Papers of John Adams, volume 2

Editorial Note

II. Motion on Nonexportation and Defense

I. Heads of Grievances and Rights, 9 September 1774 JA Continental Congress


I. Heads of Grievances and Rights, 9 September 1774 Adams, John Continental Congress
I. Heads of Grievances and Rights
ante 9 September? 1774 1

Whereas since the Accession of the present King, Parliament has claimed a Power of Right to bind the People of the Colonies in North America by Statutes in all Cases whatsoever: And for carrying the said Power into Execution, has by some Statutes expressly taxed the People of the said Colonies, and by divers other Statutes under various Pretences, but in Fact, for the Purpose of raising a Revenue, has imposed “Rates and Duties” payable in the said Colonies, established a Board of Commissioners, and extended the Jurisdiction of Courts of Admiralty therein, for the Collection of such “Rates and Duties”— And whereas some of the said Statutes are also intended to render all Judges in the said Colonies dependant upon the Crown only2—And whereas since the said Accession, Statutes have been made for quartering and supplying Troops to be kept in the said Colonies—And whereas since the Conclusion of the last War, orders have been issued by the King, under his sign manual that the Authority of the Commander in Chief, and under him, of the Brigadiers-general in the Northern and Southern Departments, in all military Affairs, shall be supreme, and must be obeyed by the Troops as such, in all the Civil Governments in America.3

And whereas a Statute was made in the seventh Year of this Reign, “for suspending the proceedings of the Assembly of New York &c” and Assemblies in these Colonies have of late Years been very frequently dissolved.

And whereas during the present Reign, dutiful and reasonable Petitions to the Crown from the Representatives of the People in these Colonies have been repeatedly treated with Contempt.

And whereas it has been lately resolved in Parliament, that by Force of a Statute made in the 35th Year of Henry the 8th, Colonists may be carried to England and tried there, on Accusations for Offences committed in these Colonies: And by a Statute made in the 12th Year of the Reign, such Trials are directed in the Cases therein mentioned.4

And whereas in the last Session of Parliament, three Statutes were made and declared to have Force within the Province of Massachu-153setts Bay—one, of them “for discontinuing &c the landing &c Goods Wares and Merchandizes at the Town and within the Harbour of Boston” &c another, “for the better regulating the Government” &c and the third, “for the impartial administration of Justice”5 &c—And whereas in the same Session, another Statute was made “for making more effectual provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec” &c

And whereas the good People of these Colonies justly alarmed by the proceedings of Parliament and Administration, have duely appointed and directed Delegates to meet and sit in General Congress, at Philadelphia, in this Month of September 1774, in order to such Establishment, as that their Religion Laws and Liberties may not be subverted: Upon which Appointment and Directions the said Delegates being now assembled in a full and free Representative of these Colonies,6 taking into their most serious Consideration, the best Means for attaining the Ends aforesaid, do in the first Place (as their Ancestors in like Case have usually done) for vindicating and asserting their Rights and Liberties, declare:

1. That the Power of making Laws for ordering or regulating the internal Polity of these Colonies, is, within the Limits of each Colony, respectively and exclusively vested in the provincial Legislature of such Colony: And, that all Statutes for ordering or regulating the internal Polity of the said Colonies or any of them, in any Manner or in any Case whatsoever, are illegal and void.

2. That all Statutes for taxing the People of the said Colonies, are illegal and void.

3. That all the Statutes before mentioned, for the Purpose of raising a Revenue, by imposing “Rates and Duties” payable in these Colonies, establishing a Board of Commissioners, and extending the Jurisdiction of Courts of Admiralty, for the Collection of such “Rates and Duties,” are illegal and void.

4. That Judges within these Colonies ought not to be dependant on the Crown only: And, that their Commissions ought to be, during good Behaviour.

5. That the raising or keeping a standing army within these Colonies, in Time of Peace, unless it be with the Consent of the provincial Legislatures, is illegal, pernicious, and dangerous. And, that every Statute for quartering or supplying Troops within the said Colonies, is illegal and void.

