More on the Committees of Correspondence:
Committees of Correspondence: the Founders’ forgotten blueprint for political organization
Reviving the Founders’ Patriot Network
Five things Thousand Oaks has in common with Revolutionary-era Boston
The Founding Fathers organized 13 colonies into history’s greatest nation, so it should come as no surprise that these innovators in liberty and self-government also created a brilliant system to educate, organize, and coordinate peaceful resistance to government abuses of power. In the 249 years since they were created, there is not a better time to revisit how the system worked, and how it could be revived today. Fortunately, the original committees were so adaptable, they would seem very natural and would fit right in with our other civic organizations.
How the original Committees of Correspondence functioned
In Boston on November 2, 1772, Sam Adams pushed a town meeting of assembled patriots to elect a standing and autonomous Committee of Correspondence with two tasks: to draft and publish a proclamation asserting the rights of the people, and to write a letter to other Massachusetts towns inviting them to link back to Boston by electing their own Committees of Correspondence.
This latter task was the masterstroke. By having the Committees of Correspondence in each town communicate directly with each other, patriotic activity could be coordinated across the entire colony. If an event happened in Boston, news would rapidly spread to the patriots throughout Massachusetts via each Committee of Correspondence. Or if an event happened in an outlying town, news would spread back to Boston and throughout this patriotic network.
We don’t have anything like that right now—a local elected board representing the interests of patriots that is working hand-in-hand with boards in neighboring cities. The closest that comes to that is either (very) loosely affiliated pockets of nonprofits and influencers, or highly organized but hopelessly corrupted political parties. The Committees of Correspondence operate in a sweet spot: highly organized but still directly accountable to the people.
Since the Committees of Correspondence acted on behalf of the patriots in each town (Tories were excluded), they built up a large amount of moral authority. This was crucial because, although they were perfectly legal, they had no formal or official authority. They met regularly and operated as if they were legislatures—after a quorum was met, motions were made, seconded, debated, and voted on—but as unofficial bodies their abilities were limited to corresponding, communicating, and coordinating. They could pass proclamations and declarations, but not laws. Nevertheless, they were quite powerful at influencing policy and carrying out their own. For example, when the First Continental Congress passed a boycott on British goods, the local Committees of Correspondence (who also had a hand in creating the Continental Congress) enforced it by publishing the names of merchants who continued to trade with the British. Furthermore, the Committees of Correspondence worked hand-in-hand with patriotic groups on the street level, such as the Sons of Liberty and the Mechanics.
Sam Adams’ design for the Committee of Correspondence system fostered rapid adoption in other towns. Any group of patriots in a town could create a committee—all they had to do was hold a town meeting, elect the people they wanted on the committee, and send a letter back to Boston to join the network. It was so adaptable, eventually colony-level committees were created, finally evolving to a continental-level committee, the Continental Congress.
Cast in our modern times, the Committees of Correspondence would basically be Patriot Boards–a board of patriotic community leaders elected by the patriotic residents of each town, meeting regularly to disseminate political information throughout the town, coordinating the political activity of frontline groups, and importantly, communicating with the other Patriot Boards elected in other towns. They would work just like an HOA board or a nonprofit board by following standard parliamentary rules.
Below is an outline of how they could work.
Step 1: Selecting the first city
In this step:
- The city for the first Committee of Correspondence must be carefully chosen
- It will act as the model for all the other cities
In the original Committee of Correspondence system, Sam Adams was careful that the very first committee operated correctly because it would be the model for the rest. Boston, being a hotbed of patriotic activity with an established set of political leaders was an ideal choice. What city would be the best choice nowadays?
Step 2: Calling the first Town Meeting
In this step:
- A local activist group acts as a sponsor for the town meeting
- The sponsor makes a public announcement of the date, location, and purpose of the meeting
- The purpose of the meeting is to assemble patriots residing in that city to elect a committee to:
- Draft a proclamation detailing their rights and how they are being violated
- Send an invitation to neighboring cities to create their own committees with the same function
Town meetings are not to be confused with town halls, which in our time is where our elected officials report back to us to keep us updated on their activities. We don’t really have town meetings anymore, at least not in the formal sense. But in the 18th Century, they were the means for the concerned citizenry to voice their opinions about their grievances. Is there a concerned citizenry in your town? Probably! All they need is a meeting place—a church, community center, or other public arena and a date. Following Sam Adams’ model, an announcement should be made (perhaps in a local, independent newspaper?) stating that the town meeting is being called for residents to elect leaders to represent their interests in preserving their individual rights. The meeting can be sponsored by a local activist group.
