Organization for revolution: the Committee of Correspondence system in Massachusetts, 1772-1775
McBride, John David, 1946-
Gruber, Ira D.
Master of Arts
The greatest obstacle which the Massachusetts radicals faced in their Campaign to overthrow the Royal government was not the Tory party, but rather the reluctance of the moderate Whigs to engage in any activities which seemed to lead to a direct confrontation with Great Britain. 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. 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. The Boston Committee of Correspondence was theoretically responsible to the town-meeting, but actually operated independently of any control save the will of the radical leaders. Adams intended the Boston committee to become the mainspring of a network of similar committees which would extend to all the towns of Massachusetts. Initially, only a small fraction of the towns actually appointed a committee to correspond with Boston, although many expressed agreement in principle. Nevertheless, Adams was able to manipulate the responses, using the Boston Gazette, in such a way that the committee system appeared to be very extensive. When the tea crisis developed in December of 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. Once the Tea Party had led to the Coercive Acts, the committee system quickly spread into most of the towns. The other committees were no longer willing to follow Boston's leadership without question, however, and showed this by refusing to accept the Solemn League and Covenant. Instead, local committees worked through county conventions to dismantle the old militia system and the Royal courts. They also began the intimidation of Tories by forcing the resignations of the Mandamus Counsellors. The Boston radicals were quick to recognize the necessity for new tactics, and acted through the Suffolk County convention to influence the deliberations of the Continental Congress and insure the completion of their program.