“A complaint addressing resentments” is the phrase I used in order to remember the history lesson regarding the Olive Branch Petition. The document, also known as “The Humble Petition” and “The Second Petition to the King” is important to the American War of Independence from Great Britain because of how it was received.
The writing of the petition is one of the most crucial events in US history. It could be thought of as a preliminary statement of independence, written before the Declaration of Independence. I wonder what the outcome of events might have been if the Olive Branch Petition had not been composed and sent to King George III.
There probably would have been a much smaller band of rebels who would have been easily crushed by the British military. An alternate history may have read much like that of Canada’s. The entire scope and make-up of the nation would likely have been radically different. All the events of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in North America may have taken different forms or probably would never have happened.
Without the historical chapter of the Olive Branch Petition, the large portion of colonists would have remaind loyal to the King, and there would have been no groundswell of support for revolution. The scenarios are best left to people who love to concoct alternate histories.
This document was a formal petition to the monarch. It was also the last official effort of the colonists to address problems with their domestic situations and their grievances with the Mother Country to be settled peacefully. The document was needed despite the start of armed insurrections at Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill.
Discussion about this document began when the Second Continental Congress met in May of 1775. A moderate faction, in that Congress, favored reconciliation with the Crown and were not yet ready to join with those colonists calling for a declaration of independence from the Mother Country. A radical faction came to agree with the need for the Humble Petition because many of them believed it would be ignored or rejected by the King. The radicals thought that when the petition was shunned by the monarch that the moderates would finally agree with the liberals for the need for a formal declaration of independence.
The moderate Continental Congressman from Delaware, John Dickenson, led the group of delegates who believed in the need to reconcile with the King. At the same time, radical Massachusetts delegate John Adams headed the small group who thought war with the Mother Country was inevitable. Adams and his cohorts decided to keep quiet and wait in the wings for the optimum time to rally the citizens. They held back in order for Dickenson’s faction to follow whatever means of reconciliation they wanted.
The petition’s first draft was penned by Virginia delegate Thomas Jefferson, however, Dickenson didn’t care for the inflamatory language in the draft. Dickenson then rewrote the document into its final form. Dickenson claimed the Americans didn’t want independence but only wanted to have a fair hearing about tax regulations and trade policy with Britain. The document suggested that the colonists should be subject to taxes and trade policies in-line with people in Great Britain, or that strict regulations and taxes be abolished altogether.
The petition was given its reading in the Continental Congress and approved on July 5, 1775. The approval came more out of respect for Dickenson and his allies rather than any endorsement of the document’s content. On July 8th the ceremonial signatures of the Humble Petition were affixed and two copies of the document were placed on ships to London.
August 23rd was named as the date for the formal presentation of the original, by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, William Legge, the second Earl of Dartmouth. This was after the King had received news, on July 8th, about the Battles of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. The request to receive Lord Dartmouth was refused outright. King George was blinded by his outrage and refused to consider or even open the Petition.
The King proclaimed that the American Colonies were officially in a state of rebellion. The attempts and efforts for peaceful negotiation were pronounced ineffective. In his address to Parliament on October 26th, King George III said, in part, “It is now become the part of wisdom, and of clemency, to put a speedy end to these disorders by the most decisive exertions.”
Before King George made his royal statement, the delegates and the Olive Branch Petition returned home to the Colonies. The official news of the failure to convince the King to even consider any of the points of negotiation was presented on September 2, 1775. All of the hopes of the moderate faction in the Continental Congress were dashed. The two factions unified and became pro-revolution.
Meantime, the news of the King’s rejection of offers of negotiation stimulated an escalation of rebelliousness and revolutionary opinions among the rank and file colonists. The King’s rejection of negotiation efforts indicated to the colonists that the King and his government clearly wished to follow selfish impulses and take advantage of the colonies.
The rejection of the Olive Branch Petition fomented mass resistance to the King and Parliament. The rest, as we say, is history.