Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Robert A Gross


When news of the Coercive Acts reached the mainland colonies of British North America in May 1774, there was no such thing as a Continental Congress. Provincial leaders, agreeing that an intercolonial gathering was necessary to protest recent Parliamentary measures, anticipated only a congress---an isolated diplomatic convention in the tradition of the Stamp Act Congress and the Albany Congress. Although the fifty-six colonial deputies assembling in Philadelphia knew that they attended an historic meeting, none of them foresaw that this conference would turn out to be the genesis of the United States government. Recasting the First Continental Congress as an essentially diplomatic encounter, this dissertation asks how members of twelve independent delegations, products of a dozen disparate and distrustful American provinces, defied precedent to construct an imperfect yet permanent intercolonial coalition.;"Fifty Gentlemen Total Strangers" argues that the congressional deputies' unified public support for the Suffolk Resolves and revolutionary Continental Association, hardly preordained, was heavily dependent on the identities and actions of the men who were present and on the character of their interactions with one another. Using biographical information, letters, and portraits made prior to 1774, the dissertation develops a prosopography of the congressional delegates that encompasses age, family, religious affiliation, education, professional background, political involvement, and previous associations. What emerges is a collective profile of leaders with similar values, sensibilities, and life experiences. Dominating the Congress were cosmopolitan men who had come of age in the 1730s and 1740s---established members of the popularly-elected political elite shaped by both the persistent localism of their respective provinces and the homogenizing and Anglicizing forces of the Consumer Revolution.;Turning to the Congress itself, the dissertation focuses especially on ostensibly non-political encounters and venues, carefully examining the deputies' out-of-doors experiences as crucial political and diplomatic work took place outside of Carpenters' Hall. Making formal visits to one another's lodgings, attending dinner parties at the homes of local gentlemen, and gossiping in quiet private conversations, the delegates continually manipulated mutually understood standards of gentility, speech, and sensibility to advance their political interests. Building on relationships formed in person or through correspondence prior to 1774, a crucial nucleus of resistance leaders---including Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee, Christopher Gadsden, and Thomas Mifflin---were able to fashion a potent and organized faction while in Philadelphia that successfully shaped the direction of the meeting, pushing the Congress to take irrevocable steps towards revolution.



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