Reconciliation between the Colonies and Great Britain—A Close Call

The Continental Association, a non-importation agreement among the member colonies cutting off commercial dealings with Great Britain, authorized at the First Continental Congress. It was published and distributed, and often signed by local leaders. Thomas Jefferson, who was not yet a delegate to Congress, signed this copy (lower left) with other Virginians. Joseph Galloway's name appears in the second column, fifth name down. (Library of Congress)

There were many attempts, before and during the American Revolution, to avoid armed conflict via negotiation, or to stop the war after it began. I’d like to tell you about one of the early ones, the most serious push for reconciliation to occur between the Stamp Act crisis and the Declaration of Independence.[1] The outcome of this attempt is shrouded in mystery.

The scene was the First Continental Congress, the year 1774. A total of fifty-six delegates from twelve colonies convened on September 5 in Philadelphia. This extralegal body was missing only Georgia, which was being assisted by Great Britain with Indian conflicts and therefore reluctant to risk the Crown’s enmity by participating. The colonies were attempting to pool their collective wisdom to determine a strategy going forward in the wake of the Boston Tea Party and subsequent siege of Boston.

The most significant action taken by the Congress in that session was the Continental Association, a non-importation agreement among the member colonies, agreed upon by fifty-one of the fifty-six representatives, cutting off commercial dealings with the mother country.

Included in those “aye” votes were two members of the Congress who would later choose to remain loyal to the crown and never again serve in colonial or American politics. One, Isaac Low, played a relatively minor role overall and eventually faded into history. The other stubbornly refused to be ignored by history. His name was Joseph Galloway.

I have written about Galloway previously in this Journal, specifically addressing his quixotic crusade to save the colonies for the British Empire. The result of this initial effort in the First Continental Congress represents the first chapter in his long-running, but ultimately futile, effort to make this happen.

Galloway was a powerful Pennsylvania politician, most recently holding the position of Speaker of the Pennsylvania House. He was never far from controversy, both during his lifetime and in how he has been regarded by historians. With a haughty and aggressive personality, he burnt as many bridges as he built. As a result, history has not generally judged him kindly, seeing his crusade to keep the colonies united with Britain as egotistical and self-aggrandizing. Despite the controversies and enemies he made, Galloway had few peers when it came to intellect or indefatigability. He would propose no less than five other plans between 1778 and 1788.

Perhaps the greatest controversy in the First Continental Congress was Galloway’s plan to preserve the American colonies as part of the British Empire. In the hopes of making the plan more acceptable to Congress, Galloway presented a watered-down version of a more comprehensive plan he had framed earlier. The diluted plan, first presented in Congress on September 28, 1774, was formally titled “A plan of a proposed union between Great Britain and the Colonies of New Hampshire, The Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the Lower Counties on Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.”

The specifics of the plan, which claimed ancestry from the Albany Plan of Union of 1754, were as follows:[2]

  • A new government for regulating colonial affairs would be established in America.
  • A Grand Council, a branch of Parliament, would be established to include representatives from each state in proportion to population.
  • The Grand Council would appoint a speaker and would exercise all the “rights, liberties and privileges” of the British House of Commons.
  • The individual colonies continue to administer their own affairs; the Grand Council would handle issues impacting more than one colony.
  • Representatives to the Grand Council would be elected by the state assemblies, which would remain intact, once every three years.
  • The government would be administered by a president General, appointed by the King and the Grand Council, the term being at the pleasure of the King.
  • The assent of the president General would be required on all acts of the Grand Council.
  • The president General and the Grand Council would constitute an “inferior and distinct” branch of the British Legislature.
  • The respective acts and statutes of the Grand Council and of the Parliament of Great Britain (as far as they relate to North American affairs) shall be transmitted to the other and the assent of both shall be required for all such acts to become law.
  • In time of war, bills for funding prepared by the Grand Council and approved by the President General shall be valid and passed into law without the assent of the British Parliament.

Among the differences from his more comprehensive plan, his proposal left individual colonial governments, including the charter and proprietary forms which he opposed, intact.[3] Second, the plan excluded an upper house of the colonial legislature. This crown-appointed house may have created an American aristocracy, which conflicted with American levelling tendencies. Last, he also deferred logistical details such as monetary arrangements, tax issues, sources of payment to various officers of the government, etc. to avoid being sidetracked by minutiae.

