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Olive Branch Petition


Representatives to the Continental Congress in the spring and early summer of 1775 divided into two rival camps. The radicals were predominantly New Englanders led by John Adams, who favored an immediate declaration of independence. John Dickinson from Pennsylvania was the leader of the moderates, who favored reconciliation. The moderates, however, had been fighting a losing battle ever since the clashes at Lexington and Concord in April, and their support eroded with each passing act of hostility. When news of the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775 reached Philadelphia, it had a radicalizing effect on the Congress. The moderates still retained enough strength and influence, however, to keep the concept of a peaceful resolution on the table. The result was the Olive Branch Petition, written largely by Dickinson and addressed to King George III. It stated that the British monarch and his ministers had jeopardized the relationship between the colonies and the mother country by assaulting traditional liberties. It called for a truce in the fighting, repeal of the Coercive Acts, and a restructuring of imperial institutions to allow the colonists more autonomy.

Generally, historians believe that the Olive Branch Petition was less a serious attempt at averting war than a political move to satisfy moderates that the colonials had made one last appeal to the king to preserve the peace. Radicals, such as John Adams, thought it a farcical waste of time and thought more unity could be gained through an immediate declaration of independence. As Congress discussed the Olive Branch Petition, it continued the march toward war, creating the Continental Army, appointing George Washington of Virginia as commander in chief, authorizing an invasion of Canada, and adopting Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson's Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking up Arms.

On 8 July 1775 the Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition. Richard Penn, a colonial agent, carried it to Britain. The plan was for the agents to present it to the king, but only Penn and Arthur Lee actually attempted to deliver the message. King George III refused to acknowledge the communication of an illegal institution and declared the colonies in rebellion. Parliament was out of session. When it reconvened on 26 October 1775, the king, in his speech opening the session ridiculed the petition in an indirect reference. The errant colonists were not the only ones petitioning the king for peace; towns and cities throughout Britain did likewise, which meant that Parliament could not ignore the issue. In November, Edmund Burke introduced a bill to revoke the Coercive Acts, grant pardons to all those involved in rebellion to that point, and grant the supremacy of colonial assemblies over Parliament regarding the right to tax the colonists. It failed by 210 to 105. This was interpreted as Parliament's agreement with the king in rejecting the Olive Branch Petition and setting the stage for war.

See alsoContinental Congresses .


Flower, Milton E. John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983.

Middlekauf, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Gregory J. Dehler

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