6. That the orders aforesaid for rendering the Authority of the Com-154mander in Chief, and under him, of the Brigadiers-general, supreme, are illegal and void.

7. That for Redress of all Grievances, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the Laws, Assemblies ought to be held in each of these Colonies frequently, and at least once in every Year: that such Assemblies ought not to be prorogued or dissolved, before they have had sufficient Time to deliberate, determine, and bring to Conclusion their Counsels on public Affairs: that any Statute for suspending the Proceedings of any such Assembly, is illegal and void. And, that every Dissolution of an Assembly within these Colonies, during the present Reign, on Pretence of Misbehaviour in the Representatives of the People, has been arbitrary, and oppressive.

8. That it is the Right of the Subjects to petition the King; and, that a contemptuous Treatment of such Petitions, has a most pernicious Tendency.

9. That the Resolution in Parliament on the Statute made in the 35th Year of Henry the 8th, was arbitrary and erroneous: And that any Statute directing the Trials of Colonists to be had in England or elsewhere, on Accusation, for Offences committed in the Colonies, is illegal and void.

10. That the three Statutes made in the last Session of Parliament, and declared to have Force within the Province of Massachusetts Bay, are oppressive to the People of that Province, dangerous to the Liberties of these Colonies, illegal and void.

11. That the Statute made in the same Session, “for making more effectual provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec” &c is not only unjust to the People in that Province, but dangerous to the Interests of the Protestant Religion and of these Colonies, and ought to be repealed.

12. And they do claim, demand, and insist on all and singular the Rights and Liberties beforementioned as indubitably belonging to them: And no Declarations, Judgments, Doings, Proceedings, or Statutes, to the Prejudice of the People in any of the Premisses, ought in any wise to be drawn hereafter into Consequence or Example: And these their undoubted Rights and Liberties, with the Blessing of Divine Providence, which they humbly and ardently implore in Favour of their just Exertions to preserve the Freedom of rendering to their Creator the Worship they judge most acceptable to him, and to promote the Happiness of his Creatures, they are resolved, to the utmost of their Power, to maintain and defend.


MS in John Dickinson's hand (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Rights and Greivances”; docketed by CFA: “Draught. See Journal of Congress. 14 October 1774.”


The present editors have discovered no solid evidence to support CFA's statement that this document is “a draught of the articles as they were doubtless first submitted to the committee” (JA, Works , 2:377, note) or Worthington Chauncey Ford's, that it was “the first draft of the sub-committee's report on violations of rights” ( JCC , 1:63, note 2). An analysis of its content suggests that the document was not intended primarily for the subcommittee but rather for the full committee at or near the beginning of its deliberations, before the subcommittee was formed on 9 Sept.

Several reasons support this contention. First, the title of the draft indicates that it covers the whole gamut of rights and grievances rather than just rights, as would be expected of a draft coming from the subcommittee. Second, although the preamble of the draft clearly anticipates that of the final version adopted by the congress (No. IV, below), the lists of rights in the two documents are so strikingly different in form that some draft not now known probably furnished the model for the final version. Finally, on 9 Sept., the day on which the subcommittee was formed, Ward wrote in his diary that “the Committee met, agreed to found our rights upon the laws of Nature, the principles of the English Constitution, and charters and compacts” (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:27). The draft contains no mention of natural law or any other specific basis for rights. Almost certainly it would have contained some reference to the foundations of American rights had it been written after the decision of the full committee, for the final version sets down the basis for rights almost exactly as Ward indicated.

A plausible explanation is that the draft was written before 9 Sept. to be submitted to the full committee as a basis for discussion. Although the committee could accept the preamble with some changes, it could not agree on the list of rights and thus appointed a subcommittee on 14 Sept.

Still, how is one to account for the draft being in the hand of John Dickinson? He was not a member of the congress at its opening and thus presumably would not have been privy to its secret proceedings. The forces of Joseph Galloway, which controlled the Pennsylvania assembly, had denied Dickinson a seat, refusing to elect to the congress anyone not a member of the assembly. Dickinson had to wait until mid-October and assembly elections before he could take his place in the congress ( JCC , 1:74; David L. Jacobson, John Dickinson and the Revolution in Pennsylvania, Berkeley, 1965, p. 79–81). Nevertheless, there is considerable support, beyond its being in his handwriting, for assigning Dickinson a role in the drafting of this document, even though he was not in the congress.

