I know there weren't modern day political parties, but what were the issues and major groupings of the three continental congresses?

When the congress voted on something, were any 'party lines' visible?

EDIT: sorry for unclear question. I am asking who the 'sides' were in the elections, and which 'side' emerged victorious?

EDIT 2: I realise that these politicians were too precious to admit that they had any factions or groupings. George III would not have admitted he was a tyrant, but that doesn't mean it was wrong to call him one. No-one is obliged to accept their self-definitions uncritically.

Historians acknowledge that there were in fact two sides even in the earliest congressional elections: the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.1 So what were the groups in the Continental Congress?

  • 1
    wikipedia has the answer. Could you reconsider the question and revise it so that (a) it is clear what you're asking (b) what you're asking goes beyond wikipedia? This is a period of history that fascinates me, and I'd like to see more questions. – MCW Nov 24 '14 at 13:09
  • If your real question is about nascent factions in the Republic, then yes there absolutely were. North Vs South. Trade vs Agriculture. Isolation vs engagement. Abolition vs Slavery. Big states vs small states. These factions coalesced around the big issues (North-Trade, vs South-agriculture-slavery). – MCW Nov 24 '14 at 13:12
  • They would have objected strongly to the notion that there were sides - read the Federalist papers on the dangers of factions. Any notion of "sides" is entirely a modern analytic convenience. – MCW Nov 24 '14 at 13:36

The question is anachronistic. (which is why this will be another answer where I fall short of my goal of providing sources/references). On the other hand, most of this is in the wikipedia article.

The delegates to the Continental Congress honestly believed that what unified them (a belief that monarchy was not necessary and that citizens of a republic could govern themselves) was much more important than what divided them. They believed that men who "disinterested" (Gordon Wood points out that Franklin sold off all his business interests before entering public life - (the claim doesn't hold up to strict scrutiny, but Franklin and his contemporaries believed it)) would automatically seek out and advance the public good. The notion that their commitment to the public good might be contaminated by faction or party would have challenged their fundamental beliefs and probably would have been an insult.

Side-note - the terms "Federalist" and "Anti-Federalist" which we today view as quasi-party labels were almost never used at the time. To the extend that they were used, they were accusations that someone was functionalist and political. I can't cite anything specific, but I believe that Pauline Meier's History of the constitution covers this.

Having said that, the Jay treat clearly reveals the tensions of the age. Northern commercial interests were willing to yield navigation rights on the Mississippi to European interests, while Southern farming interests were horrified by the prospect. The South was deeply anti-commercial, pro-farming and pro-slavery. They were bound together by the thinnest political veneer. Washington's personal authority maintained that veneer through his Presidency, but after his departure, things began to fall apart.


The Continental Congress was arguably the most "united" Congress that the country has ever had. As Mark Wallace pointed out, the Federalist papers tried to quash the notion that the there were differences of opinion.

But as a practical matter, most members of the Continental Congress were elected for their "patriotism," that is, opposition to British rule in the earlier days, support of a "United States" after the Revolution was won. Other differences, North vs. South, agrarian vs. industrial, large state vs. small, paled by comparison. The ethos was, "we won the war, let's win the peace," whose nearest equivalent in modern American history was the period during and immediately after the Second World War.

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