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
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superseded the attempt to boycott British goods.
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
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the Act for blocking up this harbour be repealed, the same will prove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."
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."
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.
In his first inaugural address in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln
traced the origins of the United States back to the Continental
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."
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
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
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.
Robert Treat Paine.
John De Hart.
The Lower Counties,
Thomas Johnson, Junr.
Richard Henry Lee,
Patrick Henry, Junr.
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