The Continental Association


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The Continental Association, often known simply as the "Association", was a system created by the First Continental Congress in 1774 for implementing a trade boycott with Great Britain. Congress hoped that by imposing economic sanctions, Great Britain would be pressured to redress the grievances of the colonies, and in particular repeal the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Association aimed to alter Britain's policies towards the colonies without severing allegiance.
 
The boycott became operative on December 1, 1774. The Association was fairly successful while it lasted. Trade with Great Britain fell sharply, and the British responded with the New England Restraining Act of 1775. The outbreak of the American Revolutionary War effectively superseded the attempt to boycott British goods.
 
Background
The British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774 to reform colonial administration in British America and, in part, to punish the Province of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. Many American colonists saw the Coercive Acts as a violation of the British Constitution and a threat to the liberties of all of British America, not just Massachusetts. As they had done during the 1760s—most effectively during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765—colonists turned to economic boycotts to protest what they saw as unconstitutional legislation. The word boycott had not yet been coined; colonists referred to their economic protests as, depending upon the specific activity, "non-importation", "non-exportation", or "non-consumption".
 
On May 13, 1774, the Boston Town Meeting, with Samuel Adams acting as moderator, passed a resolution that called for an economic boycott in response to the Boston Port Act, one of the Coercive Acts. The resolution said:
 
That it is the opinion of this town, that if the other, Colonies come, into a joint resolution to stop all importation from Great Britain, and exportations to Great Britain, and every part of the West Indies, till the Act for blocking up this harbour be repealed, the same will prove the salvation of North America and her liberties. On the other hand, if they continue their exports and imports, there is high reason to fear that fraud, power, and the most odious oppression, will rise triumphant over right, justice, social happiness, and freedom.
 
Paul Revere, who often served as messenger, carried the Boston resolutions to New York and Philadelphia. Adams also promoted the boycott through the colonial committees of correspondence, through which advocates of colonial rights in the various provinces kept in touch. The First Continental Congress was convened at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to coordinate a response to the Coercive Acts. Twelve colonies were represented at the Congress.
 
On October 20, 1774, Congress created the Association, based on the earlier Virginia Association. The Association signified the increasing cooperation between the colonies. As a sign of the desire still prevalent at the time to avoid open revolution, the Association notably opened with a profession of allegiance to the king, and they placed the blame for "a ruinous system of colony administration" upon Parliament and lower British officials rather than the king directly. The Association alleged that this system was "evidently calculated for enslaving these colonies, and, with them, the British Empire."
 
Provisions
The articles of the Continental Association imposed an immediate ban on British tea, and a ban on importing or consuming any goods (including the slave trade) from Britain, Ireland, and the British West Indies to take effect on December 1, 1774. It also threatened an export ban on any products from the American colonies to Britain, Ireland, or the West Indies, to be enacted only if the complained of acts were not repealed by September 10, 1775; the Articles stated that the export ban was being suspended until this date because of the "earnest desire we have not to injure our fellow-subjects in Great-Britain, Ireland, or the West-Indies." This was a recognition of the need and demand for American goods abroad, though the ban was likely deferred to avoid inflicting immediate economic hardship on American merchants. All American colonists were to direct their agents abroad to also comply with these restrictions, as would all ship owners.
 
The Association set forth policies by which the colonists would endure the scarcity of goods. Merchants were restricted from price gouging. Local committees of inspection were to be established in the colonies by which compliance would be monitored, through strong-arming local businesses. Any individual observed to violate the pledges in the Articles would be condemned in print and ostracised in society "as the enemies of American liberty." Colonies would also cease all trade and dealings with any other colony that failed to comply with the bans.
 
The colonies also pledged that they would "encourage frugality, economy, and industry, and promote agriculture, arts and the manufactures of this country, especially that of wool; and will discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation," such as gambling, stageplays and other frivolous entertainment. Specific instructions were even set forth on properly frugal funeral observations, pledging that no one "will go into any further mourning-dress, than a black crepe or ribbon on the arm or hat, for gentlemen, and a black ribbon and necklace for ladies, and we will discontinue the giving of gloves and scarves at funerals."
 
