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Title

Communities in Conflict: A Comparative Analysis of the New York Provincial Congress and the Philadelphia Committee

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History

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Abstract

In 1774 the Continental Congress ordered the establishment of a systems of committees throughout British North America in order to enforce the colonial boycott against British goods. Over time these committees were able to grow in strength to where they rivaled the traditional provincial governments and were the leading political force behind the revolutionary movement. Historians have tended to look at this committee system and the revolutionary movement as a uniform campaign throughout the colonies to supplant royal government. Unfortunately, this approach conceals the cornucopia of beliefs and desires that made up the revolution. Only by studying the internal conflicts of each colony can scholars begin to understand the varying competing motivations that encapsulated the “Spirit of 76’.” This complexity is clearly represented in the contrasting experiences of the New York Provincial Congress, which had evolved out of the New York Committee, and the Philadelphia Committee of Inspection and Observation throughout the first half of 1776. Both patriot organizations had to decide how to respond to the momentum of the revolution. The moderate New York Provincial Congress, not wanting to risk their sociopolitical position in society, chose to passively let the revolutionary currents carry them along, reacting to political changes only when they absolutely had to. Conversely, the radical Philadelphia Committee competed with Pennsylvania’s moderate Assembly for control over the colony and actively pushed the colony towards independence.