Step 3: The election at the Town Meeting
In this step:
- The sponsor creates a temporary committee to manage the town meeting, including a chairman and a secretary
- Nominations are made for who will serve on the board
- Only citizens who are residents of that city and have not expressed disloyalty to the Constitution are eligible
- An election takes place
The sponsoring organization should appoint a chairman to preside over the election and a secretary to make a record of the activities. A host or emcee can keep the audience engaged. Upon calling the meeting to order, saying the pledge of allegiance, and an opening prayer, the agenda should be announced, which is to elect a Committee with the dual tasks of drafting a proclamation detailing grievances and drafting an invitation for other cities to form their own committees.
Nominations to the board can then be made. Nominees (and voters) must be a) citizens of that city, and b) be loyal to the Constitution of the United States. Note that in the original Committees of Correspondence system, Tories were excluded. The loyalty-to-the-Constitution requirement by definition includes all patriots. In all likelihood, the vast majority of the assembled would be patriots, but if there was an infiltration attempt, many civic boards have provisions for excluding people who are not eligible to serve or vote. Evidence of disloyalty to the Constitution can be statements found on social media, etc. Since Committees of Correspondence are modeling responsible government, elections should take place how the people want our official elections to be, i.e. transparent, auditable, and with ID being shown. There should be a minimum of 3 seats on the Committee of Correspondence. Note that the original Boston Committee of Correspondence had 21. It’s possible all the nominees get a seat. Many hands make light work.
After the election, the meeting is adjourned and the secretary certifies and announces the results of the election.
Step 4: The first Committee of Correspondence meets
In this step:
- The newly elected Committee of Correspondence meets immediately and selects a chairman and a secretary
- It continues to meet regularly
- A subcommittee is created to draft public proclamations supporting individual rights and a list of grievances
- Meetings can be held in private
Upon being elected, the original Committees of Correspondence met immediately, selected a chairman and a clerk, and created a subcommittee to begin drafting a resolution to satisfy their primary task; to publish a list of rights and grievances. Following that model, the new committee should meet regularly (weekly?) to continue to churn out public proclamations identifying local, state, and federal abuses of power. The proclamations can be made in the form of a press release and distributed to like-minded organizations, social media, email, etc. Additional proclamations can be made on cultural issues, get-out-the-vote efforts, candidates, etc.
By following parliamentary procedure, i.e. Roberts Rules, the committee formally conducts business. A motion should be seconded before proceeding to protect the group’s proceedings from being dominated by a single individual.
As it meets several times, this model committee should come up with some ground rules for operating that future committees can follow, such as details on having a quorum, how to expel members, how often to meet, when reelections should occur, etc.
Step 5: Inviting neighboring cities to create more Committees of Correspondence
In this step:
- With the first committee up and running, it can be used as a model for the next ones
- The first committee invites patriots in a neighboring city to follow the model
- All committees then communicate directly with each other keeping them informed and coordinate political efforts
- A deep political bench will be created with potential candidates for local office
- Committees should promote patriotic businesses, support patriotic causes, and encourage healthy environments for families
When the first committee is off the ground and operating smoothly, it can now be a model that other cities can use to quickly get their Committees of Correspondence up and running. Historically, the Boston Committee invited all other Massachusetts towns to immediately create their own. That is one approach, or a snowball effect can be achieved this way:
- The first committee invites one neighboring city to create a a committee.
- The first committee sponsors the second committee’s town meeting and supervises its election
- The first and second committees then invite a third city to create a committee, and the pair sponsors their town meeting and supervises their election, and so on.
This way ensures tighter bonds between the committees, helps ensures they all function similarly, and should strengthen the integrity of each committee since it will have the blessing of the other committees.
To get the second city’s committee up and running, the first committee should pass a resolution to send the invitation for patriots in the second city to call a town meeting. The first committee can be the sponsor of the second city’s town meeting and supervise the election. Soon after the election, the second committee will meet for the first time, and just like the first committee, immediately select officers, and open lines of communication with the first committee. The second committee can examine the body of proclamations made by the first committee, and vote and pass any that it approves of, or create its own original ones.
Whenever a committee hears about a political rally, or relevant news, or violation of rights, etc. it should vote to alert the other committees. For example, if a likeminded nonprofit is having a rally on a certain date and asks the committee for support, the committee can alert its local allies in the city and also alert neighboring committees to ask them to promote the event. Furthermore, individual committee members, with their stature rising among their peers, might ask this new patriot network for their support if they decide to run for local office.
Just like the original Committees of Correspondence, the new committees should be interested in promoting domestic manufacturing and simple living. For example, they can identify and promote businesses with Made-in-the-USA products, and support businesses with likeminded owners who are impacted by bad government policy by encouraging their constituents to patronize them. Imagine if that existed during the lockdown.
