The Olive Branch Petition
was adopted by the Continental Congress in July 1775 in an attempt to avoid a full-blown war with Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...
. The petition affirmed American loyalty to Great Britain and entreated the king to prevent further conflict. The petition was rejected, and in August 1775 the colonies were formally declared in rebellion by the Proclamation of Rebellion
The Proclamation of Rebellion, officially titled A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition, was the response of George III of the United Kingdom to the news of the Battle of Bunker Hill at the outset of the American Revolutionary War. Issued August 23, 1775, it declared elements of the...
When the Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...
convened in May 1775, most delegates followed John Dickinson
John Dickinson was an American lawyer and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. He was a militia officer during the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of...
in his quest to reconcile with George III of Great Britain. However, a rather small group of delegates led by John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...
believed that war was inevitable. During the course of the Second Continental Congress, Adams and his group of colleagues decided the wisest course of action was to remain quiet and wait for the opportune time to rally the people.
This decision allowed John Dickinson and his followers to pursue whatever means of reconciliation they wanted. It was during this time that the idea of the Olive Branch Petition was approved. The Olive Branch Petition was first drafted by Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...
, but John Dickinson found Jefferson’s language too offensive. Dickinson rewrote most of the document, although some of the conclusion remained Jefferson’s. Dickinson claimed that the colonies did not want independence but that they merely wanted to negotiate trade and tax regulations with Great Britain. Dickinson suggested the King draw up a final plan or agreement to settle trade disputes. To help the King with his plan, Dickinson suggested that either the colonists be given free trade and taxes equal to those levied on the people in Great Britain, or no taxes and strict trade regulations. The letter was approved on July 5, but signed and sent to London on July 8, 1775. Dickinson had hoped that word of the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord combined with the “Humble Petition” would inspire the King to at least negotiate with the colonists.
However, his petition was undermined due to a confiscated letter of John Adams. John Adams wrote a letter to a friend expressing his discontent with the Olive Branch Petition. He wrote war was inevitable and he thought the Colonies should have already raised a navy and captured British officials. This confiscated letter arrived in Great Britain at about the same time as the Olive Branch petition. The British used Adams' letter to claim that the Olive Branch Petition was insincere.
Although the King discarded the petition, it still served a very important purpose in American Independence. The King’s rejection gave Adams and others who favored revolution the opportunity they needed to push for independence. The rejection of the “olive branch” polarized the issue in the minds of colonists. It suggested that they could either submit unconditionally or seek complete independence by war.
- Full text of the petition