for making more effectual
provision for the government of the province of Quebec, etc." All
which statutes are impolitic, unjust, and cruel, as well as
unconstitutional, and most dangerous and destructive of American rights.
And whereas, assemblies have been frequently dissolved,
contrary to the rights of the people, when they attempted to deliberate on
grievances; and their dutiful, humble, loyal, and reasonable petitions to
the crown for redress have been repeatedly treated with contempt by His
Majesty's ministers of state:
The good people of the several colonies of New
Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,
Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Newcastle, Kent and
Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South
Carolina, justly alarmed at these arbitrary proceedings of Parliament and
administration, have severally elected, constituted, and appointed
deputies to meet and sit in General Congress, in the city of Philadelphia,
in order to obtain such establishment, as that their religion, laws, and
liberties may not be subverted:
Whereupon the deputies so appointed being now assembled,
in a full and free representation of these colonies, taking into their
most serious consideration, the best means of attaining the ends
aforesaid, do, in the first place, as Englishmen, their ancestors in like
cases have usually done, for asserting and vindicating their rights and
That the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North
America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English
constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following
Resolved, N.C.D. 2
1. That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property, and they have
never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to dispose of either
without their consent.
Resolved, N.C.D. 2. That our ancestors, who
first settled these colonies, were, at the time of their emigration from
the mother-country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities
of free and natural-born subjects, within the realm of England.
Resolved, N.C.D. 3. That by such emigration they
by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights, but that
they were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the exercise and en
joyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable
them to exercise and enjoy.
Resolved, 4. That the foundation of English
liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to
participate in their legislative council: and as the English colonists are
not represented, and from their local and other circumstances, cannot
properly be represented in the British Parliament, they are entitled to a
free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial
legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved,
in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative
of their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and
accustomed. But, from the necessity of the case, and a regard to the
mutual interest of both countries, we cheerfully consent to the operation
of such acts of the British Parliament, as are bona fide, restrained to
the regulation of our external commerce, for the purpose of securing the
commercial advantages of the whole empire to the mother-country, and the
commercial benefits of its respective members; excluding every idea of
taxation, internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects in
America, without their consent.
Resolved, N.C.D. 5. That the respective colonies
are entitled to the common law of England, and more especially to the
great and inestimable privilege of being tried by their peers of the
vicinage, according to the course of that law.
Resolved, 6. That they are entitled to the
benefit of such of the English statutes as existed at the time of their
colonization; and which they have, by experience, respectively found to be
applicable to their several local and other circumstances.
Resolved, N.C.D. 7. That these His Majesty's
colonies, are likewise entitled to all the immunities and privileges
granted and confirmed to them by royal charters, or secured by their
several codes of provincial laws.
Resolved, N.C.D. 8. That they have a right
peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the
king; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and
commitments for the same are illegal.
Resolved, N.C.D. 9. That the keeping a standing
army in these colonies, in times of peace, without the consent of the
legislature of that colony, in which such army is kept, is against law.
Resolved, N.C.D. 10. It is indispensably
necessary to good government, and rendered essential by the English
constitution, that the constituent branches of the legislature be
independent of each other; that, therefore, the exercise of the
legislative power in several colonies, by a council appointed, during
pleasure, by the crown, is unconstitutional, dangerous, and destructive to
the freedom of American legislation.
All and each of which the aforesaid deputies, in behalf
of themselves and their constituents, do claim, demand, and insist on, as
their indubitable rights and liberties; which cannot be legally taken from
them, altered or abridged by any power whatever, without their own
consent, by their representatives in their several provincial
In the course of our inquiry, we find many infringements
and violations of the foregoing rights, which, from an ardent desire, that
harmony and mutual intercourse of affection and interest may be restored,
we pass over for the present, and proceed to state such acts and measures
as have been adopted since the last war, which demonstrate a system formed
to enslave America.
Resolved, N.C.D. That the following acts of
Parliament are infringements and violations of the rights of the
colonists; and that the repeal of them is essentially necessary in order
to restore harmony between Great Britain and the American colonies, viz.:
The several acts of 4 Geo. 3, ch. 15, and ch. 34. -- 5
Geo. 3, ch. 25. -- 6 Geo. 3, ch. 52. -- 7 Geo. 3, ch. 41, and ch. 46. -- 8
Geo. 3, ch. 22, which impose duties for the purpose of raising a revenue
in America, extend the powers of the admiralty courts beyond their ancient
limits, deprive the American subject of trial by jury, authorize the
judges' certificate to indemnify the prosecutor from damages, that he
might otherwise be liable to, requiring oppressive security from a
claimant of ships and goods seized, before he shall be allowed to defend
his property, and are subversive of American rights.
Also the 12 Geo. 3, ch. 24, entitled "An act for
the better securing His Majesty's dockyards, magazines, ships, ammunition,
and stores," which declares a new offense in America, and deprives
the American subject of a constitutional trial by a jury of the vicinage,
by authorizing the trial of any person, charged with the committing any
offense described in the said act, out of the realm, to be indicted and
tried for the same in any shire or county within the realm.
Also the three acts passed in the last session of
Parliament, for stopping the port and blocking up the harbor of Boston,
for altering the charter and government of the Massachusetts Bay, and that
which is entitled "An act for the better administration of justice,"
Also the act passed in the same session for establishing
the Roman Catholic religion in the Province of Quebec, abolishing the
equitable system of English laws, and erecting a tyranny there, to the
great danger, from so total a dissimilarity of religion, law, and
government of the neighboring British colonies, by the assistance of whose
blood and treasure the said country was conquered from France.
Also the act passed in the same session for the better
providing suitable quarters for officers and soldiers in His Majesty's
service in North America.
Also, that the keeping a standing army in several of
these colonies, in time of peace, without the consent of the legislature
of that colony in which such army is kept, is against law.
To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot
submit, but in hopes that their fellow-subjects in Great Britain will, on
a revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found
happiness and prosperity, we have for the present only resolved to pursue
the following peaceable measures:
Resolved, unanimously, That from and after the
first day of December next, there be no importation into British America,
from Great Britain or Ireland of any goods, wares or merchandise
whatsoever, or from any other place of any such goods, wares or
1st. To enter into a nonimportation, nonconsumption, and
nonexportation agreement or association.
2. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain,
and a memorial to the inhabitants of British America, and
3. To prepare a loyal address to His Majesty; agreeable
to resolutions already entered into.
1. Journals of the
Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington, 1904), I, 63-73.
2. I.e., nemine
contradicente, meaning without a dissenting vote or unanimously.
Commenting on these proceedings before a committee of the British House of
Commons, in June, 1779, Galloway stated that, although the resolutions
were recorded as having been passed unanimously, this meant not that they
were approved by every member present but by a majority of each delegation
(The Examination of Joseph Galloway ... before the House of Commons
... , 2d ed.; London, 1780, p. 61).
3. This paragraph was struck out.
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