On this date in 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met for the first time, despite a British “Coercive Act” forbidding such local representation.

On May 20, 1774, Parliament passed the Massachusetts Government Act, one of the Coercive Acts passed that year. The act dissolved the Massachusetts provincial charter. It also prescribed that members of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, the colony’s representative legislative branch, would no longer be elected by the people of the colony. Instead, the royal governor would appoint members of that body, effectively stripping the colonists of representation.

In early October 1774, Governor Thomas Gage dissolved the provincial assembly under terms of the Government Act. On Sept. 1 he called for the election of representatives to a General Court to meet in Salem on Oct. 5, but on Sept. 28 he discharged them.

But the body disregarded Gage and ninety elected representatives met as scheduled in Salem anyway. The body formulated a list of delegates and chose officers of the assembly. Two days later the body reconvened in Concord and organized itself into a Provincial Congress, electing John Hancock president. Hancock was also elected Chairman of the Committee of Safety that was appointed on Oct. 11. Other prominent members included Joseph Warren, James Warren, Samuel Adams and Elbridge Gerry.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress quickly became the de facto government of Massachusetts outside of Boston. It assumed all powers to rule the province, collected taxes, purchased supplies, and raised a militia.

Hancock sent Paul Revere to the First Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia with the news that the colony had established the first autonomous colonial government in the 13 colonies.

In the early days, the body met in houses and taverns, moving its meeting place because members were subject to arrest for defying the British government.

After the British withdrew from Boston in March 1776, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress governed the entire colony and did so until Massachusetts produced a state constitution in 1780.

From October 1774 to April 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress made preparations to defend the colony from the British usurpers. The body mustered supplies to outfit an army of 15,000 men, and after Lexington and Concord, it directed the army until the Continental Congress took over.

In June 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress passed a resolution that summarized the spirit of resistance in the colony.

“That no Obedience being due to the Act of Parliament for altering the Charter of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay, nor to a Governor or Lieutenant Governor, who will not observe the Directions of, but endeavour to subvert, that Charter, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are to be considered as absent, and these Offices vacant.”

You can read the Massachusetts Provincial Congress journals HERE. They offer a fascinating insight into the early days of the American Revolution.

Mike Maharrey

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