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The Coming of the American Revolution: 1764 to 1776

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John Adams diary 22A, September - October 1774

From the Adams Family Papers
The transcription of these entries from Adams's diary (diary 22A) is featured on the Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive website.
Online display of the diary.

Spirited Debates
In June 1774, the Massachusetts House elects John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Cushing to represent the colony at the Continental Congress, called to develop a unified response to the punitive measure imposed in the wake of the Boston Tea Party. On 10 August, the men set out on their three-week journey to Philadelphia, meeting with local officials and surveying the political landscape as they travel. The socializing continues after they arrive in Philadelphia on 29 August, as the fifty-six delegates, many of whom have never met before, enjoy a series of welcoming dinners and get-togethers. The Congress finally convenes on 5 September at Carpenter's Hall. Over the next few weeks, John Adams takes copious notes as he and his fellow delegates vigorously debate how best to respond to Parliament's recent legislation and to calculate the extent of Parliament's authority over the colonies.

Questions to Consider

1. During a debate on colonists' rights, one of the delegates comments "that all the Rights of Englishmen will make us independent" (p. 7). What do you think he means by this?

2. According to Adams's notes, do the delegates believe that colonists are bound by laws passed by Parliament? Should Parliament regulate colonial trade? Support your answer with evidence from the document.

Further Exploration

3. Imagine that you are attending a meeting to select delegates you colony's delegates to the First Continental Congress. What qualities would you like your delegates to possess? Should they all possess the same traits? If not, how will you balance your contingent? What advice would you give your delegates? Should they advocate resistance to the Coercive Acts? accommodation? Write a brief essay describing your ideal delegates and your advice to them.

4. Research one colony's contingent of delegates. In what ways are the delegates political philosophies similar? In what ways are they different?

5. Is it surprising that most of the delegates at the Congress had never met one another before? Why or why not? Think of modes of colonial transportation and communication. How does your understanding of them affect your answer?

6. John Adams's notes provide us with only one person's views on the Continental Congress. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using Adams's notes as a historical source?

7. Adams's notes are a shorthand version of events. Using his notes as your outline, write a dramatic scene for one day's, or a portion of one day's proceedings. Research the individuals and the concepts described by Adams to add life to your characters and excitement to the ideas debated. (Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons is a good model for a dramatic play about ideas.) Draw on other information from this website to embellish your play, and feel free to use your creativity.

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