What are the Committees of Correspondence?

Jim B.
Jim B.
Thomas Jefferson was a member of Virginia's Committee of Correspondence.
Thomas Jefferson was a member of Virginia's Committee of Correspondence.

The committees of correspondence were groups formed by legislatures or special organizations to provide a means of communication between political leaders of the 13 U.S. colonies in the 18th century. Spurred on by specific events that encroached upon the liberty of the colonists, the committees would eventually serve as a general sounding board for the colonial leaders' growing discontent with the imperial rule of Great Britain.

In 1764, the first of the formal committees of correspondence was formed in Massachusetts as a response to the Currency Act, and such committees would become prevalent throughout the colonies in the decade that followed. The committees' most important legacy was serving as the impetus for both the First and Second Continental Congress, the bodies which would serve as the basis for the first unified, self-ruling government in the United States.

When colonists in the United States first began to feel unrest with the limits placed on liberty by British rule, they had little means of communicating this disgust with distant colonies. By forming committees of correspondence, political leaders in the colonies could commit the essence of these complaints to paper and then distribute this information throughout the populace via couriers on horseback or on mail ships. This helped to unify the colonies as various incidents began to amass that eventually led to the colonies taking up arms against their British imperial rulers in the U.S. Revolutionary War.

These committees were often formed by members of the colonial legislature, but sometimes were the result of special organizations formed in secret. The most notable of these groups was the Sons of Liberty, which first rose up in New York in 1765 in opposition to the Stamp Act. Similar groups rose up in Massachusetts, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia.

Committees of correspondence originally began as a way for colonial leaders to protest specific actions taken by the British such as the Currency Act of 1764, which served as the catalyst for the first committee. At their inception, the committees took a conservative tone. As outrage grew, they provided a medium for distinguished statesmen such as Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson to express their philosophies on the shifting tenor of public sentiment. The committees in this way served to unify the colonies ideologically toward the cause of independence.

Ultimately, the committees of correspondence were instrumental in aligning the colonial forces for the First and Second Continental Congresses that would pave the way to U.S. independence. Ben Franklin used a correspondence committee to advocate that colonial leaders meet for the First Continental Congress in 1774 to address the indignities that Great Britain had been piling upon them. When more problems and the Battles of Lexington and Concord eventually led to the Second Continental Congress in 1775, the more radical elements of the committees began to hold sway with their advocacy for self-rule and freedom from Great Britain.

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    • Thomas Jefferson was a member of Virginia's Committee of Correspondence.
      By: Robert Gil
      Thomas Jefferson was a member of Virginia's Committee of Correspondence.