The Olive Branch Petition is a document adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 5, 1775, and addressed to the British King George III. The petition was the last attempt to reconcile with Great Britain, in which the colonists pledged their allegiance to the crown.
The petition was written following several military events that predetermined the course of action for both Britain and her colonies. After open fighting at Lexington and Concord, the British government was determined to suppress the colonists using harsh methods. However, the battle at Bunker Hill in June 1775 proved an unsuccessful attempt to deal with the colonists’ military action. The British army suffered heavy losses having a high percentage of soldiers and officers participating in the battle wounded or killed. So, the British commandment at Bunker Hill messaged King George III asking for reinforcement and suggesting the possibility of hiring foreign troops.
The news of the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775 radicalized the Second Continental Congress, splitting it into two halves. One side stood for going to war with Britain for complete independence, while the moderates were seeking freedom under British rule. As a result, Congress attempted one last reconciliation to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict by appealing directly to King George III, as the British Parliament was seen as a hindrance to the cause.
The first draft of the petition was written by Thomas Jefferson. However, his version was considered as provocative and harsh, so John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania and the leader of moderates, rewrote the text. His conciliatory version of the petition, known to history as the Olive Branch Petition, was approved by Continental Congress on July 8, 1775, that consisted of delegates from twelve colonies, namely, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Georgia, the remaining North American colony, did not send delegates until later in 1775. Two copies of the Olive Branch Petition were created, and both were signed by 48 delegates, which included John Adams, John Hancock, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson. The petition was shipped to Great Britain by Richard Penn, a colonial agent.
The Olive Branch Petition aimed at calming King George III and preventing the conflict between the North American colonies and the British government from escalating. The petition explained the grounds for the recent rebellion against the British government; assured in loyalty to the king; and asked to withdraw the unfair laws and taxes waged on the colonists. Besides, the petition blamed the king for jeopardizing their mutual relationship by assaulting traditional liberties. Lastly, the document called for a truce in military actions, withdrawal of Coercive Acts, and to create conditions to more autonomy for the colonists.
Despite this last attempt to avoid bloodshed, the colonists were preparing for war. This attitude angered King George III, who not only rejected the petition without reading but also refused to acknowledge the communication of an illegal institution. The king had already responded to the colonists’ concerns about a week before, on August 23, when he issued the Proclamation of Rebellion. The complete rejection by the King to even see the petition demonstrated to the colonists that their complaints had never been heard, bringing the Declaration of Independence into existing.