Olive Branch Petition

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The Olive Branch Petition

The Olive Branch Petition was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 5, 1775, and signed on July 8, in a final attempt to avoid a full-scale war between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies in America. The Congress had already authorized the invasion of Canada more than a week earlier, but the petition affirmed American loyalty to Great Britain and beseeched King George III to prevent further conflict. The petition was followed by the July 6 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, however, which made its success unlikely in London.[1] In August 1775, the colonies were formally declared to be in rebellion by the Proclamation of Rebellion, and the petition was rejected by Great Britain—even though King George had refused to read it before declaring the colonists traitors.[2]


The Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775, and most delegates followed John Dickinson in his quest to reconcile with King George III of Great Britain. However, a rather small group of delegates led by John Adams believed that war was inevitable. During the course of the Second Continental Congress, Adams and his allies decided that the wisest course of action was to remain quiet and wait for the opportune time to rally the people.

This decision allowed Dickinson and his followers to pursue their own course for reconciliation.[3] Dickinson was the primary author of the petition, though Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Rutledge and Thomas Johnson also served on the drafting committee.[4] Dickinson claimed that the colonies did not want independence but wanted more equitable trade and tax regulations. He suggested that the King devise a plan to settle trade disputes and give the colonists either free trade and taxes equal to those levied on the people of Great Britain or strict trade regulation in lieu of taxes. The introductory paragraph of the letter named twelve of the thirteen colonies, all except Georgia. The letter was approved on July 5 and signed by John Hancock, President of the Second Congress, and by representatives of the named twelve colonies. It was sent to London on July 8, 1775, in the care of Richard Penn and Arthur Lee.[5] Dickinson hoped that news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord combined with the "humble petition" would persuade the King to respond with a counter proposal or to open negotiations.[3]

Reception and rejection[edit]

Adams wrote to a friend, stating that the petition served no purpose, that war was inevitable, and that the colonies should have already raised a navy and taken British officials prisoner. The letter was intercepted by British officials and news of its contents reached Great Britain at about the same time as the petition itself. British advocates of a military response to the colonists used Adams' letter to claim that the petition itself was insincere.[5]

On August 21, Penn and Lee provided a copy of the petition to Lord Dartmouth, the colonial secretary, followed with the original on September 1. Penn and Lee reported back on September 2: "we were told that as his Majesty did not receive it on the throne, no answer would be given."[6] In response to the news of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the King had already issued the Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition on August 23, declaring the North American colonies to be in a state of rebellion and ordering "all Our officers...and all Our obedient and loyal subjects, to use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion."[7] The hostilities which Adams had foreseen undercut the petition; the King had answered it before it even reached him.[8]


The King’s refusal to consider the petition gave Adams and others the opportunity to push for independence, and it characterized the King as intransigent and uninterested in addressing the colonists' grievances. It polarized the issue in the minds of many colonists, who realized that the choice from that point forward was between complete independence and complete submission to British rule,[5] a realization crystallized a few months later in Thomas Paine's widely read pamphlet Common Sense.


  1. ^ "Declaration of taking up arms: resolutions of the Second Continental Congress". Constitution Society. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  2. ^ Bailey, Thomas; Kennedy, David; Cohen, Lizabeth (1998). The American Pageant (11 ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 
  3. ^ a b Ferling, John E (2003). A leap in the dark: the struggle to create the American republic. Oxford, England; New York: Oxford University Press. 
  4. ^ Beeman, Richard (2013). Our lives, our fortune, our sacred honor: the forging of American independence, 1774–1776. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465026296. 
  5. ^ a b c Brown, Weldon A. (1941). Empire or independence; a study in the failure of reconciliation, 1774–1783. Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press (published 1966). OCLC 341868. 
  6. ^ Richard Penn; Arthur Lee. "Petition to George III, King of Great Britain, 1775". nypl.org. Image 5208532. Retrieved October 3, 2017. 
  7. ^ Axelrod, Alan (2008). Profiles in folly: history's worst decisions and why they went wrong. New York: Sterling. p. 150. ISBN 1402747683. [unreliable source?]
  8. ^ Maier, Pauline (1997). American scripture: making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf. pp. 24–25, 249–250. ISBN 0679454926. 

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