Over time, the committees would enhance their moral authority with growing bodies of commonsense, popular proclamations that would make government policy look silly by contrast. As the government becomes more oppressive and incompetent, it would lead directly to more support for the committees, increasing their moral authority proportionately.
Step 6: Scaling up to a county-level Committee of Correspondence
In this step:
- A county-level Committee of Correspondence is created
- The most effective city-level Committee leaders can rise to the county level
The original Committees of Correspondence, having spread to many towns, then scaled up to bigger jurisdictions. The town committees still existed, but county and colony level ones were soon created. When several cities in a county have created a Committee of Correspondence, they can call a county meeting for the direct election of a county-level Committee of Correspondence. Experienced city-level committee members can be nominated to serve on this higher profile committee. In larger counties, the city committees can meet together and choose the county committee members themselves.
Just like the city committees, the county committees should immediately meet after being elected and perform the same duties, just with a higher profile and with the understanding they represent the entire county. The county committee should then invite neighboring counties to form their own county committees, following the same pattern as the county committees. They should coordinate with the other counties, which will also have committees at their city level. When an event happens in a neighboring county’s city, it alerts its county-level committee, and the county committee alerts its sister county-level committees, and then each county committee then alerts the city-level committees within.
Step 7: Scaling up to the state level and beyond
In this step:
- Many counties in a state can send delegates to a state-level Committee of Correspondence
- The original model finally evolved to a continental-level committee
Originally, within a couple years after inception, the Committees of Correspondence grew to the colony level. It follows then that if many counties in a state have a Committee of Correspondence, they can meet to send delegates to a state-level Committee of Correspondence. The state Committee of Correspondence would have the very best-of-the-best committee members from the county level, and one can see how Sam Adams’ creation acted like an incubator for Founding Fathers, by providing an arena for honing their skills and raising their profiles.
If many city committees created a county committee, and many county committees created a state committee, then, just as before, many state level-committees can send delegates to continental Committee of Correspondence. These delegates, like the Founding Fathers, would be the very best statesmen the liberty movement would have to offer, men and women who rose through the ranks on merit to become effective national leaders.
If a continental committee formed, the elder statesmen at the top can pass a proclamation criticizing federal government policy. The state committees could then adopt the proclamation and send it to their county committees. The county committees could then adopt it and send it to the city committees. The city committees could vote to adopt it and send it to the people. Patriots from around the country would be literally on the same page, and the continental committee would be speaking with the voice of millions.
The patriotic political engine the Founding Fathers used with great success would be again firing on all cylinders. It needs but one group to start it up.
Q & A
Q: There are already some nonprofit political groups, why have Committees?
A: By incorporating and asking permission from the government to exist, an organization loses autonomy and it becomes more accountable to the government, the courts, its donors, etc. Look at how silent the churches are, scared to lose their nonprofit status. Committees of Correspondence are perfectly legal, but they are easier to set up, free of cost, avoid court entanglements, and are responsible directly to the people, not to donors or regulators. Money corrupts institutions. Furthermore, are any effective nonprofits out there that coordinate with chapters in each city, county, and state, that is still responsive to the people? Certainly political parties are organized this way, but how well do they serve the people? Nonprofits are still very important to the process, but the Committees’ role is to support and coordinate between the nonprofits, not replace them.
Q: But wouldn’t incorporation protect committee members from legal liability? What if something happened at a rally, or they published a libelous proclamation?
A: The Committees themselves do not host rallies. They merely pass proclamations. A proclamation can and should be to publicize a political event organized by a nonprofit or concerned-citizen groups or candidates. Whoever organizes the rally—a nonprofit, for example, might have legal exposure, but not the Committee. A committee would endanger itself by publishing libelous proclamations, but it’s no more of a risk than posting something ill-advised on Facebook, not counting the benefit it has of having to pass a majority vote by fellow committee members.
Q: How should the Committees handle money?
A: In short, they shouldn’t. Without any formal power, and without money, the Committees will tend to be the moral conscience of the liberty movement and can remain as pure as possible. Committees just make proclamations. In essence, they issue press releases. This costs members time, but not money. If they need office supplies, they can be donated. They can meet at free places. If they need anything else, a sympathetic business or organization can buy it directly and donate it.
Q: Since it’s so easy to create a committee, what if a group forms a splinter committee competing in the same city as another committee?
A: Competition is expected, and even desirable and should play itself out. Whichever committee has the support of the other committees, and the people, should rise to the surface. It’s possible the entire system splinters, but everyone wins if the will of the patriotic community is accomplished. This may even be desirable if the dominant committees in the system are corrupted or infiltrated. Patriots should band together and form new, competing committees. Patriots never have to feel powerless over corrupt institutions again.