A Brief History of Committees of Safety in America

A Brief History of Committees of Safety in America

Committees of Safety existed prior to 1692 and were called by various names.  The Committee which was created, in that year, in New York is significant in that it was created by the militia.  The colonists were dissatisfied with the government of the Crown. headed by Governor Sir Edmund Andros. Recognizing that the military (militia) authority must always be subordinate to the civil authority, and having serious concern over the abusive authority imposed by Andros, the militia of New York created their own civil authority in the form of the Committee of Safety.

Representation on the Committee was based upon two delegates being selected by the citizenry to represent each community.  The delegates gathered and exercised their authority by, eventually, imprisoning Governor Andros for a period of one year.

On and off, many communities, colonies and provinces exercised their right of “self government” by establishing Committees as the need arose.  The practice became even more common after the French and Indian Wars of 1756-1758.  The Crown had imposed a number of new taxes on the colonies.  It was felt that since the French and Indian Wars were in defense of the colonies, the burden of the enormous expense should be borne by the colonists.  Of course, few colonists agreed.

As the taxes were increased (even though the colonies would never be able to pay the costs and interest), the demand by the colonists for the “rights of Englishmen” were raised.  The Parliament had virtually no direct representation from the colonies, although there were some members of the House of Commons who were sympathetic with the colonies.

Each effort by the Crown to raise taxes resulted in the colonies refusing to purchase the goods taxed to raise the revenue.  This caused the Crown to impose even more taxes, or replace those that had failed to return the revenue.

Finally, the Coercive Acts1of 1774 caused sufficient concern in the colonies to prompt action.  Those communities that had formed Committees sent delegates to the colony or province level in order to respond to the call from the Boston Committee for a Continental Congress.  In September, 1774, nine colonies responded to the call and met in Philadelphia to join in actions to counter the increasing imposition of arbitrary control by Britain.

Although during the course of colonial history many Committees of Safety were formed and operated under British government, frequently their actions were outside of the authority granted.  They frequently co-existed alongside the “authorized” government of the Crown, creating a parallel government which was the direct representation of the people as opposed to the legitimate government of the Crown.

These “parallel” governments formed the nexus that would come together again in June, 1776, comprised of representatives of all thirteen colonies, to form the Second Continental Congress.  The outcome of this second congress was the Declaration of Independence.


1 The Coercive Acts were a number of enactments passed by the British Parliament which closed Boston’s Harbor, placed Massachusetts under close British rule and extended Canada’s boundaries South into lands which the American colonists believed to be the their western extension.

Cambridge April 29, 1775This may certify that the bearer, Mr. Paul Revere is messenger to the Committee of Safety and that all dispatch and assistance be given him in Instances that the business of the Colony may be facilitatedJos. Warren, Chair.