Effects
The Continental Association went into effect on December 1, 1774. The ban did succeed for the time it was in effect. However, the British retaliated by blocking colony access to the North Atlantic Fishing Area.
Only one colony failed to establish local enforcement committees; in the others, the restrictions were dutifully enforced—by violent measures on some occasions. Trade with Britain subsequently plummeted. Parliament responded by passing the New England Restraining Act, which prohibited the northeastern colonies from trading with anyone but Britain and the British West Indies, and they barred colonial ships from the North Atlantic fisheries. These punitive measures were later extended to most of the other colonies as well.
 
The outbreak of open fighting between the colonists and British soldiers in April 1775 rendered moot any attempt to indirectly change British policies. In this regard, the Association failed to determine events in the way that it was designed—Britain did not cave to American demands but instead tried to tighten its grip, and the conflict escalated to war. However, the true long-term success of the Association was in its effective direction of collective action among the colonies and expression of their common interests. This recognition of union by the Association, and its firm stance that the colonies and their people had rights that were being infringed by Britain, made it a direct precursor to the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which by contrast repudiated the authority of the king once it was clear that no other solution would preserve the asserted rights of the colonies.
 
Legacy
In his first inaugural address in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln traced the origins of the United States back to the Continental Association:
 
The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured ... by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."
 



The Continental Association

We, his Majesty's most loyal subjects, the Delegates of the several Colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, the three Lower Counties of New-Castle, Kent, and Sussex, on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, deputed to represent them in a Continental Congress, held in the City of Philadelphia, on the fifth day of September, 1774, avowing our allegiance to his Majesty; our affection and regard for our fellow-subjects in Great Britain and elsewhere; affected with the deepest anxiety and most alarming apprehensions at those grievances and distresses with which his Majesty's American subjects are oppressed; and having taken under our most serious deliberation the state of the whole Continent, find that the present unhappy situation of our affairs is occasioned by a ruinous system of Colony Administration, adopted by the British Ministry about the year 1763, evidently calculated for enslaving these Colonies, and, with them, the British Empire. In prosecution of which system, various Acts of Parliament have been passed for raising a Revenue in America, for depriving the American subjects, in many instances, of the constitutional Trial by Jury, exposing their lives to danger by directing a new and illegal trial beyond the seas for crimes alleged to have been committed in America; and in prosecution of the same system, several late, cruel, and oppressive Acts have been passed respecting the Town of Boston and the Massachusetts Bay, and also an Act for extending the Province of Quebec, so as to border on the Western Frontiers of these Colonies, establishing an arbitrary Government therein, and discouraging the settlement of British subjects in that wide extended country; thus, by the influence of civil principles and ancient prejudices, to dispose the inhabitants to act with hostility against the free Protestant Colonies, whenever a wicked Ministry shall choose so to direct them.
 
To obtain redress of these Grievances, which threaten destruction to the Lives, Liberty, and Property of his Majesty's subjects in North America, we are of opinion that a Non-Importation, Non-Consumption, and Non-Exportation Agreement, faithfully adhered to, will prove the most speedy, effectual, and peaceable measure; and, therefore, we do, for ourselves, and the inhabitants of the several Colonies whom we represent, firmly agree and associate, under the sacred ties of Virtue, Honour, and Love of our Country, as follows:
 
1. That from and after the first day of December next, we will not import into British America, from Great Britain or Ireland, any Goods, Wares, or Merchandises whatsoever, or from any other place, any such Goods, Wares, or Merchandises as shall have been exported from Great Britain or Ireland; nor will we, after that day, import any East India Tea from any part of the World; nor any Molasses, Syrups, Paneles, Coffee, or Pimento, from the British Plantations or from Dominica; nor Wines from Madeira, or the Western Islands; nor Foreign Indigo.
 
2. That we will neither import nor purchase any Slave imported after the first day of December next; after which time we will wholly discontinue the Slave Trade, and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels, nor sell our Commodities or Manufactures to those who are concerned in it.
 