When the plan was first presented, Galloway was apparently dissuaded from actually submitting his resolution to an immediate vote. Instead, a motion was made and adopted to have the plan “lye upon the table,”[4] presumably to be taken up for reconsideration at any later “appropriate time.”[5] Galloway came out of the initial presentation in high optimism, writing “The Success my Arguments met with; greatly exceeded my most sanguine Expectations.”[6] When called upon to testify to Parliament in 1779 as to what happened, Galloway stated: “It was proposed and debated a whole day, and carried upon the question, six Colonies to five, that it should be resumed and further considered,” and he reportedly pulled out a copy of the resolution, signed by Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson to support his assertion.[7]

On October 22, the plan was voted upon, with each colony receiving a single vote representing the consensus of its delegation. What happened next is necessarily a matter of conjecture, as the plan and any debate on it were specifically excluded from the official records of Congress. As a result, limited evidence survives to explain what happened when the plan was reconsidered.[8] What we know comes from non-official sources such as the diaries of James Duane of New York, and John Adams of Massachusetts, delegates who were for and against the motion respectively. Despite the “gag order” put on the members of Congress, there is also correspondence involving various direct participants, such as Galloway himself, and others such as William and Benjamin Franklin, New York governor Cadwallader Colden, and Lord Dartmouth, the British Secretary of State for North American affairs, that help piece together what happened. Other sources are Galloway’s testimony before Parliament in 1779, and a pamphlet explaining the episode written by Galloway in 1775, but not published until 1780.[9] The latter two sources, it needs to be remembered, were five or more years after the fact, by which time memories can “evolve.” They were also directed at, and therefore catered to, a British audience. Using all these sources, some educated guesses must be made as to the plan’s fate. What follows is the most likely outcome:

Only eleven colonies impacted the vote. As noted previously Georgia did not send a delegation, and, depending on the source, the ballot of Rhode Island was either “lost” or was simply negated because the two-man delegation tied in their votes.[10] As one of the two, Samuel Ward, recounted in his diary “Met . . . (Mr. Hopkins [the other Rhode Island delegate] for the plan, I against it.)”[11] Thus, the Rhode Island ballot was moot.

Easiest to project are the votes of the colonies lying on either extreme: Rebel strongholds of Adams’s Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Roger Sherman-led Connecticut are safe bets to be against, as was Virginia to the south, Patrick Henry unsurprisingly being the most vociferous against.[12] Loyalist-leaning Pennsylvania and New Jersey can safely be considered supporters. So far, the vote is at four-two against.

Maryland and Delaware are the hardest to determine. Both delegations had strong patriot representation, but I could uncover no source material indicating their respective votes, and one source testifying to their interchangeability.[13] Based on the final outcome, one voted for and one against. One secondary source put Maryland in the rebel camp, but analyzing Delaware’s delegation, their rebel credentials are every bit as strong.[14] The only certainty is that one voted for and one against. Assuming they split, the tally moves to five-three against.

Galloway’s plan had strong support in the south. The five South Carolina representatives, except Christopher Gadsden, also leaned toward the plan. The state’s Edward Rutledge particularly expressed strong approval, stating “I think the plan may be freed from almost every objection. I think it almost a perfect plan,” thus South Carolina in all likelihood supported the Plan.[15] Further evidence regarding both Carolina’s can be gleaned from a letter loyalist New York governor Cadwallader Colden, in whom Galloway confided, sent to Dartmouth stating, “some of the Carolinians were little less [avid in their rebel enthusiasm].”[16] We’ll put the two Carolina’s into the “for” column. All tied up at 5-5, with one colony to go.

The remaining colony was New York, a loyalist stronghold during the war. Surely, they were the “for” vote that would put Galloway’s plan over the top. New York’s delegates had likely voted 5-3 back in September in favor of a further review of the plan. However, it is here where the plot thickens considerably, partly due to New York’s byzantine process for selecting delegates which, outside of the city proper, sent appointed rather than elected delegates. New York sent a total of nine representatives, five from the city, making it the largest delegation.

