USA Born in Fasting and Prayer, Washington, Jefferson, 1774

[Note: The Virginia Assembly convened at Williamsburg on Thursday, May 5, 1774

The earlier days of the session were occupied with matters connected with the Indian outbreaks and the boundary disputes with Pennsylvania; but the news of the Boston Port bill, closing that town to all foreign trade after June 1, was soon known in Virginia, and in the then disturbed condition of public opinion could have but one effect.

  1. "Infinite astonishment and equal resentment," wrote a member of the assembly (May 20),
  2. "have seized every one here, and a resort to the expedient of 1769 -- 70, a general agreement to stop all trade with Britain appeared probable. 
  3. The house is now pushing, on the public business for which we are called here at this time; but before we depart our measures will be settled and agreed on. 
  4. The plan is extensive; it is wise,
  5.  and I hope under God, it will not fail of success."

At the instance of the younger and more aggressive members of the assembly, Robert Carter Nicholas moved (May 24) to appoint:

  1. > > June 1 as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer,
  2. > > and that the burgesses attend church in a body on that day.

The motion was carried;

and the governor (May 26),

  1. hearing that the fast was intended to prepare the minds of the people
  2.  to receive other resolutions of the house, 
  3. presumably intended to still more inflame the whole country and instigate the people to acts that might rouse the indignation of the mother country against them, 
  4. with the unanimous consent of the council 
  5. dissolved the assembly on the ground that the terms of the resolution reflected highly upon the King and Parliament of Great Britain.

 What these other resolutions might have been is shown by the paper prepared the day before dissolution by Richard Henry Lee,

  1. > > denouncing the closing of Boston as
  2. > > "a most violent and dangerous attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty and rights of all British America,"
  3. > > and proposing a general congress of the Colonies,
  4. > > "to consider and determine on ways the most effectual to stop the exports from North America,
  5. > > and for the adoption of such other measures as may be most decisive for securing the rights of America against the systematic plan formed for their destruction."

He was prevented from proposing these resolutions by many worthy members, 

  • "who wished to have the public business first finished, and who were induced to believe, from many conversations they had heard, that there was no danger of a dissolution." 
  • (See R. H. Lee's letter to Samuel Adams, June 23, 1774.)

That the general temper of the assembly was moderate is further shown by a letter from Lord Dunmore to the Earl of Dartmouth (May 29): "I have heard from many of the dissolved members, and I hope it is true, that the house in general in the hasty manner the measure was proposed and agreed to,

  1. did not advert to the whole force of the terms in which the order I transmit [the appointment of a fast] is conceived,
  2. and that if it had, it is believed a strong opposition would have been made to it, 
  3. and probably that it might have met a different fate."

 On the morning after the dissolution the members of the late House of Burgesses to the number of 89 met in the long room of the Raleigh Tavern, known as the Apollo, 

  1. drew up an association, reciting their grievances against Great Britain, recommending the disuse of tea and East Indian products -
  2. - a measure directed against the East India Company -
  3. - making the cause of Boston common to all the Colonies, and instructed the committees of correspondence to propose to the similar committees in the other colonies to appoint deputies to meet in congress at such place annually as should be most convenient, there to deliberate on those general measures which the united interests of America may require.

Jefferson records that "nobody thought at that time of extending our association further, to the total interruption of our commerce with Great Britain; or if it was proposed by any (which I don't recollect), it was condemned by the general sense of the members who formed that association." (See Jefferson's letter to A. Cary, Dec. 9, 1774.)

Indeed the moderate tone of what was done was not satisfactory to R. H. Lee, who was urging more decided steps. "The consequent conduct of the members was surely much too feeble in opposition to the very dangerous and alarming degree, to which despotism had advanced.

So thinking, I did propose to the dissolved members a plan of a general congress, but they made a distinction between their then state, and that when they were members of the House of Burgesses." (See Lee's letter to Samuel Adams, June 23, 1774.)

Nevertheless, a circular letter (dated May 28) was prepared and sent to the committees in the other colonies, asking their views on the expediency of a general congress. This irregular, because self-constituted, convention appears to have dissolved on the same day.

On the following day (Sunday, May 29) letters were received from some of the committees in the northern colonies recommending a union of the southern colonies against the rigorous and unconstitutional measures of the British ministry respecting America.

Peyton Randolph, as moderator of the former meeting, deemed it expedient to summon the members, and in reply to his call 25 of them met on Monday the 30th, George Washington among the number.

   The meeting unanimously agreed to a circular letter, from which the following extract is taken: "Most Gentlemen present seemed to think it absolutely necessary for us to enlarge our late Association, and that we ought to adopt the Scheme of Nonimportation to a very large Extent; but we were divided in our Opinions as to stopping our Exports.

We could not, however, being so small a Proportion of our late Associates, presume to make any Alteration in the Terms of the general Association, and we resolved to invite all the Members of the late House of Burgesses to a general Meeting in this City on the first Day of August next.

We fixed this distant Day in the Hopes of accommodating the Meeting to every Gentleman's private Affairs, and that they might in the mean Time, have an Opportunity of collecting the Sense of their respective Counties. The Inhabitants of this City were convened yesterday in the Afternoon, and most cheerfully acceded to the Measures we had adopted."

The action of this assemblage led Dunmore to remark that it gave "too much cause to apprehend that the prudent views, and the regard to justice and equity, as well as loyalty and affection, which is publicly declared by many of the families of distinction here, will avail little against the turbulence and prejudice which prevail throughout the country; it is, however, at present quiet." (See Lord Dunmore's letter to the Earl of Dart mouth, June 6, 1774.)

   The names of the 25 who participated in this meeting appear on their printed circular letter of May 31, a copy of which, addressed to George Washington in Fairfax, is in the Washington Papers.

   The day of fasting was observed throughout the colony.

"The people met generally with anxiety and alarm in their countenances, and the effect of the day, through the whole colony, was like a shock of electricity, arousing every man, and placing him erect and solidly on his center." (See Jefferson's Works, vol. I, p. 7.)

  1. "The fast was obeyed throughout Virginia with such rigor and scruples, 
  2. as to interdict the tasting of food between the rising and setting sun.

With the remembrance of the King [’some unknown word here‘], horror was associated; in churches, as well as in the circles of social conversation, he seemed to stalk like the arch-enemy of mankind." (See Moncure D. Conway's Biography of Edmund Randolph.

   The governor issued writs for a new assembly to meet on August 11, but the troubled condition of public opinion led him later to prorogue it to the first Thursday in November.

A series of papers by Thomson Mason, printed in June and July, 1774, in the Virginia Gazette, and signed as a British American, will repay study. ]

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