Today, the Congress Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers the early days of the first Continental Congress and their debates on the colonies’ voting rights of September 6, 1774.
From the Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Volume 1, edited by Edmund C. Burnett, published in 1921:
9. John Adams, Diary. [September 6, 1774.] Tuesday.
Went to Congress again; received by an express an intimation of the bombardment of Boston, a confused account, but an alarming one indeed; God grant it may not be found true.
10. Silas Deane to Mrs. Deane. [Sept. 6.]
I told you I should begin another sheet, but had no conception of doing it on so disagreeable an occasion as that of the intelligence rec’d of the situation of Boston. Of this I can say nothing more than that this City is in the utmost confusion, all the bells toll muffled, and the most unfeigned marks of sorrow appear in every countenance.
The Congress sat until after three, and then adj’d but until five; but our proceedings for various reasons will be kept secret, so on that head shall say nothing, until we break up; for though we may publish to the world the whole, it is improper to do it prematurely.
You may tell our friends that I never met, nor scarcely had an idea of meeting, with men of such firmness, sensibility, spirit, and thorough knowledge of the interests of America, as the Gentlemen from the Southern Provinces appear to be.
In this I do not speak from prejudice, but from the knowledge I have of them in their public as well as their private conversation, both of which I attend to with a pleasure that balances many, if not more than all the anxieties and troubles of such a journey.
May New England go hand in hand with them, and we need not fear a want of spirit.
I intended to have entertained you with a brief sketch of their character and appearance, but this is the nineteenth page of my letter; must therefore conclude, and reserve the rest for a future opportunity; but of the transactions of the Congress you will have no intelligence to be relied on, until we publish…
N. B. The Congress are not hereafter to disclose their proceedings but by agreement. There is good reason for it. I make no excuse to Jos. Webb for not writing to him particularly, as this is designed for his perusal, and as I before said is a family letter, and a summary of proceedings and sentiments to this Tuesday, 6th of Septr, 1774, nine at night.
11. Samuel Ward, Diary. 6th.
Met at ten o’clock, each Colony to have one vote. No person to speak twice without leave of the Congress. … (About two o’clock an account arrived of the troops and fleets cannonading the town of Boston, etc, which occasioned an adjournment to five o’Clock, P. M.)
12. James Duane, Notes of Proceedings. Tuesday the 6th September .
The Congress met, And the first Question debated was whether the Congress should Vote by Colonies and what weight each Colony should have in the determination?
Mr. Henry from Virginia insisted that by the oppression of Parliament all Government was dissolved, and that we were reduced to a State of Nature. That there were no longer any such distinction as colonies, that he conceived himself not a Virginian but an American. That one of the greatest Mischiefs to Society was an Unequal Representation. That there might and probably would be further Occasions for a Congress and that it was time to form such a System as would give each Colony a Just Weight in our deliberations in proportion to its opulence and number of inhabitants its Exports and Imports.
He was answered by Mr. [Ward ? ] of Rhode Island, who insisted that every Colony should have an equal Vote. That we come if necessary to make a Sacrifice of our all and that the weakest Colony by such a Sacrifice would suffer as much as the greatest.
Col. Harrison from Virginia insisted strongly on the injustice that Virginia should have no greater Weight in the determination than one of the smallest Colonies. That he should be censured by his constituents and unable to excuse his want of attention to their Interest. And that he was very apprehensive that if such a disrespect should be put upon his Countrymen we should never see them at another Convention.
The debate then took a different Turn. It was observed that if an equal Representation was ever so Just, the Delegates from the several Colonies were unprepared with Materials to settle that equitably. This was an objection that could not be answered.
The Question was then put and
1. Resolved, that the Sense of the Congress shall be taken by Voting in Colonies, each to have one Vote.
2. Resolved, that no person be permitted to speak twice on the same point, unless with the Leave of the Congress. ….
7. A question was put whether this Congress should be opened tomorrow morning with prayer
Mr. Samuel Adams proposed the revnd. Mr. Duche for this Service.
Debates arose on this Subject, Those who were for the Motion insisting on the propriety of a Reverence and Submission to the Supreme Being and supplicating his Blessing on every undertaking, on the practice of the Romans, the British Parliament and some of the Assemblies on the Continent.
