The Fairfax Resolves, July 18, 1774
After the British Parliament passed legislation in the spring of 1774 to punish the city of Boston and the colony of Massachusetts for the December 1773 Boston Tea Party, Virginians felt compelled to state their opposition to Parliament's increasingly alarming assertions of legislative authority over the American colonies. On July 5, 1774, a committee was formed in Alexandria to draft a statement. The completed draft, finished on July 11, bore George Mason's handiwork. With this draft in hand, Mason traveled to Mount Vernon where on July 17 and 18 he worked in collaboration with George Washington to develop it further.
The final document consisted of twenty-four statements that outlined accusations, complaints, and a course of action against the British. They denied that independence was the objective of the British colonists, while simultaneously affirming their “Ancestral rights” as Englishmen, even though they lived in the colonies. The Resolves indicted the British Parliament for abuses of the colonies. They also criticized the legislation that punished the Port of Boston for the destruction of the East India Company's tea, and called for the collection of aid for Boston's poor. Finally as a punitive measure, the Resolves called for non-importation of British goods and non-exportation of goods from Virginia to the mother country. At this point the authors issued an appeal to character and touted the nobility of personal independence, thrift, and frugality for the sake of making a political point.
One of the most detailed and eloquent statements of American grievance, the Fairfax Resolves were also very influential. Washington took the Resolves with him to the first Virginia Revolutionary Convention that met in Williamsburg in August, and then to the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia that autumn. The Virginia convention and Congress used the Fairfax Resolves to form their own resolutions and non-importation associations.
1. Who was the chairman of the Fairfax Committee?
2. How many resolves did the committee pass?
1. Compare the Fairfax Resolves to the Declaration of Independence. What issues articulated in the Resolves show up in the Declaration? Which concerns changed or are different in the later and more comprehensive document?
Broadwater, Jeff. George Mason, Forgotten Founder. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
Rutland, Robert A., ed. The Papers of George Mason, 1725–1792. Volume 1, 1749–1778. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970.
Sweig, Donald M. “A New-Found Washington Letter of 1774 and the Fairfax Resolves,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 40 (Apr. 1983): 283–291.