The Continental Association, often known simply as the "Association", was a system created by the First Continental Congress in 1774 for implementing a trade boycott with Great Britain.
Congress hoped that by imposing economic sanctions, Great Britain would be pressured to redress the grievances of the colonies, and in particular repeal the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Association aimed to alter Britain's policies towards the colonies without severing allegiance. Personal gain was a notable motivation of members of the Continental Association, made up mostly of those who had economic interests that would be served by forbidding imports from Britain.
The boycott became operative on December 1, 1774. The Association was fairly successful while it lasted. Trade with Great Britain fell sharply, and the British responded with the New England Restraining Act of 1775. The outbreak of the American Revolutionary War effectively superseded the American attempt to boycott British goods.
A complete ban on the importation of British tea was imposed immediately and other goods were boycotted beginning December 1. If Parliament did not respond by September of the following year, then the American colonies would enter stage two, the non-exportation phase of their plan. Further, the colonists would be urged to not consume British products already in America. This program of concerted economic pressure — non-importation, non-exportation and non-consumption — was to continue until the offending laws were repealed.
Compliance with these aims was enforced by local committees, which were encouraged to conduct inspections of businesses and to use public opinion to force changes in the violators' behavior. The names of uncooperative merchants were published and the offenders were often ostracized and humiliated. On some occasions they became the objects of violent intimidation.
The Association was generally successful during its short life. Enforcement committees were formed in all but one of the colonies and trade with Britain plummeted.
The Continental Association went into effect on December 1, 1774. The ban did succeed for the time it was in effect. However, the British did retaliate by blocking colony access to the North Atlantic Fishing Area.
Only one colony failed to establish local enforcement committees; in the others, the restrictions were dutifully enforced—by violent measures on some occasions. Trade with Britain subsequently plummeted. Parliament responded by passing the New England Restraining Act, which prohibited the northeastern colonies from trading with anyone but Britain and the British West Indies, and they barred colonial ships from the North Atlantic fisheries. These punitive measures were later extended to most of the other colonies as well.
The outbreak of open fighting between the colonists and British soldiers in April 1775 rendered moot any attempt to indirectly change British policies. In this regard, the Association failed to determine events in the way that it was designed—Britain did not cave to American demands but instead tried to tighten its grip, and the conflict escalated to war. However, the true long-term success of the Association was in its effective direction of collective action among the colonies and expression of their common interests. This recognition of union by the Articles, and its firm stance that the colonies and their people had rights that were being infringed by Britain, made it a direct precursor to the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which by contrast repudiated the authority of the king once it was clear that no other solution would preserve the asserted rights of the colonies.