Path To The Revolution: Committees of Correspondence
Committees of Correspondence were one of the organizations, events and legislation in the aftermath of the French and Indian War that would lead us to the American Revolution including:
- Committees of Correspondence
- Pontiac’s War
- Sugar Act
- Quartering Act
- Stamp Act
- Declaratory Act
- Townshend Acts
- Boston Massacre
- Tea Act
- Boston Tea Party
- Intolerable Acts
- Continental Congress
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- Declaration of Independence
Albany Plan of Union
Before Committees of Correspondence, we had the Albany Plan of Union, a plan to create a unified government for the Thirteen Colonies suggested by Benjamin Franklin, then a senior leader (age 48) and a delegate from Pennsylvania, at the Albany Congress on July 10, 1754 in Albany, New York. More than twenty representatives of several Northern Atlantic colonies had gathered to plan their defense related to the French and Indian War (1754–1763), the front in North America of the Seven Years’ War between Great Britain and France, spurred on by George Washington’s recent defeat in the Ohio valley. The Plan represented one of multiple early attempts to form a union of the colonies “under one government as far as might be necessary for defense and other general important purposes.”
The Albany Congress discussed the plan. After a committee reviewed different plans offered by delegates, its members chose Franklin’s plan with some small modifications. Benjamin Chew, then a young lawyer from Dover, Pennsylvania, served as secretary, and Richard Peters and Isaac Norris, both from Philadelphia, were among the members of this committee and the Pennsylvania delegation.
Benjamin Franklin made a political cartoon attributed to this. It went beyond the original scope of the Congress, which was to develop a plan of defense related to near-term threats by France. The northern colonies were most concerned, as they shared a border with the French colony in Canada, but the mid-Atlantic colonies were also affected by differing loyalties of various Native American nations, usually related to their trading with France or Great Britain. The New England and northern tier colonies had long been subject to raiding from Canada during times of conflict. The Albany Plan was the first proposed unification of the colonies for the purposes of defense.
The Plan called for a general government to be administered by a President General, to be appointed and supported by the Crown, and a Grand Council to consist of delegates nominated by (the lower houses of) the colonial assemblies. Under the plan, delegates from the colonies would be chosen roughly proportionate to colony size – from a minimum of two to a maximum of seven for Virginia – but each colony would have only one vote and decision making was by unanimous consensus. Proposed powers included treaty making, and raising army and naval forces; and, most significantly, included the right of taxation.
After the larger group of delegates discussed their issues and objections, they resolved most of them and adopted the Plan. They sent copies of letters to each of the Colonial Assemblies and to the British Board of Trade in London, which had originally suggested the Congress. The colonial assemblies and the British representatives rejected the Albany Plan.
Benjamin Franklin wrote of the rejections:
The colonial assemblies and most of the people were narrowly provincial in outlook, mutually jealous, and suspicious of any central taxing authority.”
Many in the British government, already wary of some of the strong-willed colonial assemblies, disliked the idea of consolidating additional power into their hands. They preferred that the colonies concentrate on their part in the forthcoming military campaign.
The Board of Trade never sought official approval for the Plan from the Crown. They proposed that colonial governors, along with some members of their respective councils, order the raising of troops and building of forts, to be funded by the Treasury of Great Britain. This amount would later have to be repaid, and Parliament imposed a tax on the colonies to pay for the defenses in North America
Committees of Correspondence
Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. They coordinated responses to England and shared their plans; by 1764 they superseded legislature and royal officials in many colonies.. The Maryland Committee of Correspondence was instrumental in setting up the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia.
Committees of Correspondence served an important role in the Revolution by disseminating the colonial interpretation of British actions between the colonies and to foreign governments. The committees of correspondence rallied opposition on common causes and established plans for collective action, and so the group of committees was the beginning of what later became a formal political union among the colonies.
A total of about 7,000 to 8,000 Patriots served on these committees at the colonial and local levels, comprising most of the leadership in their communities—the Loyalists were excluded. The committees became the leaders of the American resistance to British actions, and largely determined the war effort at the state and local level. When Congress decided to boycott British products, the colonial and local committees took charge, examining merchant records and publishing the names of merchants who attempted to defy the boycott by importing British goods.