The members from the city proper—James Duane (who had seconded Galloway’s September motion to adopt the plan), John Jay, Isaac Low, and John Alsop all appear to be “yes” votes. The first two spoke glowingly of the plan during the debates, and Low later chose to remain loyal to the crown (as did Galloway).[17] Alsop is the only real question, but he appears to have been in the conservative camp in New York.[18] From New York City, only Livingston wavered, his shifting political views originally in the “for” (likely tipping the six-five favorable vote in September to further consider the plan) but ending up “against.”[19] Where Galloway’s plan really ran into trouble was with the outlying counties, where John Haring and Harry Wisner of Orange County and William Floyd of Suffolk appear to have all fallen in the “against” column.[20] All other New York counties agreed to be represented by this delegation and did not send their own representatives. The tally remains even: four-four in the New York delegation, five-five in the other ten colonies voting.

The New York delegation happened to add a ninth member after Galloway originally introduced his plan back in September. His name was Simon Boerum, the representative from Kings County. Boerum, the King’s County clerk, was unanimously elected, or so Galloway claimed, by one person, who may even have been William Boerum (Simon’s nephew). Further, Boerum was a late arrival in Philadelphia (only John Dickenson arrived later), not getting there until October 1, twenty-five days after proceedings began and three days after Galloway presented his plan (he therefore was not part of the September vote to further consider the plan). We don’t know his date of nomination, but Kings County was still being pushed in late September to name a representative, so it was likely quite late.[21] Boerum’s “no” vote pushed the New York delegation’s vote to five-four against, and the overall colony tally to six-five against. Galloway’s proposal was defeated by the thinnest of margins.

Or so the story goes. This scenario is primarily based on the 1779 testimony of Galloway—testimony occurring five years after the fact in which Galloway self-servingly contended that Congress was not representative of the people, of whom he believed “no more than one fifth part” supported the rebellion.[22] The “arbitrary” appointment of Boerum neatly supported his claim and was allegedly based on conversations Galloway had with other members of the New York delegation. While the circumstances of Boerum’s election to the First Congress are indeed unclear, he wasn’t a political nobody: He was appointed county clerk by Governor Colden, had been elected to two seven-year terms in the colonial assembly, and was re-elected to the Second Congress before dying suddenly in July 1775.[23] No one, even Galloway, has claimed that Boerum was brought in at the last minute specifically to defeat his plan. Some do contend that, like Livingston, Alsop had flipped his September vote, making the New York delegation five-three before Boerum weighed in, thus rendering Boerum’s vote moot.[24] Still others contend that New York supported Galloway’s plan, with Delaware—not New York—going against, or even contend that no vote ever occurred.[25]

Adding another layer of mystery to this affair was that Congress, probably led by Sam Adams and Secretary of the Congress Charles Thomson, struck all mention of the plan and this vote from the Journals of Congress. “The question was put, and a great majority thought the inserting it in the Journal would be disgracing their records, and accordingly rejected it” Galloway recollected.[26] Here Galloway raged and insisted on his right to have it on the minutes, with no success.[27]

Setting aside the details of a vote which, in the end, was essentially a toss-up, we might ask, “Why did the plan fail?” The short and simple answer is that the people who wanted it to fail worked harder to make it fail than the people who wanted it to pass worked for passage. While both the plan and Galloway have been picked apart through the years, historian John Ferling has observed, “there is little evidence that the delegates manifested the same objections to the Galloway plan as have so many historians.”[28] The “independents” as they were called at the time (the rebels), wanted the plan not only defeated but expunged from the records.

Most of what stopped the plan bears the fingerprints of master-agitator Samuel Adams, with tactics that came to light when Galloway was later called to testify before Parliament about the failure of his plan.[29] Galloway recounted the physical threats that were made, and alleged that “the independent party despairing of Success . . . moved that the Doors should be thrown open, & the Mob let in upon me.”[30] In another case, Galloway found on his doorstep one morning a box containing a noose and a threatening letter.[31] He bitterly concluded “That the Committee had acted a dishonourable, disingenuous, dirty & fraudulent Part, one unbecoming Men in public Character.”[32] Even keeping in mind the impact of the passage of time on memories and that he was testifying to a receptive British audience, these charges ring true.

