A Continental Congress

The growing sense of a common threat posed by the Coercive Acts created a wellspring of support for Massachusetts Bay and a sense of solidarity that had never before existed in British America. In every colony, and in defiance of one royal governor after another, calls went out to convene a continental congress.

Virginia's role in rallying in support of Boston, as a cause for all America, was especially critical to the formation of an American union, as Virginia was perceived on both sides of the Atlantic as the steadiest and most loyal colony in the British world. Despite the dissolution of the assembly by a tendentious governor, Virginia's political leaders—moderates and radicals alike—established a ban on British imports and called loudest for a continental congress. Throughout the summer of 1774 committees and conventions met in each colony to elect delegates to a general congress and articulate their hopes for its work. For instance, in a piece intended as instructions for Virginia's delegates to that congress, Thomas Jefferson laid out his view of the dispute in A Summary View of the Rights of British America, arguing that the only connection that existed, or that had ever existed, between the colonies and Britain was in the person of the King; there had never been a place in that relationship for Parliament.

The most important product of the First Continental Congress that met in Philadelphia in September 1774 was the adoption of the Continental Association. The agreement called for the immediate repeal of a list of parliamentary acts and wielded non-importation and non-exportation as the weapons with which they would fight for it. The Congress directed towns and counties in every colony to establish committees of inspection that would enforce the Association. These committees, in no small way, formed the backbone of a structure of government that would mobilize citizens into action against the British government—and purge a transforming body politic of anyone who disagreed with them.

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