Committee of Correspondence

Picture of Samual Adams

Picture of Samuel Adams

This article on the Committee of Correspondence provides fast facts and information about the early government in Colonial America

  • What was the Committee of Correspondence?
  • Why was it established?
  • The Virginia Committee of Correspondence
  • Date when the Committee of Correspondence was established and disbanded
  • The role of Patrick Henry at the House of Burgesses
  • Facts, history and interesting information about the Virginia Committee of Correspondence
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Committee of Correspondence: Leading patriots establish communication networks amongst the colonists

The Committee of Correspondence
Committee of Correspondence Definition: A Committee of Correspondence consisted of a group of leading patriots providing leadership and communication networks amongst the colonists at town and colony level. Their objectives were to warn each other about British actions and future plans that were detrimental to colonial America and to plan colonial resistance and counter measures.  The Committees of Correspondence were at first temporary but they evolved into permanent features of colonial America.

Committee of Correspondence - Town Committees and the Colonial Committees
There were two types of Committee of Correspondence.

  • The first type were temporary Committees of Correspondence appointed by towns. These were invented by Samuel Adams in 1764 when a committee was first appointed in Boston  Massachusetts. These first, formal, Committees of Correspondence were established on a temporary basis to address specific problems and were then disbanded.
  • The second type were the permanent Committees of Correspondence whose members were selected to document the views of the towns and the whole colony. The first of the permanent colonial Committees of Correspondence was appointed by Virginia
  • By 1775 all the colonies were united by a complete system of Committees of Correspondence
  • The communication network of the Committees of Correspondence reached across all of the colonies
  • Over 7000 patriots served on the Committees of Correspondence at the town and colony level

History of the Colonies - 1763 was a Time of Change
Times were changing in the colonies.

  • Up to 1763 the English policy of Salutary Neglect allowed the colonial merchants to flout, or violate, the Navigation Acts and other British Laws and Taxes
  • But on February 10, 1763 the French and Indian War ended, leaving the British with a massive war debt
  • Britain looked for ways of raising revenue from the American colonies
  • They reversed their policy of Salutary neglect and were intent on raising money from the American colonies by enforcing existing laws and creating new laws and new taxes
  • The writing was on the wall - but not all the colonists realised what the the British were up to...

Boston Committee of Correspondence in 1764
In 1764, the Sugar Act and the Currency Act were passed. The Sugar Act set a tax on sugar and molasses imported into the colonies, which impacted the manufacture of rum in New England. The Middle Colonies and the Southern colonies were not badly impacted by the Sugar Act so their was little interest, or opposition, from them. But the Currency Act was designed to control the colonial currency system. The first formal committee, was established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1764 by Samuel Adams. Its objective was to write to the other colonies and raise awareness, and rally opposition, to the new British Laws and policies.

Samuel Adams & the Boston Committee of Correspondence
Samuel Adams highlighted what he believed to be the dangers of taxation without representation with these words:

"...For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands?
Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of?
This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves.
It strikes at our British privileges, which as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with
our Fellow Subjects who are Natives of Britain.
If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?"

The words of Samuel Adams were published in newspapers and pamphlets. The words of Samuel Adams representing first town Committee of Correspondence also contained the first official recommendation that the colonies present a unified defence of their rights. Samuel Adams sparked protests against the British amongst all of the colonists. The first Boston Committee of Correspondence was then disbanded.

Committee of Correspondence - 1765
In 1765 the Stamp Act and the Quartering Act are passed by the British Parliament. The Stamp Act was designed to raise revenue from the American Colonies by a duty (tax) in the form of a stamp required on all newspapers and legal or commercial documents. The Quartering Act was designed to force local colonial governments to provide provisions and housing to British soldiers stationed in the of American colonies. New York formed a Committee of Correspondence to urge common resistance among its neighbors to the new laws and taxes. They urged other colonies to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress which was a meeting in October 1765 in New York City. The New York Committee of Correspondence was then disbanded. But the Sons of Liberty were founded in Boston by Samuel Adams and John Hancock in July 1765. During the Stamp Act Congress Christopher Gadsden said,

"There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorkers known on the Continent, but all of us Americans..."  

Committee of Correspondence - 1772 Gaspee Affair
The Gaspee Affair took place on June 9, 1772 at Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The HMS Gaspee, a British customs ship, ran aground in Rhode Island and a Sons of Liberty group attacked and set fire to the ship. The British Government threatened to send the American perpetrators for trial in England, but no arrests were made. Samuel Adams believed that the British threat to send protestors to England deprived American colonists of their right to trial by a jury was unconstitutional and threatened the independence of the colonies. Samuel Adams used the Committees of Correspondence to discuss the threats from Great Britain. Samuel Adams also agitated for the union of all the colonies stating in December 1772:

"... an attack on the liberties of one Colony
was an attack on the liberties of all.''

Permanent Committee of Correspondence - Virginia 1773
Dabney Carr was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and the brother-in-law of Thomas Jefferson. Spurred on by the powerful words of Samuel Adams, Dabney Carr proposed the formation of a permanent Committee of Correspondence to the Virginia House of Burgesses in March 1773. The Virginia House of Burgesses agreed to his proposal and Thomas Jefferson, Peyton Randolph, Dabney Carr,  and Patrick Henry were among their 11 members. The permanent Committee of Correspondence

Permanent Committees of Correspondence - Colonial Unity
At first colonies were reluctant to follow Massachusetts and Virginia in appointing permanent Committees of Correspondence. But as the situation worsened between America and Britain other colonies felt the need to make their voices heard and colonial assemblies began to appoint their own Committees of Correspondence. Political leaders in the colonies could document the concerns and issues of the colonies and then distribute this information from town to town and colony to colony using communication networks issuing newspapers and pamphlets via couriers on horseback or on mail ships. The Committees of Correspondence played a major role in promoting colonial unity and planning colonial resistance. By 1775 all the colonies were united by a complete system of Committees of Correspondence which were, in effect, shadow governments.

Committee of Correspondence leads to the Continental Congress
The turning point had come in 1774 when Lord Dunmore dissolved the Virginia House of Burgesses. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Peyton Randolph called for the first meeting of the Continental Congress aimed at the political unification all of the American colonies and would serve as the basis for the first unified, self-ruling government in the United States. The permanent Committees of Correspondence performed the important planning necessary for the First Continental Congress to meet in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. The Continental Association was created by the Continental Congress in 1774 in response to the Coercive Acts, or 'Intolerable Acts'.

Committee of Correspondence
The Second Congress created its own Committee of Correspondence to communicate the American interpretation of events to foreign countries. On July 6 1775 the Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms was issued stating that Americans were "resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves." On July 4, 1776 Thomas Jefferson presented the United States Declaration of Independence beginning the American Revolutionary War.

The Committee of Correspondence were replaced during the revolution with Provincial Congresses, but they still continued to function at the local town level. The Committees of Correspondence were highly influential and directly led to the outbreak of the American Revolution. .

Committee of Correspondence

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