He adds to this false premise the assertion, "The Congress thus assembled exercised de facto and de jure a sovereign authority; not as the delegated agents of the governments de facto of the colonies, but in virtue of original powers derived from the people." Such a statement could come only from one who had not read the instructions of the delegates, or the journal of this Congress's proceedings. Four delegations were instructed to procure the harmony and union of the empire, to restore mutual confidence, or to establish the union with Great Britain. Three were instructed to repair the breach made in American rights, to preserve American liberty, or to accomplish some similar end. Two were to get a repeal of the obnoxious acts, or determine on prudent or lawful measures of redress. Three were simply to attend Congress or "to consult to advance the good of the colonies". North Carolina alone bound her inhabitants in honor to obey the acts of the Congress to which she was sending delegates. When the Congress met, it restricted its proceedings absolutely to statements of the grievances and appeals for relief. The delegates in no way went beyond their instructions, as a careful examination of their journal will show. Conservative feelings ruled, and the restoration of union and harmony with Great Britain was the prevalent desire. It is manifestly wrong, therefore, to look at the First Continental Congress as coming together because of a national feeling, because of a desire to form a national state, and therefore to ascribe to it governmental powers. It was called because a joint appeal for relief would naturally be more effective than any single petition. The colonies sending delegates to the First Continental Congress no more coalesced into a national state by that
way for ordinary purposes of law-making. The delegates from Massachusetts, a third colony, were chosen by the lower house duly elected, with no special instructions to choose delegates to the Continental Congress. Georgia was not represented at all, and in only six colonies were there special conventions or provincial congresses of the nature Story imagines them all to have been.
- Force, American Archives, fourth series, I. 421.
- Story, Commentaries, fourth ed., I. 140. Burgess too, Political Science and Constitutional Law, I. 100, says that this Congress "was the first organization of the American state." From the first moment of its existence "there was a sovereignty, a state, not in idea simply, or upon paper, but in fact and in organization."
- See Journals of Congress, I. 15–24. My references to the Journals, throughout the article, are to the edition by Mr. W. C. Ford.
- Ibid., 15–30.
- Ibid., 30.
- This is Mr. Ford's opinion (ibid., 6) with which any candid reader of the journal must agree.