Other schools of thought place the blame on Galloway himself. Historian Julian Boyd wrote that “it is perhaps not too much to say that he was the chief instrument in bringing about his own defeat”[33] While his plan displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the American state of mind at the time, Galloway complained that he found the plan “decried by none but Independents, or such as are determined to bring about a total separation of the two countries at all events, and they are, you may be assured but one fifth Part of our People.”[34] In Galloway’s defense there was perhaps no possible plan of reconciliation which would comport with American thinking, at least as it was being expressed by the loudest and most dominant voices at the time. His plan was, however, based on long-held beliefs and not a capitalize-on-the-moment opportunism.[35] Unfortunately, it was a belief whose time had passed.

More pragmatically, passing the Plan of Reconciliation and the Continental Association (non-importation) would have sent highly contradictory signals to both the Crown and the American people, and would indicate a general lack of resolve and cohesion among the colonies. In short, their co-existence would be untenable. The Association had virtually unanimous support, with fifty-one of the fifty-six delegates voting for it. The five who didn’t support were mostly absent rather than against. On the other hand, the fifty-one signers included Galloway and Low, the future loyalists who were going along rather than truly in favor. The Association was secure, further sealing the fate of Galloway’s plan.

It must further be remembered that passage of the Galloway Plan would not have automatically instituted it. It would only have opened negotiations with Great Britain. Such negotiations may not have succeeded, as King George hardly seemed amenable to compromise at this stage of relations with the American colonies. The radicals in Congress, who did not want compromise either, weren’t going to give the king that chance, although they would make a face-saving gesture in 1775 by offering the Olive Branch Petition, a peace proposal which the king refused to even review.

In his 1775 pamphlet, “A candid examination of the mutual claims of Great-Britain, and the colonies: with a plan of accomodation, on constitutional principles,Galloway defended his plan again. In his view, the path of independence would lead to conquest and [an even more oppressive] subjugation of the colonies by Britain; the best alternative was a union with the mother state.[36] While his points were elegantly argued, he was probably too erudite for his own good and “A Candid Examination” was too pedantic to gain the mass appeal of a pamphlet like Common Sense.

Patrick Henry characterized Galloway’s proposal as the exchange of one form of despotism for another, saying “we shall liberate our constituents from a corrupt House of Commons, but throw them into the arms of an American Legislature, that may be bribed by that nation which avows, in the face of the world, that bribery is a part of her system of government,” ominously adding “I am inclined to think the present measures lead to war.”[37] More diplomatically, Benjamin Franklin wrote to his former protege from England: “I have not heard what Objections were made to the Plan in the Congress, nor would I make more than this one, that when I consider the extream Corruption prevalent among all Orders of Men in this old rotten State, and the glorious publick Virtue so predominant in our rising Country, I cannot but apprehend more Mischief than Benefit from a closer Union.”[38] In the end it was arguments like these, mixed in with some ruthless rebel tactics, that defeated the best chance to keep the colonies in the empire. Patrick Henry’s prediction was correct—war was on the way.


[1]Richard R. Beeman, Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 134. The Olive Branch petition of 1775 was another attempt, but was really too little, too late.

[2]Julian Boyd, Joseph Galloway’s Plans to Preserve the British Empire, 1774-1788 (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1941), 112-114. This version of the plan uses the Duane papers as its source.

[3]Boyd, Joseph Galloway’s Plans, 36.

[4]Smith, Letters of Delegates, 113.

[5]Ibid., 113.

[6]Joseph Galloway to William Franklin, February 28, 1775, Library of Congress American Memory website, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1 August 1774 – August 1775, 319,

[7]The Examination of Joseph Galloway, Esq; Late Speaker of the House of Assembly of Pennsylvania. before the House of Commons, in a Committee on the American Papers (London: J. Wilkie 1779), 48.

[8]Smith, Letters of Delegates, 116.

[9]Boyd, Joseph Galloway’s Plans, 35. The pamphlet was called Historical and Political Reflections on the Rise and Progress of the American Rebellion.