3. As a Non-Consumption Agreement, strictly adhered to, will be an effectual security for the observation of the Non-Importation, we, as above, solemnly agree and associate, that from this day we will not purchase or use any Tea imported on account of the East India Company, or any on which a Duty hath been or shall be paid; and from and after the first day of March next we will not purchase or use any East India Tea whatsoever; nor will we, nor shall any person for or under us, purchase or use any of those Goods, Wares, or Merchandises we have agreed not to import, which we shall know, or have cause to suspect, were imported after the first day of December, except such as come under the rules and directions of the tenth Article hereafter mentioned.
 
4. The earnest desire we have not to injure our fellow-subjects in Great Britain, Ireland, or the West Indies, induces us to suspend a Non-Exportation until the tenth day of September, 1775; at which time, if the said Acts and parts of Acts of the British Parliament herein after mentioned, are not repealed, we will not, directly or indirectly, export any Merchandise or Commodity whatsoever to Great Britain, Ireland, or the West Indies, except Rice to Europe.
 
5. Such as are Merchants, and use the British and Irish Trade, will give orders as soon as possible to their Factors, Agents, and Correspondents, in Great Britain and Ireland, not to ship any Goods to them, on any pretence whatsoever, as they cannot be received in America; and if any Merchant residing in Great Britain or Ireland, shall directly or indirectly ship any Goods, Wares, or Merchandises for America, in order to break the said Non-Importation Agreement, or in any manner contravene the same, on such unworthy conduct being well attested, it ought to be made publick; and, on the same being so done, we will not from thenceforth have any commercial connection with such Merchant.
 
6. That such as are Owners of vessels will give positive orders to their Captains, or Masters, not to receive on board their vessels any Goods prohibited by the said Non-Importation Agreement, on pain of immediate dismission from their service.
 
7. We will use our utmost endeavours to improve the breed of Sheep, and increase their number to the greatest extent; and to that end, we will kill them as sparingly as may be, especially those of the most profitable kind; nor will we export any to the West Indies or elsewhere; and those of us who are or may become overstocked with, or can conveniently spare any Sheep, will dispose of them to our neighbours, especially to the poorer sort, upon moderate terms.
 
8. That we will, in our several stations, encourage Frugality, Economy, and Industry, and promote Agriculture, Arts, and the Manufactures of this Country, especially that of Wool; and will discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock-fighting, exhibitions of plays, shews, and other expensive diversions and entertainments; and on the death of any relation or friend, none of us, or any of our families, will go into any further mourning-dress than a black crape or ribbon on the arm or hat for gentlemen, and a black ribbon and necklace for ladies, and we will discontinue the giving of gloves and scarfs at funerals.
 
9. That such as are venders of Goods or Merchandises will not take advantage of the scarcity of Goods that may be occasioned by this Association, but will sell the same at the rates we have been respectively accustomed to do for twelve months last past. And if any vender of Goods or Merchandises shall sell any such Goods on higher terms, or shall, in any manner, or by any device whatsoever, violate or depart from this Agreement, no person ought, nor will any of us deal with any such person, or his or her Factor or Agent, at any time thereafter for any commodity whatever.
 
10. In case any Merchant, Trader, or other person, shall import any Goods or Merchandise, after the first day of December, and before the first day of February next, the same ought forthwith, at the election of the owner, to be either re-shipped or delivered up to the Committee of the County or Town wherein they shall be imported, to be stored at the risk of the importer, until the Non-Importation Agreement shall cease, or be sold under the direction of the Committee aforesaid; and in the last mentioned case, the owner or owners of such Goods shall be reimbursed out of the sales the first cost and charges; the profit, if any, to be applied towards relieving and employing such poor inhabitants of the Town of Boston as are immediate sufferers by the Boston Port Bill; and a particular account of all Goods so returned, stored, or sold, to be inserted in the publick papers; and if any Goods or Merchandises shall be imported after the said first day of February, the same ought forthwith to be sent back again, without breaking any of the packages thereof.
 
11. That a Committee be chosen in every County, City, and Town, by those who are qualified to vote for Representatives in the Legislature, whose business it shall be attentively to observe the conduct of all persons touching this Association; and when it shall be made to appear to the satisfaction of a majority of any such Committee, that any person within the limits of their appointment has violated this Association, that such majority do forthwith cause the truth of the case to be published in the Gazette, to the end that all such foes to the rights of British America may be publickly known, and universally contemned as the enemies of American Liberty; and thenceforth we respectively will break off all dealings with him or her.
 
