On this date in 1774, delegates at the Suffolk County (Massachusetts) Convention of the Committees of Correspondence approved what became known as the Suffolk Resolves. This declaration against the “Coercive Acts” called for non-cooperation with British authorities and direct action to oppose what it condemned as illegitimate and unconstitutional acts by Parliament.
The British Parliament passed a series of acts together known as the “Coercive Acts” in early 1774 to punish the colonies — particularly Massachusetts — after the Boston Tea Party. These included the Boston Port Act closing the Boston Port, the Massachusetts Government act stripping virtually all authority from the colonial government, the Administration of Justice Act stripping authority from local courts and authorizing trials to be held in Great Britain instead of Massachusetts, and the Quartering Act allowing British troops to take over private buildings.
Colonists had already formed local political bodies known as committees of correspondence in response to increasing tensions with the British government. These representative organizations formed an underground communications network to promote the patriot cause and coordinate political action.
After Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, committees of correspondence from Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, and Worcester counties in Massachusetts met in Boston to formulate a response. The convention called on all of the counties to shut down their courts rather than submit to the British measures.
On a local level, a Suffolk County Convention (Suffolk County included the city of Boston) to discuss the matter was initially scheduled for August 18, 1774, but it was postponed for three weeks because representatives from several towns were unable to attend. A letter announcing the postponement foreshadowed the resolves and reveals that the colonists viewed the Coercive Acts as a constitutional crisis.
“Whereas it appears to us that the Parliament of Great Britain to the Dishonor of the King, in Violation of the faith of the Nation Have in Direct infraction of the Charter of this Province Contrary to Magna Charta the Bill of Rights, the Natural and Constitutional Claims of British Subjects by an act Called the Boston Port Bill, a bill for Amending the Charter of this Province, and another Bill for the Impartial Administration of Justice with all the Parade and ostentation of Law & Justice Attempted to Prejudice this Colony to an unparalleled State of Slavery.”
When the convention convened on Sept. 6, Dr. Joseph Warren introduced the first draft of the Suffolk Resolves.
Warren was an early joiner of the patriot cause and was close friends with Samual Adams and James Otis Jr. After the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767, Warren wrote a series of articles under the pseudonym “A True Patriot.” Warren was later killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Samuel Adams had worked with Warren behind the scenes to organize the convention and draft the proposed resolutions. In an August 21 letter, Warren wrote to Adams saying, “I shall take care to follow your advice respecting the county meeting which, depending upon it, will have very important consequences. The spirits of our friends rise every day.”
The committee edited Warren’s draft of the resolves and passed them on Sept. 9.
The resolves unequivocally condemned the Coercive Acts.
“The late acts of the British parliament for blocking up the harbour of Boston, for altering the established form of government in this colony, and for screening the most flagitious violators of the laws of the province from a legal trial, are gross infractions of those rights to which we are justly entitled by the laws of nature, the British constitution, and the charter of the province.”
The resolves went beyond mere condemnation of the British actions and called for an aggressive response by the people of Suffolk County, including a boycott of British imports, the curtailment of exports to Great Britain, a refusal to use British products, and a refusal to pay taxes until the Massachusetts Government Act was repealed. The resolves also called for the people of Suffolk County to support a colonial government in Massachusetts free from British authority and urged the colonies to raise a militia.
A strong spirit of noncooperation ran through the resolutions. The resolutions declared that given the British government was acting contrary to the constitution, the colonists were under no obligation to obey these illegitimate acts.
“No obedience is due from this province to either or any part of the acts above-mentioned, but that they be rejected as the attempts of a wicked administration to enslave America.”
The resolves specifically called on the people of the county to ignore the courts.
“So long as the justices of our superior court of judicature, court of assize, &c. and inferior court of common pleas in this county are appointed, or hold their places, by any other tenure than that which the charter and the laws of the province direct, they must be considered as under undue influence, and are therefore unconstitutional officers, and, as such, no regard ought to be paid to them by the people of this county.”
While the resolves were local in nature, they had a significant influence throughout the colonies due to their adoption by the First Continental Congress.
Paul Revere rode to Philadelphia to deliver the resolves to Congress. On Sept. 17, Congress endorsed the resolves as a show of solidarity with the people of Boston. This led John Adams to write in his diary, “This was one of the happiest days of my life. In Congress, we had generous, noble sentiments, and manly eloquence. This day convinced me that America will support Massachusetts or perish with her.”
In a letter to his wife, Silas Deane, a Connecticut representative to the Continental Congress, wrote, “I send the Resolves of this Day which are applauded to the skies by the Inhabitants of this City.”
Other Massachusetts counties passed similar resolutions between August and October 1774. These were among the first colonial actions promoting noncompliance with British governmental authority.
- Today in History: Judiciary Act of 1789 Signed into Law - September 24, 2022
- Today in History: Benjamin Franklin Urges Adoption of the Constitution with a Warning - September 17, 2022
- Today in History: Suffolk Resolves Calling for Non-Compliance and Resistance to British Acts - September 9, 2022