The Declaration of Rights and Grievances – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

The Declaration of Rights and Grievances

In March, 1774, the British Parliament passed a series of laws they referred
to as the Coercive Acts. The Americans called them the Intolerable Acts. The
Acts were primarily designed to punish the colony of Massachusetts for
defying British policies; specifically, for the Boston Tea Party. Outrage in
the Americas over the Intolerable Acts led to the calling of the First
Continental Congress in September, 1774. During the First Congress, which
included representatives from all of the colonies except Georgia, the delegates
decided to take several actions, including a boycott of British goods. It also
drafted a declaration to the King and Parliament, outlining the position of the
Congress. This work is the Declaration of Rights and Grievances.

The Intolerable Acts, called “impolitic, unjust, and cruel,” included the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Quartering Act, and the Administration of Justice Act. The Boston Port Act
closed the port of Boston to trade; the Massachusetts Government Act
significantly changed the colony’s charter and forbade town meetings; the
Quartering Act required colonists to house British soldiers on demand; and the
Administration of Justice Act removed British officials from the jurisdiction
of Massachusetts courts. Another act, the Quebec
, established Roman Catholicism and a new system of government in the
newly acquired colony of Quebec, and played on widespread distrust and even
hatred of the Catholic Church.

On Wednesday, September 7, 1774, Congress appointed a committee, consisting
of two delegates from each colony in attendance. The committee’s duty was
defined in this resolution: “That a Committee be appointed to state the rights
of the Colonies in general, the several instances in which these rights are
violated or infringed, and the means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a
restoration of them.” The committee read its draft of the rights of the
colonies on Thursday the 22nd and a draft of the grievances on the 24th.
Congress debated the drafts on October 12 and 13, and a final draft was agreed
on Friday, October 14, 1774.

Later in the session, the Articles of
were drafted – where the Declaration was addressed to the King,
the Articles were a plan of agreement between the colonies themselves, a union
of protest and boycott.

The source for this text is the Journals of the Continental Congress,
1774-1789, Volume 1. The text is as presented in that volume, but has been
modified slightly to expand abbreviations and modernize spelling. Footnotes
explain arcane language and illuminate some points.


Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, October 1774

Whereas, since the close of the last war, the British
parliament, claiming a power of right to bind the people of America by statute
in all cases whatsoever, hath, in some acts expressly imposed taxes on them,
and in others, under various pretenses, but in fact for the purpose of raising
a revenue, hath imposed rates and duties payable in these colonies, established
a board of commissioners with unconstitutional powers, and extended the
jurisdiction of courts of Admiralty not only for collecting the said duties,
but for the trial of causes merely arising within the body of a county.

And whereas, in consequence of other statutes, judges who before held only
estates at will in their offices, have been made dependent on the Crown alone
for their salaries, and standing armies kept in times of peace. And it has
lately been resolved in Parliament, that by force of a statute made in the 35th
year of the reign of king Henry the Eighth, [1]
colonists may be transported to England, and tried there upon accusations for
treasons and misprisions, or concealments of treasons committed in the
colonies; and by a late statute, such trials have been directed in cases
therein mentioned.

And whereas, in the last session of Parliament, three statutes were made;
one entitled “An act to discontinue, in such manner and for such time as are
therein mentioned, the landing and discharging, lading, or shipping of goods,
wares and merchandise, at the town, and within the harbor of Boston in the
province of Massachusetts-bay, in North America;” [2] another, entitled “An act for the better regulating the
government of the province of the Massachusetts-bay in New England;” [3] and another, entitled “An act for the impartial
administration of justice, in the cases of persons questioned for any act done
by them in the execution of the law, or for the suppression of riots and
tumults, in the province of the Massachusetts-bay, in New England.” [4] And another statute was then made, “for making more
effectual provision for the government of the province of Quebec, etc.” [5] All which statutes are impolitic, unjust, and cruel, as
well as unconstitutional, and most dangerous and destructive of American

And whereas, Assemblies have been frequently dissolved, contrary to the
rights of the people, when they attempted to deliberate on grievances; and
their dutiful, humble, loyal, and reasonable petitions to the crown for
redress, have been repeatedly treated with contempt, by His Majesty’s ministers
of state:

The good people of the several Colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts bay,
Rhode Island and Providence plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Newcastle, Kent and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North
Carolina, and South Carolina, justly alarmed at these arbitrary proceedings of
parliament and administration, have severally elected, constituted, and
appointed deputies to meet, and sit in general Congress, in the city of
Philadelphia, in order to obtain such establishment, as that their religion,
laws, and liberties, may not be subverted:

Whereupon the deputies so appointed being now assembled, in a full and free
representation of these Colonies, taking into their most serious consideration
the best means of attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place, as
Englishmen their ancestors in like cases have usually done, for asserting and
vindicating their rights and liberties, declare,

That the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North America, by the
immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the
several charters or compacts, have the following Rights:

1. That they are entitled to life, liberty, and
property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to
dispose of either without their consent.