[10]The Magazine of American History Volume 3, Part 1 (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1879), 259.

[11]The Magazine of American History Volume 1, (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1877), 442. The quote comes from Ward’s Diary.

[12]The Magazine of American History Volume 3, Part 1 (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1879), 259.

[13]Beeman, Our Lives, 131.

[14]The Magazine of American History Volume 3, Part 1 (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1879), 259.

[15]The Works of John Adams, Volume 2 (Diary, Notes of Debates, Autobiography), Online Library of Liberty, 158

[16]Cadwallader Colden to Lord Dartmouth, December 7, 1774, from Brodhead, John R., Documents relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York : procured in Holland, England, and France, Volume VIII, (New York:  Weed, Parsons & Company, 1857), 513.Via Google Books.

[17]The Adams, Duane, and Galloway notes/comments all agree on this.

[18]The Magazine of American History Volume 3, Part 1 (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1879), 260.

[19]Ibid, 260.

[20]This is necessarily conjecture because of the lack of documentation due to the suppression of the outcome, especially within a single delegation. It is based primarily on a reading of the political stances of these delegates from biographical information, and other sources that likewise speculate on how they voted.

[21]Carl Becker, “The Nomination and Election of Delegates From New York to the First Continental Congress, 1774,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 18, No. 1 (March 1903), 45 (footnote 3),, accessed March 10, 2017.

[22]The Examination of Joseph Galloway, Esq; Late Speaker of the House of Assembly of Pennsylvania. before the House of Commons, in a Committee on the American Papers (London: J. Wilkie 1779), 4. Note: He went on to say it was even as small as one tenth.

[23]Frederick. K. Gross, “Simon Boerum—Careless Scholarship Clouds His Name,” Brooklyn Barrister (publication of the Brooklyn Bar Association), Volume 27 (1975), 40, 45.

[24]Ibid., 44.

[25]Patton G. Galloway, The Loyal Traitor (Middletown, DE: Lulu Press, 2010), 135. She reaches this conclusion reviewing the same documents I reviewed. Ironically, her conclusion conflicts with the testimony of her ancestor before Parliament. Smith, Letters of Delegates, 113.

[26]Smith, Letters of Delegates, 116.

[27]Ibid., 116.

[28]John E. Ferling, “Compromise of Conflict: The Rejection of the Galloway Alternative to Rebellion,” Pennsylvania History, Volume 43, No. 1, January 1976,

[29]Galloway, The Loyal Traitor, 135

[30]Joseph Galloway to William Franklin, March 26, 1775, Library of Congress American Memory website, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1 August 1774 – August 1775, 322,

[31]Ibid., 324.

[32]Ibid., 323.

[33]Boyd, Joseph Galloway’s Plans, 32.

[34]Joseph Galloway to Samuel Verplanck, April 1, 1775, Library of Congress American Memory website, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1 August 1774 – August 1775, 325, Verplanck was a friend and confidant of Galloway who had sent him Tory pamphlets, but who ended up supporting the Revolution.

[35]John E. Ferling, “Joseph Galloway: A Reassessment of the Motivations of a Pennsylvania Loyalist,” Pennsylvania History, Volume 39, No. 2 (April 1972), 185,

[36]Joseph Galloway, A candid examination of the mutual claims of Great-Britain, and the colonies: with a plan of accomodation, on constitutional principles (New York: James Rivington, 1775), 49.

[37]John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Volume 2 (Diary, Notes of Debates, Autobiography),Online Library of Liberty, 251.

[38]Benjamin Franklin to Joseph Galloway, February 25, 1775, Founders Online.


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1 Comment

  • Excellent article! Interesting insights about the narrow path which defeated a compromise and led to a majority for independence. I bet there was intense anxiety on both sides of the question up to and including the formal vote. Your presentation of the closeness of the debate demonstrates that sentiment started shifting slowly and picked up steam until finally independence was declared in 1776.
    In the end, the majority of colonists did not want to be colonists. They wanted to have full citizenship rights and if Britain would not grant them, they would achieve through independence which is what happened.
    Your cogent account highlights the passionate but respectful manner in which the delegates conducted themselves is a great lesson for today.

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