12. That the Committee of Correspondence, in the respective Colonies, do frequently inspect the Entries of their Custom Houses, and inform each other, from time to time, of the true state thereof, and of every other material circumstance that may occur relative to this Association.
 
13. That all Manufactures of this country be sold at reasonable prices, so that no undue advantage be taken of a future scarcity of Goods.
 
14. And we do further agree and resolve that we will have no Trade, Commerce, Dealings, or Intercourse whatsoever with any Colony or Province in North America, which shall not accede to, or which shall hereafter violate this Association, but will hold them as unworthy of the rights of freemen, and as inimical to the liberties of this country.
And we do solemnly bind ourselves and our constituents, under the ties aforesaid, to adhere to this Association until such parts of the several Acts of Parliament passed since the close of the last war, as impose or continue Duties on Tea, Wine, Molasses, Syrups, Paneles, Coffee, Sugar, Pimento, Indigo, Foreign Paper, Glass, and Painters' Colours, imported into America, and extend the powers of the Admiralty Courts beyond their ancient limits, deprive the American subjects of Trial by Jury, authorize the Judge's certificate to indemnify the prosecutor from damages that he might otherwise be liable to from a trial by his peers, require oppressive security from a claimant of Ships or Goods seized, before he shall be allowed to defend his property, are repealed.—And until that part of the Act of the 12th George III. ch. 24, entitled "An Act for the better securing his Majesty's Dock-yards, Magazines, Ships, Ammunition, and Stores," by which any person charged with committing any of the offences therein described, in America, may be tried in any Shire or County within the Realm, is repealed—and until the four Acts, passed in the last session of Parliament, viz: that for stopping the Port and blocking up the Harbour of Boston—that for altering the Charter and Government of the Massachusetts Bay—and that which is entitled An Act for the better Administration of Justice, &c.—and that for extending the Limits of Quebec, &c., are repealed. And we recommend it to the Provincial Conventions, and to the Committees in the respective Colonies, to establish such farther Regulations as they may think proper for carrying into execution this Association.
 
The foregoing Association being determined upon by the Congress, was ordered to be subscribed by the several Members thereof; and thereupon, we have hereunto set our respective names accordingly.
 
In Congress, Philadelphia, October 20, 1774.
Peyton Randolph, President.
 
New-Hampshire:
John Sullivan,
Nathaniel Folsom
 
Massachusetts Bay:
Thomas Cushing,
Samuel Adams,
John Adams,
Robert Treat Paine.
 
Rhode-Island:
Stephen Hopkins,
Samuel Ward.
 
Connecticut:
Eliphalet Dyer,
Roger Sherman,
Silas Deane.
 
New-York:
Isaac Low,
John Alsop,
John Jay,
James Duane,
Philip Livingston,
William Floyd,
Henry Wisner,
Simon Boerum.
 
New-Jersey:
James Kinsey,
William Livingston,
Stephen Crane,
Richard Smith,
John De Hart.
 
Pennsylvania:
Joseph Galloway,
John Dickinson,
Charles Humphreys,
Thomas Mifflin,
Edward Biddle,
John Morton,
George Ross.
 
The Lower Counties,
New-Castle, &c.:
Csar Rodney
Thomas McKean,
George Read.
 
Maryland:
Matthew Tilghman,
Thomas Johnson, Junr.
William Paca,
Samuel Chase.
 
Virginia:
Richard Henry Lee,
George Washington,
Patrick Henry, Junr.
Richard Bland,
Benjamin Harrison,
Edmund Pendleton.
 
North Carolina:
William Hooper,
Joseph Hewes,
Richard Caswell.
 
South Carolina:
Henry Middleton,
Thomas Lynch,
Christopher Gadsden,
John Rutledge,
Edward Rutledge.
 
Ordered, That this Association be committed to the press, and that one hundred and twenty copies be struck off.
 
The Congress then resumed the consideration of the Address to the Inhabitants of these Colonies, and after debate thereon, adjourned till to-morrow.
 





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