Introduction to Committees of Safety
Committees of Safety, or like elements, existed throughout the history of colonial America. Though known by various names (Committees of Protection, Associations, or, as the case in Plymouth Colony, an unnamed civil body politic, and, in Jamestown, simply governing council), they had the characteristic of being a civil government absent a government established by the sovereign.
|* * * * * * * * * * * * *Mayflower CompactIn ye name of God Amen· We whose names are vnderwriten,
the loyall subjects of our dread soueraigne Lord King James
by ye grace of God, of great Britaine, franc, & Ireland king,
defender of ye faith, &cHaueing vndertaken, for ye glorie of God, and aduancemente
of ye christian ^faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to
plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia· doe
by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and
one of another, couenant, & combine our selues togeather into a
ciuill body politick; for ye our better ordering, & preseruation & fur=
therance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof, to enacte,
constitute, and frame shuch just & equall lawes, ordinances,
Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought
most meete & conuenient for ye generall good of ye colonie: vnto
which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes
wherof we haue herevnder subscribed our names at Cap=
Codd ye ·11· of Nouember, in ye year of ye raigne of our soueraigne
Lord king James of England, france, & Ireland ye eighteenth
and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom ·1620·|
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In the early eighteenth century, Committees of Safety were quite common, especially on the frontiers, where the possibility if Indian attacks were likely. The Committee would appoint watchmen, hog reeves, fence reeves, and, militia officers. These are functions that were taken on by more organized governments, in some towns, though were common through most of the colonies, leading up to the War of Independence.
Committees served, primarily, to fill in gaps that were left by existing colonial and county governments, providing services that were otherwise unavailable.
As tensions grew between the colonists and the Crown government in England, the need for Committees increased, especially in western Massachusetts and South Carolina. After the Massachusetts Government Act (May 20, 1774), which revoked the Massachusetts Charter and replace the locally elected governments with appointments by the King, the farmers in western Massachusetts began forming Committee to assure a continuity of government and to take charge in expelling courts and judges who were not abiding by the original charter, and replacing them with their owns courts, though primarily only for criminal matters.
There were sufficient numbers of Committees in most of the colonies to call for the First Continental Congress, in 1774. These Committees were not subject to Royal governance, because, quite simply, to call for such a Congress would have been a contradiction of their authority granted by the various charters. Subsequently, the Second and Third Continental Congress were called by the Committees, which by this time, had evolved to the point where sufficient numbers of participating Committees established a Provincial Committee of Safety.
Committees of Safety continued to operate as functions of local government throughout the War of Independence, until each state adopted a Constitution, or otherwise revised their form of government, absent any Royal control. Once the Article of Confederation were instituted (1781), the need for the Committees, except, once again, in the frontiers, diminished, as did the Committees.
Their next occurrence was in 1835, when President Santa Anna abolished the Constitution of 1824, granting himself enormous powers over the government. Colonists in Texas began forming Committees of Correspondence and Safety. A central Committee in San Felipe de Austin coordinated their activities. This de facto government waged the revolution against Mexico, directing and supplying the militia, until independence was won.
What role could Committees of Safety play in today’s world?
Events such as Katrina, as well as the possibility of man caused disasters, are potential threats to the security, safety, and well-being of our families.
If a Committee existed in your community, and you were a member, then your family is also a member. Suppose there was some sort of event that affected food supply, utilities, water, or otherwise threatened your safety. You have in place, through the Committee, a cooperative with which to share needed resources. Though short lived in Plymouth Colony and Jamestown, this “cooperative” served quite well for survival in a hostile land, for the first few years.
It also allowed the sharing of crops in the frontier towns and agricultural communities, in later colonial times, when Indian raids, or weather, destroyed crops, which would leave those affected short of food, had their neighbors (fellow Committee members) not shared with them what food was available.
In the aftermath of Katrina, if a Committee existed in a consolidated area (a community), and sent a representative to the local law enforcement with the message, “we will provide our own protection in our area”, describing the limits of the area protected by the Committee, it would make sense the law enforcement would be relieved that their job was made easier based upon the Committee relieving them of a substantial area that might otherwise require their patrolling.
The Committee would be a resource for such eventualities, and would be an ideal place from which to gain recognition by launching programs to help those in need. Roof repairs, painting, yard maintenance, etc., for those unable to care for their own property. This would encourage friendship, appeal to potential members, improve the quality of the neighborhood, and set the Committee out as supportive of the neighborly attitude that prevailed in this country, many decades ago. This would result in reduced crime, safer streets and communities, and, a reaffirmation of our rights, freedoms, and liberty.
Committees of Safety are quite able to fill in where government fails to provide, at least for those who see the need, join, and, participate in, Committees of Safety.