The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VIII. American Political Writing, 1760–1789

§ 7. The First Continental Congress

The first Continental Congress, which met at Philadelphia 5 September, adopted a set of “Declarations and Resolves,” similar in tone and general argument to those of the Stamp Act Congress, but containing a significant admission of the right of Parliament to regulate the external trade of the colonies, provided the aim were regulation and not taxation. A petition to the king and an address to the inhabitants of Canada, both drafted by Dickinson, were also adopted, together with a memorial to the inhabitants of British America, drawn by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, and an eloquent address to the people of Great Britain, the work of John Jay of New York, later the first chief-justice of the United States Supreme Court. An agreement known as the “Association” pledged the people of the colonies to commercial non-intercourse with Great Britain, and to the encouragement of industry, economy, and neighbourly kindness. Copies of these various state papers were separately printed and widely circulated.

The passage of the coercive acts, and the assembling of a Congress to consider plans of united resistance, stirred anew the fires of literary controversy. In May, 1774, the same month that saw the arrival of Gage and the British troops at Boston, Josiah Quincy published at that place his Observations on the Act of Parliament, commonly called the Boston Port-Bill; with Thoughts on Civil Society and Standing Armies. Quincy was a brilliant young lawyer, who, in company with John Adams, had chivalrously defended the British soldiers indicted for participation in the Boston Massacre, in 1770. A competent critic has suggested that the larger part of the pamphlet, dealing with “civil society and standing armies,” had been carefully prepared some time before, advantage being taken of the Port Act to publish the work with an expanded title. Quincy’s pamphlet was shortly followed by James Wilson’s Considerations on the Nature and the Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament, an ingenious rejection of such authority in favour of allegiance to the king alone. The writer, a young lawyer of Philadelphia, was later to contribute powerfully to the acceptance of the Federal Constitution by Pennsylvania.

Not all who entered the lists, however, agreed so unreservedly with the sentiments of Congress or of the patriot leaders. A series of papers in The Pennsylvania Packet, reprinted in a pamphlet with the title A Few Political Reflections Submitted to the Consideration of the British Colonies, by a Citizen of Philadelphia, and a attributed to Richard Wells, urged compensation for the tea and the abandonment of violent protest, at the same time arguing for united rejection of the claim to taxation on the ground that the colonies were too old and too strong to be kept in leading-strings. An anonymous Letter from a Virginian, addressed to the Congress at Philadelphia, went further and frankly questioned the constitutional soundness and political wisdom of the arguments put forth by the Congress.