First Virginia Convention
leads to the First Continental Congress


Thomas Jefferson was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1769 and served there until 1775. He was not a brilliant speaker but proved himself an able writer of laws and resolutions. Jefferson often showed a talent for clear and simple English that the more experienced legislators quickly recognized.

Jefferson became a member of the group that included Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Francis Lightfoot Lee. These men challenged the control that Tidewater aristocrats held over Virginia politics. They also took an active part in the disputes between the colonies and Great Britain. Together with other patriots, they met in the Apollo Room of Williamsburg's famous Raleigh Tavern in 1769 and formed a nonimportation association against Britain. The group protested the import duties set up by the Townshend Acts.

After a brief lull, the controversy flared up again in 1774. Jefferson took the lead in organizing another nonimportation agreement. He also called for a meeting of all the colonies to consider their grievances. Jefferson was chosen to represent Albemarle County at the First Virginia Convention, which in turn was to elect Virginia delegates to the First Continental Congress. He became ill and could not attend the meeting, but he forwarded a paper giving his views of the crisis.

Jefferson argued that the British Parliament had no control over the American Colonies. He declared that when the original settlers came to America, they had used their "natural rights" to emigrate. Jefferson claimed the colonies still owed allegiance only to the king, to whom the original settlers had freely chosen to remain loyal. Jefferson said the first English settlers in America were like the first Saxons who had settled in England hundreds of years before. The Saxons had come from the area of present-day Germany. Jefferson claimed the British Parliament had no more right to govern America than the German rulers had to govern England. Most Virginians at the convention found Jefferson's views too extreme. But his views, supported by able legalistic argument, were printed in 1774 in a pamphlet called A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

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