Dickinson was not idle during the period immediately preceding the opening of the congress. As a leading Pennsylvania whig, he took an active role in calling a provincial convention intended to solidify Pennsylvania opinion and issue instructions to that colony's delegates to the Continental Congress as a counterweight to Galloway and his followers (same, p. 74–75). Dickinson spent the period from 5 to 15 July, the first day of the convention, preparing An Essay on the Constitutional Power of Great Britain (Penna. Archives, 2d ser., 3:565–622) and a series of draft resolutions on colonial rights to be adopted by the convention.

When the convention met Dickinson's work was the basis for deliberations. It accepted his essay completely and ordered it to be printed. His resolutions were taken up and, with changes, resulted in the convention's instructions to the Pennsylvania delegation. Comparison of the first instruction (Penna. Archives, 2d ser., 3:556–561) with the draft shows that the former, with a few exceptions, contains all the rights listed in the draft, even to the citation of 156specific statutes, and the instruction in turn draws upon a portion of Dickinson's essay (same, 3:582–585).

Dickinson's influence was not confined to his writings. According to Jacobson, Dickinson and his friends “contacted arriving delegates from other colonies and carefully briefed them on the facts of Pennsylvania politics,” and “throughout September and early October, Dickinson, as the best-known of the Pennsylvania Whigs, was in contact with the leaders in Congress, meeting with them and advising them” (p. 80). The diaries of JA and Samuel Ward indicate that they met him on 31 Aug., soon after their arrival. JA had more than a dozen meetings with Dickinson or his fellow whig leaders, Thomas Mifflin and Charles Thomson, between 29 Aug. and 14 Oct. ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:114, 115, 117, 118, 119, 121, 122, 132–133, 135, 136, 137, 140, 151; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:5). An indication of their influence on JA is his comparing Joseph Galloway to Thomas Hutchinson as early as 1 Sept. ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:119). Thomson had been secretary of the Pennsylvania convention and became secretary of the congress, as well as clerk to the committee on rights (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:17). Since the draft here printed is in the Adams Papers, it would appear that JA, and probably others, in order to counteract the forces of Galloway, brought Dickinson into their deliberations at an early stage.


The influence of JA or some member of the Massachusetts delegation is suggested by the reference to statutes affecting the independence of judges that appears here and in Article 4. The issue of judges' salaries was hotly contested in Massachusetts, where JA had played an important role in arousing public opinion against Peter Oliver, who had accepted a royal salary. (See The Independence of Judges, 11 Jan. – 22 Feb. 1773, and Impeachment of Oliver, 24 Feb. 1774, above). In the southern royal colonies, the issue of the independence of judges revolved around tenure during good behavior and the right of the local assemblies to establish courts, not revenues appropriated by Parliament for salaries (Jack P. Greene, The Quest for Power, Chapel Hill, 1963, ch. 17).


On this issue, see John Shy, Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution, Princeton, 1965, p. 148–150.


After the burning of the Gaspee in Rhode Island in June 1772, English authorities at first attempted to apply to the case the Dockyards Act, passed in April 1772, which permitted trial either where the offense was committed or in England of those accused of destroying British warships. Legal advice, however, ruled the Dockyards Act inapplicable for the Gaspee since it had not been burned in a yard. Then the government called into play the statute passed in 1543 permitting offenses of treason committed outside the realm to be tried in England. In 1769 Parliament had asserted that this old statute was effective in the colonies (Bernhard Knollenberg, Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775, N.Y., 1975, p. 84–85 and notes 31–33).


At this point in the MS appears the following marginal note in an unidentified hand: “Q. which of these two last Statutes was first in Time?”


At this point in the MS appears the following marginal note in the same hand as for the previous note: “Q. if the Colonies should not be named?”