2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of
their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights,
liberties, and immunities of free and natural born subjects within the realm of

3. That by such emigration they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost
any of those rights, but that they were, and their descendants now are entitled
to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other
circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy.

4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a
right in the people to participate in their legislative council: and as the
English colonists are not represented, and from their local and other
circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they
are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several
provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be
preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the
negative of their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and
accustomed. But, from the necessity of the case, and a regard to the mutual
interest of both countries, we cheerfully consent to the operation of such acts
of the British parliament, as are bona fide restrained to the regulation of our
external commerce, for the purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the
whole empire to the mother country, and the commercial benefits of its
respective members excluding every idea of taxation, internal or external, for
raising a revenue on the subjects in America without their consent.

5. That the respective colonies are entitled to the common law of England,
and more especially to the great and inestimable privilege of being tried by
their peers of the vicinage, [6] according to the
course of that law.

6. That they are entitled to the benefit of such of the English statutes, as
existed at the time of their colonization; and which they have, by experience,
respectively found to be applicable to their several local and other

7. That these, his majesty’s colonies, are likewise entitled to all the
immunities and privileges granted and confirmed to them by royal charters, or
secured by their several codes of provincial laws.

8. That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their
grievances, and petition the King; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory
proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal.

9. That the keeping a Standing army in these colonies, in times of peace,
without the consent of the legislature of that colony in which such army is
kept, is against law.

10. It is indispensably necessary to good
government, and rendered essential by the English constitution, that the
constituent branches of the legislature be independent of each other; that,
therefore, the exercise of legislative power in several colonies, by a council
appointed during pleasure, by the crown, is unconstitutional, dangerous, and
destructive to the freedom of American legislation.

All and each of which the aforesaid deputies, in behalf of themselves, and
their constituents, do claim, demand, and insist on, as their indubitable
rights and liberties; which cannot be legally taken from them, altered or
abridged by any power whatever, without their own consent, by their
representatives in their several provincial legislatures.

In the course of our inquiry, we find many infringements and violations of
the foregoing rights, which, from an ardent desire that harmony and mutual
intercourse of affection and interest may be restored, we pass over for the
present, and proceed to state such acts and measures as have been adopted since
the last war, which demonstrate a system formed to enslave America.

Resolved, That the following acts of Parliament are
infringements and violations of the rights of the colonists; and that the
repeal of them is essentially necessary, in order to restore harmony between
Great Britain and the American colonies, viz:

The several Acts of 4 Geo. 3, chapter 15 and chapter 34; 5 Geo. 3, chapter
25; 6 Geo. 3, chapter 52; 7 Geo. 3, chapter 41 and 46; 8 Geo. 3, chapter 22;
which impose duties for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, extend the
powers of the admiralty courts beyond their ancient limits, deprive the
American subject of trial by jury, authorize the judges’ certificate to
indemnify the prosecutor from damages that he might otherwise be liable to,
requiring oppressive security from a claimant of ships and goods seized before
he shall be allowed to defend his property; and are subversive of American

Also the 12 Geo. 3, chapter 24, entitled “An act for the better preserving
his Majesty’s dockyards, magazines, ships, ammunition, and stores,” [7] which declares a new offense in America, and deprives
the American subject of a constitutional trial by jury of the vicinage, by
authorizing the trial of any person charged with the committing any offense
described in the said act, out of the realm, to be indicted and tried for the
same in any shire or county within the realm.

Also the three acts passed in the last session of parliament, for stopping
the port and blocking up the harbor of Boston, for altering the charter and
government of the Massachusetts bay, and that which is entitled “An Act for the
better administration of Justice,” etc.

Also the act passed the same session for establishing the Roman Catholic
Religion in the province of Quebec, abolishing the equitable system of English
laws, and erecting a tyranny there, to the great danger, from so great a
dissimilarity of Religion, law, and government, of the neighboring British
colonies by the assistance of whose blood and treasure the said country was
conquered from France.

Also the act passed the same session for the better providing suitable
quarters for officers and soldiers in his Majesty’s service in North
America. [8]

Also, that the keeping a standing army in several of these colonies, in time
of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that colony in which the
army is kept, is against law.

To these grievous acts and measures Americans cannot
submit, but in hopes that their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a
revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found
happiness and prosperity, we have for the present only resolved to pursue the
following peaceable measures:

1. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation
agreement or association.

2. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to
the inhabitants of British America, and

3. To prepare a loyal address to his Majesty, agreeable to resolutions
already entered into.


1. The 35th year of the reign of Henry the 8th was

2. The Boston Port Act.

3. The Massachusetts Government

4. The Administration of
Justice Act

5. The Quebec Act.

6. “Vicinage” means a limited area around a point; in this
context, it refers to the Administration of Justice Act, which allowed a trial
to be moved from Massachusetts to another colony or to England.

7. The Dockyards Act, passed on April 16, 1772.

8. The Quartering Act.