The committees promoted patriotism and home manufacturing, advising Americans to avoid luxuries, and lead a more simple life. The committees gradually extended their power over many aspects of American public life. They set up espionage networks to identify disloyal elements, displaced the royal officials, and helped topple the entire Imperial system in each colony. In late 1774 and early 1775, they supervised the elections of provincial conventions, which took over the actual operation of colonial government
Function of Committees of Correspondence
The function of the committees in each colony was to inform the voters of the common threat faced by all the colonies and to disseminate information from the main cities to the rural hinterlands where most of the colonists lived. As the news was typically spread in hand-written letters or printed pamphlets to be carried by couriers on horseback or aboard ships, the committees were responsible for ensuring that this news accurately reflected the views of their parent governmental body on a particular issue and was dispatched to the proper groups. Many correspondents were also members of the colonial legislative assemblies and were active in the secret Sons of Liberty or even the Stamp Act Congress of the 1760s
The earliest committees of correspondence were formed temporarily to address a particular problem. Once a resolution was achieved, they were disbanded. The first formal committee was established in Boston in 1764 to rally opposition to the Currency Act and unpopular reforms imposed on the customs service.
During the Stamp Act Crisis the following year, New York formed a committee to urge common resistance among its neighbors to the new taxes. The Province of Massachusetts Bay correspondents responded by urging other colonies to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress that fall. The resulting committees disbanded after the crisis was over.
History of Committees of Correspondence
Boston, whose radical leaders thought it was under increasingly hostile threats by the royal government, set up the first long-standing committee with the approval of a town meeting in late 1772. By spring 1773, Patriots decided to follow the Massachusetts system and began to set up their own committees in each colony. Virginia appointed an eleven-member committee in March, quickly followed by Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. By February 1774, eleven colonies had set up their own committees; of the thirteen colonies that eventually rebelled, only North Carolina and Pennsylvania had not though they would eventually do so by the end of the year.
Galloway Plan of Union
Galloway’s Plan of Union was a plan to politically unite Great Britain and its North American colonies. The plan was put forward by Loyalist Joseph Galloway in the First Continental Congress of 1774 but was rejected. Galloway was a Pennsylvania delegate who wanted to keep the Thirteen Colonies in the British Empire.
Galloway suggested the creation of an American colonial parliament to act together with the Parliament of Great Britain. The Grand Council would have to give formal consent to the latter’s decisions, particularly on trade and taxation, thus giving it a veto.
The Colonial Parliament would consist of a President-General appointed by the Crown and delegates appointed by the colonial assemblies for three-year terms. The plan would have kept the British Empire together and allow the colonies to have some say over their own affairs, including the inflammatory issue of taxation.
Galloway’s plan was not accepted by the Congress. The appearance of the Suffolk Resolves at the Congress led to a polarization of discussion, with the radicals swiftly gaining the upper hand. Galloway’s Plan of Union was narrowly defeated by a vote of six to five on October 22, 1774.
Although as a delegate to the Continental Congress Galloway was a moderate, when his Plan of Union (despite its removal of British Parliamentary sovereignty) was rejected, Galloway moved increasingly towards Loyalism. After 1778, he lived in Britain, where he acted as a leader of the Loyalist movement and an advisor to the government. Once Britain’s Parliament accepted American independence as part of the Peace of Paris (1783), many Loyalists went into forced exile, and Galloway permanently settled in Britain.
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- Galloway’s plan of union. (2006, January 2). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galloway%27s_Plan_of_Union
- MHS collections online: Letter from Titus Hosmer of the committee of correspondence for Middletown, Connecticut, to the Boston committee of donations (copy in letterbook volume 2), 17 October 1774, pages 81-83. (n.d.). Massachusetts Historical Society. https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=739&pid=2
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- (n.d.). South Carolina Historical Society | SCHS. https://schistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Committee-of-Correspondence-papers-1034.00.pdf
- Tucker, B. D. (n.d.). Rhode Island’s committee of correspondence. DigitalCommons@URI. https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lippitt_prize/25/?utm_source=digitalcommons.uri.edu%2Flippitt_prize%2F25&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages