OTD in history… July 5, 1775, Second Continental Congress adopts Olive Branch Petition last appeal to King George III
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history July 5, 1775, The Second Continental Congress adopts the Olive Branch Petition the thirteen colonies’ last appeal to avoid a full war with Great Britain. Delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania authored the petition, which as historians Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling in their book Events That Changed America in the Eighteenth Century explain, “proclaimed loyalty to the king and asked that he repudiate his ministers’ actions.” The Congress made it seem their discontent was with Parliament, not the Monarchy. Even Congress knew the conciliation document was fruitless, and the next day, July 6, they adopted a Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms written by Thomas Jefferson, while just on July 3 George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army. Congress was at the tip of a real break with Great Britain King George’s refusal even to read the petition pushed them over into full-on Revolutionary War.
With the Olive Branch Petition, Congress acted under the assumption Britain’s King George III was unaware of the restrictive Coercive Acts the British Parliament imposed on the colonies. Congress decision came just after the first significant battle between the colonies and the British in the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Bunker Hill in Massachusetts on June 17. Although the colonies lost to Britain, they had inflicted significant casualties, after the King began preparing for a larger battle and commenced their plans including sending troops and warships.
Dickinson was also a delegate of the first Continental Congress and authored in 1774 the Petition to the King, in addition to the Olive Branch petition he revised Jefferson’s Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. Dickinson was the primary leader in seeking reconciliation, a move that John Adams of Massachusetts and the independence faction useless but hoped a failure would help the cause for independence. Dickinson had the help of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Rutledge and Thomas Johnson, who “served on the draft committee.” The Besides an attempt and at conciliation and pledging fidelity to the King, Dickinson requested the repeal of the Coercive and that the King mediates between the colonies and Parliament.
The introductory paragraph mentioned only 12 of the colonies, excluding Georgia, and they were the only ones that signed the petition as well as John Hancock, the president of the Congress. The petition read, “Your Majesty’s Ministers, persevering in their measures, and proceeding to open hostilities for enforcing them, have compelled us to arm in our own defence, and have engaged us in a controversy so peculiarly abhorrent to the affections of your still faithful Colonists, that when we consider whom we must oppose in this contest and if it continues, what may be the consequences, our own particular misfortunes are accounted by us only as parts of our distress…. That your Majesty may enjoy long and prosperous reign, and that your descendants may govern your Dominions with honour to themselves and happiness to their subjects, is our sincere prayer.”
The colonies soon discovered King George III agreed with the Parliament’s actions toward them. Richard Penn and Arthur Lee delivered the petition leaving for London on July 8, 1775. On August 21, they handed the petition over the Colonial Secretary Lord Dartmouth and on September 2, they received their response, “We were told that as his Majesty did not receive it on the throne, no answer would be given.” The King refused to read the petition, and instead, on August 23, 1775, issued “A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” saying the colonies were in an “open and avowed rebellion” after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Then to force conciliation Parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act at the end of 1775, prohibiting trade or else American ships would be seized.
It was the last straw; the time was ripe for the independence movement led by John Adams. Thomas Paine would publish in January his pamphlet Common Sense arguing in favor of the colonies declaring independence and listing the grievances against both Parliament and the King. Historian Peter D. G. Thomas states, “The crisis of 1774 became the war of 1775 and the revolution of 1776” (p. 297). Just a day shy of a year later, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress would adopt the Declaration of Independence permanently severing ties with Great Britain and forming the new democracy, the United States of America.
SOURCES AND READ MORE
Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760–1815. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2007.
Thackeray, Frank W. Events That Changed the World in the Eighteenth Century. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Thomas, Peter D. G. Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.