Olive Branch Petition

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First page of the petition

The Olive Branch Petition was the last attempt made by the colonists to bring about a reconciliation with the British Government.[1] After the Battle of Bunker Hill, King George III refused to receive the Olive Branch.


Second Constitutional Congress

Early in its history this second congress had drafted a new petition to the king, written by John Dickinson. The petition was adopted July 5, 1775 and finalized July 8th, 1775, during the Second Continental Congress.

On the 8th of July, the Congress assembled at Philadelphia had confided to Richard Penn, governor of Pennsylvania, a petition denominated the Olive Branch to the king, to be presented on his arrival in England. It was delivered to lord Dartmouth on the 1st of September.[2]


The king's response to Bunker Hill was to issue the Proclamation of Rebellion, declaring the colonists to be rebels, closing the American ports, and warning foreign nations not to trade. The Olive Branch was an attempt to appeal directly to King George III with the hope for reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain.[3] Three days after their arrival in Britain, Penn and his companion, Arthur Lee, were informed by letter that no answer would be given to it.

This contemptuous rejection of the humble petition of Congress went upon the ground that the body petitioning had no legal existence. The Americans from the time of that rejection of their last humble effort at pacification held that to British councils, and not to American, all the bloodshed and guilt of the war were to be ascribed. In an examination of Mr. Penn before the House of Lords, he averred that the general feeling in America was not for independence, but simply "for the defence of their liberties." Mr. Penn's opinions on this subject have been confirmed by those held by Washington, Madison, Franklin, and Jefferson, before the commencement of hostilities. A motion that the petition of Congress afforded grounds for conciliation was rejected by an overwhelming majority.[2]

This treatment also convinced many that the colonists need hope for nothing at the hands of the king or parliament, and also had an effect on the king's own men. Many English army officers resigned their commissions rather than serve against the Americans.[4] When the subservient "king's friends" in parliament voted 25,000 troops, most of them had to be hired in Germany. Shortly after the news reached America that the British government had hired Hessian soldiers to help fight their battles in the colonies, even the most conservative began to admit the necessity of separation.[5]

Colonists' Response

The news of the rejection of their Olive Branch petition, of the king's proclamation, and of the hiring of foreign mercenaries, reached America at about the same time - the last days of October - and the sensation created was profound and widespread. It was evident that the king meant to awe the colonists into submission, but this he could not do. He only deepened the resentment against him, and thousands who had been lukewarm were now converted to the cause of the patriots. From this moment Congress assumed a bolder tone. It appointed committees to correspond with foreign nations, advised various colonies to set up governments for themselves, and urged South Carolina to seize all English vessels within its waters. It also opened the American ports to all nations (March, 1776), and advised the colonies to disarm the Tories. No more disclaimers of a desire for independence do we hear, no more talk of reconciliation with the king.

This change of attitude toward the mother land was not confined to Congress. The majority of the people were soon convinced that their sovereign did not love them, and it was not long before the subject of independence, which before had been only whispered in the corner, began to be proclaimed from the housetop. The subject was debated on all sides, and the idea of independence grew steadily during the following winter. But the people were not unanimous. A large minority probably, one third of the people, were in sympathy with the English cause to the end, and it is noteworthy that in New England and the South the tendency to make a final break with the king was more pronounced than in the middle colonies.[6]


All these considerations were popularized and brought vividly to the imaginations of great numbers by Paine's pamphlet, "Common Sense." By May 1776, the Congress, which had acted for a year as a revolutionary general government for the United Colonies, felt justified in entering upon consideration of the subject.[7]

Following the drafting and ultimate rejection of the Olive Branch petition, congress issued the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms.[8]

See also


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