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. Personal gain was a notable aspiration of members of the Continental Association, made up mostly of those who had economic interests that would be served by forbidding imports from Britain.
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 ended the American attempt to boycott British goods.
The Congress met on September 5, 1774. From John Adams to Samuel Adams, George Read, John Jay, and Patrick Henry, the delegates were eminent leaders both in the revolutionary movement and in the then-extant colonial government. Twelve of the Thirteen Colonies were there (except Georgia) and they went to work for a month. Laws, such as "Galloway's Plan of Union" and the "Articles of Association", were established at this meeting. Another act that came up at the meeting was " The Continental Association".
On October 20, 1774, the Continental Association was introduced and created at the First Continental Congress at Carpenters' Hall. It was designed to defend American rights and was mainly a response to the Coercive/Intolerable Acts. The Association is composed of 14 laws and is designed to stop those British laws.
The Association was one of the major accomplishments of the First Continental Congress, which convened on September 5, 1774, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Articles of Association were dated on October 20 of that year. Peyton Randolph, as President of the Congress, was the lead signatory.
The main impetus for both the formation of the Continental Congress and the drafting of the Articles was the passage in 1774 of the "Intolerable Acts". These were a series of acts passed by the British Parliament to secure greater control over the colonies and to punish them (the Massachusetts Bay Colony in particular) for rebellious behavior.
Though there had been previous "articles of association" circulated within some colonies that had prohibited trade with Britain, the 1774 Articles were an expression of the growing union among the Colonies against Britain and were the immediate precursor to the Declaration of Independence. The Articles served as much as a pact between the colonies themselves to recognize common problems and adhere to a common course of action as a petition against British policies. Of the original Thirteen Colonies, all were represented by the Articles except for the Province of Georgia, which did not send delegates to the Congress until 1775. The Articles refer collectively to the colonies as "America" (only once as "British-America"), and their people as "American subjects."
As a sign of the desire still prevalent at the time to avoid open revolution, the Articles notably opened with a profession of allegiance to the king, and they placed the blame for "a ruinous system of colony administration" upon lower British officials rather than the king directly. The Articles alleged that this system was "evidently calculated for enslaving these colonies, and, with them, the British Empire."
The specific grievances set forth by the Articles were: the deprivation of the right to a jury trial; the prosecution in England for crimes committed in America; and the various penalizing acts specifically targeted upon the citizens of Boston and the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a whole—the most egregious of which was the Massachusetts Government Act, which removed all local control over governance and the courts.
The Articles also complained of the effects of the Quebec Act of 1774, restored French civil law to Quebec and allowed the Roman Catholic faith to be practiced and the French language to be spoken. Residents of the thirteen colonies found all three detestable. The Articles interpreted the act as creating an "arbitrary government" and disposing "the inhabitants to act with hostility against the free Protestant colonies, whenever a wicked ministry shall choose so to direct them." Thus the westward expansion of the colonies, and the economic benefit therefrom, seemed infeasable.
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."
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 Articles, 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.
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