The difference of the religious Tenets of the Members; That it would be considered as Enthusiasm and Cant; and the Efficacy of private Devotion; The want of a Suitable form in the book of common prayer; and the Hazard of submitting such a Task to the Judgment of any Clergy — were the Topics urged by those who were of opinion against the Motion.
It was however Resolved, that the Congress shall be opened tomorrow morning with the Service of the Church of England and a suitable prayer, and that Mr. Duche be requested by the president to perform this office.
The Congress then adjourned till 9 o’Clock tomorrow morning.
N B. During the meeting of the Congress, an Express arrived to the Jersey Members giving Intelligence that the soldiers had seized the powder in one of the Towns near Boston, That a party was sent to take this, and that six of the Inhabitants had been killed in the skirmish, That all the Country was in arms down to [blank] in Connecticut, That the cannon fired upon the Town the whole Night.
N B. Mr. Henry affirmed that at a former Congress one of the Members had dispatched Intelligence of an important matter to a great person in America while it was under Debate; which was one of his Reasons for Secrecy in our proceedings.
13. John Adams, Notes of Debates. [September 6, 1774.]
Mr. Henry. Government is dissolved. Fleets and armies and the present state of things show that government is dissolved. Where are your landmarks, your boundaries of Colonies? We are in a state of nature, sir. I did propose that a scale should be laid down; that part of North America which was once Massachusetts Bay, and that part which was once Virginia, ought to be considered as having a weight. Will not people complain? Ten thousand Virginians have not outweighed one thousand others.
I will submit, however; I am determined to submit, if I am overruled. A worthy gentleman (ego) near me seemed to admit the necessity of obtaining a more adequate representation.
I hope future ages will quote our proceedings with applause. It is one of the great duties of the democratical part of the constitution to keep itself pure. It is known in my Province that some other Colonies are not so numerous or rich as they are. I am for giving all the satisfaction in my power.
The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.
Slaves are to be thrown out of the question, and if the freemen can be represented according to their numbers, I am satisfied.
Mr. Lynch. I differ in one point from the gentleman from Virginia, that is, in thinking that numbers only ought to determine the weight of Colonies. I think that property ought to be considered, and that it ought to be a compound of numbers and property that should determine the weight of the Colonies.
I think it cannot be now settled.
Mr. Rutledge. We have no legal authority; and obedience to our determinations will only follow the reasonableness, the apparent utility and necessity of the measures we adopt. We have no coercive or legislative authority. Our constituents are bound only in honor to observe our determinations.
Governor Ward. There are a great number of counties, in Virginia, very unequal in point of wealth and numbers, yet each has a right to send two members.
Mr. Lee. But one reason, which prevails with me, and that is, that we are not at this time provided with proper materials. I am afraid we are not.
Mr. Gadsden. I can’t see any way of voting, but by Colonies.
Colonel Bland. I agree with the gentleman (ego) who spoke near me, that we are not at present provided with materials to ascertain the importance of each Colony. The question is, whether the rights and liberties of America shall be contended for, or given up to arbitrary power.
Mr. Pendleton. If the committee should find themselves unable to ascertain the weight of the Colonies, by their numbers and property, they will report this, and this will lay the foundation for the Congress to take some other steps to procure evidence of numbers and property at some future time.
Mr. Henry. I agree that authentic accounts cannot be had, if by authenticity is meant attestations of officers of the Crown.
I go upon the supposition that government is at an end. All distinctions are thrown down. All America is thrown into one mass. We must aim at the minutiae of rectitude.
Mr. Jay. Could I suppose that we came to frame an American constitution, instead of endeavoring to correct the faults in an old one — I can’t yet think that all government is at an end. The measure of arbitrary power is not full, and I think it must run over, before we undertake to frame a new constitution.
To the virtue, spirit, and abilities of Virginia, we owe much. I should always, therefore, from inclination as well as justice, be for giving Virginia its full weight. I am not clear that we ought not to be bound by a majority, though ever so small, but I only mentioned it as a matter of danger, worthy of consideration.
The Congress Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of those first days in the Continental Congress.