Committees of Safety and the General Association

Committees of Safety and the General Association

The Committees of safety were best described as an Executive Committee, perhaps equivalent to a mayor, county board, or governor.  In Agnes Hunt’s book, “The Provincial Committees of Safety of the American Revolution“, she explains the colony level Committee of Safety as an Executive Board that often shared that responsibility with the governor, if the governor had taken the colonist’s side of the dispute with Great Britain.

Though no “instruction manual” has been found, various writings about the Committees, and records left by them, provide a pattern that can be reestablished, at least to the extent that the Committees operated, in some locations.  It is probably safe to assume, also, that other locations operated in a similar fashion.

What has come to light is that a community had a General Association, to which each family who chose to subscribe was subscribed by the signature of the head of the family.  In some instances, if the head of the family was a Tory, or had questionable allegiance, another male in the family would subscribe to the General Association.  It also appears that the term, Committee of Safety, applied to both the General Association and the executive board known as the Committee of Safety.  Tories were excluded from participation, however, once hostilities broke out, they, along with everyone else in the community, was assumed to be under the jurisdiction of the Committee of Safety (a de fact subscriber).  This would subject them to judicial control of the Committee, which, in the case of Tories.  Might result in “house-arrest, taking of long arms, or even imprisonment, unless and until an oath was taken to the cause of the colony.

From the General Association, members were elected to serve on the Committee, as representatives of the entire Association.  In Albany, New York, where a count can be made, approximately 10% of the General Association (by family, not total census) served on the Committee of Safety, at any given time.

There was frequent turnover within the Committee.  Chairmen appeared to serve for six months, and names change, in the composition of the Committee, fairly often, though some members served the entire period from 1775 to 1781.

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  Most General Associations, and their respective Committees of Safety, existed only to fill in where the British government failed to provide necessary services.  Often the Association and Committee were described as the “town meeting”, which was an authority granted under the Royal Charter, converted to strictly General Associations and Committees of Safety, as the disagreement between colonists and British Rule devolved into conflict (See The End of the Revolution and the Beginning of Independence).

By April 12, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress requested that all communities within Massachusetts form Committees of Safety (See document at committee.org).  After the outbreak of hostilities, just a week later, every colony put out similar requests for the creation of Committees.

Much of the record of evidence demonstrates another aspect of Committees.  Committees were formed in communities.  Within a County, those communities would form a County Committee of Safety, and, though, much independence of action by the local Committees was retained, they subordinated to the County Committee of Safety, as a senior body.  Similarly, the Provincial Committees (as par Agnes Hunt, above) subordinated to the State Committee of Safety, though they, too, retained independence in many areas.  The ascending levels of authority appear to be only to the extent necessary to achieve cooperation and coordination of efforts.

The extent of the “legislative authority” of the Committees, at all levels, seems to be limited with enacting laws to deal with Tories (those inimical to the cause of American Liberty”) and establishing requirements for service in their respective militia units.

 

For more information about Committees of Safety, go to http://www.committee.org

 

 

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One Response to “Committees of Safety and the General Association”

  1. […] The Threat That Keeps Us Apart“ “Introduction to Committees of Safety“ “Committees of Safety and the General Association“ “The Plan for Restoration of Constitutional Government (Simplified Explanation)” […]

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