Until late 1772, political control of Massachusetts remained in the hands of the merchants, who as a class were largely satisfied with the state of relations with the mother country, and were most reluctant to jeopardize peace and prosperity for the sake of an abstract political principle.
As long as the radicals such as Samuel Adams tried to work within the normal political channels, the moderate Whigs were able to restrain them.
The British government provided the radicals with the issue they needed, but it proved to be one which only a separate radical organization could exploit effectively.
In the spring of 1772 rumors began to circulate in Boston to the effect that Great Britain was going to assume responsibility for the salaries of the Superior Court judges, thus making them independent of the people of Massachusetts.
The radicals were concerned about the issue, however, and expressed that concern when a town-meeting of May 14, 1772, chose a committee to prepare Instructions for the newly elected representatives.
The committee consisted of nine men: Joseph Warren, Benjamin Church, Josiah Quincy, William Mollineux, William Dennie, William and Joseph Greenleaf, and Thomas and Richard Oil Gray.
The failure of the committee to agree on any instructions raises interesting question. John Cary, in his biography of Joseph Warren, concludes that “Warren and the other radicals on the committee seem to have been outnumbered”, and that in the future “Warren and Samuel Adams avoided the mistake of allowing moderates to ruin their plans”. (McBride)
At the October 28 town meeting, after some debate, the attendees decided “by a vast majority” “that a decent and respectful Application … be made to his excellency the Governor … whether his excellency had received any advice. relative to this matter….” The meeting voted to petition the governor to permit the General Assembly to convene, so that “that Constitutional Body” might deliberate on the matter.
In order to bypass the moderates who were blocking his program, Adams created a separate radical organization based upon the radical control over the Boston town-meeting. Ultimately, the Committee of Correspondence, was formed. The purpose of the committee, according to the motion which created it, was,
“to state the Rights of the Colonists …; to communicate and publish the same to the several Towns in this Province and to the World as the sense of this Town, with the Infringements and Violations thereof that have been, or from time to time may be made — Also requesting of each Town a free communication of their Sentiments on this Subject….”
The committee thus had very flexible instructions; it was not restricted to dealing with any particular issue but was a standing committee which could communicate with anyone about practically anything, past, present , or future. (McBride)
With the participation of Samuel Adams and others, among them James Otis, Josiah Quincy, Joseph Warren, Thomas Young and Benjamin Church, the first action of the committee was the preparation of a “Statement of the Rights of the Colonists,” a list of infringements of those rights by Great Britain, and a covering letter to the other towns of Massachusetts.
The “statement of rights” was an effective and well-written piece of radical propaganda – it complained of infringements of liberties that many Massachusetts farmers had never before heard of – but the heart of the radical program lay in the covering letter.
In it the Boston town-meeting requested of the other towns “a free communication of your sentiments” and suggested that if the rights of the colonists were felt to have been stated properly, the towns should instruct their Representatives to support Boston.
By mid-February, 1773, seventy-eight out of approximately 240 Massachusetts towns, including most of the principal ones, had replied favorably.
Many of the remaining communities were actually not towns but groups of scattered farmers who for sound reasons of economy and convenience were delaying action on the Boston circular until their regular spring business-meeting. (McBride)
In response to what became known as the Boston Pamphlet, similar committees formed in towns across Massachusetts and in other American colonies, helping to create a network of colonial communication ultimately leading to independence from Great Britain. (NY Library Archives)
Towns, counties, and colonies from Nova Scotia to Georgia had their own committees of correspondence. (Battlefields) Men on these committees wrote to each other to express ideas, to confirm mutual assistance, and to debate and coordinate resistance to British imperial policy.
Committees of Correspondence were longstanding institutions that became a key communications system during the early years of the American Revolution (1772-1776). (Battlefields)
When the tea crisis developed on December 16, 1773, the system only functioned in the port-towns and around Boston. The appearance of strength which the system gave the radicals was sufficient, however, that they were able to direct events which resulted in a direct challenge to British rule. (McBride)
Once the Tea Party led to the Coercive Acts, the committee system quickly spread into most of the towns. (McBride)
The Committees were a way for colonial legislatures to communicate with their agents in London. In the 1760s, the Sons of Liberty used committees of correspondence to organize resistance between cities. The most famous and influential committees of correspondence, however, operated in the 1770s. (Battlefields)
Under a growing system of mutual advisement, the Committee informed towns and other colonies of British actions in Boston, notably the arrival of East India Company tea shipments in Boston in 1773 and the impact of Britain’s punitive Coercive Acts in 1774, especially the closing of the Boston’s harbor.
The Committee also sought ways to relieve Boston’s poor. As military action seemed increasingly likely, the Committee tried to prevent colonists from aiding the British army with their labor, skills or supplies, and asked nearby towns to monitor British military maneuvers, while local militias prepared to be called. (NY Library Archives)
In the late summer and autumn of 1774, the colonies, especially Massachusetts, became politically active on a very wide scale and at all political levels, from town-meetings and county conventions to a series of provincial and continental congresses.
Simultaneously, and on an equally wide scale, the colonists began active military preparations.
At this point the revolutionary movement unquestionably had the support of a large majority of the people of Massachusetts.
The Continental Congress established the Committee of Secret Correspondence to communicate with sympathetic Britons and other Europeans early in the American Revolution. The committee coordinated diplomatic functions for the Continental Congress and directed transatlantic communication and public relations. (State Department)
With the gradual establishment of self-government and the evacuation of the British from Boston in March 1776, the Committee of Correspondence attended to public safety activities in the Boston area until the end of the Revolutionary War.
The Committee monitored the actions of Loyalists and others, while continuing its communication with other towns to strengthen American interests. Now known as the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety, its meetings during this period were usually chaired by Nathaniel Barber. William Cooper, Town Clerk of Boston, was clerk of the Committee throughout its existence. (NY Library, Archives)
In the 1770s there were three consecutive systems of committees of correspondence:
- The Boston-Massachusetts system
- The Inter-colonial system
- The post-Coercive Acts system
Click the following link to a general summary about the Committee of Correspondence: