On this day in 1774, in response to the British Parliament’s enactment of the Coercive Acts in the American colonies, the first session of the Continental Congress convenes at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Fifty-six delegates from all of the colonies except Georgia drafted a declaration of rights and grievances and elected Virginian Peyton Randolph as the first president of Congress. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Adams and John Jay were among the delegates.
The first major American opposition to British policy had come in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure designed to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament finally voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.
Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering British East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some £18,000 dumped into Boston Harbor.
Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, called the “Intolerable Acts” by colonists, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.
With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.