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Purpose and History of the Olive Branch Petition

Reed Hepler, Stephen Benz
  • Author
    Reed Hepler

    Reed Hepler received an M.L.I.S. from IUPUI, with emphases in Digital Curation and Archives Management. He received a Bachelor’s in History from USU, with minors in Religious Studies and Anthropology. He also earned a Certificate in Museum Studies. He has worked in museums, libraries, archives, and historical sites for the past four years.

  • Instructor
    Stephen Benz

    Stephen has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

Learn who wrote the Olive Branch Petition and when. Read about its purpose, significance, and Britain's rejection of it. Updated: 11/09/2021

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What Was the Olive Branch Petition?

The Olive Branch Petition was a petition sent by the citizens of British colonies in America to the British government and King George III. Its main purpose was to appease the British government and create reconciliation between the colonies and the British government. Prior to the writing and sending of the Olive Branch Petition, the colonies had expressed anger toward a number of laws and policies which they felt affected them unjustly. In some cases, this anger culminated in violence.

The Olive Branch Petition was an attempt by the colonies to repair the rift created by these complaints and avoid war. However, it seems that the Olive Branch Petition had the exact opposite effect. Several months after he received the Olive Branch Petition, King George III issued the Proclamation of Rebellion. This proclamation declared that the British colonies in America were officially perceived as being in open rebellion against the British government, as demonstrated by the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Therefore, the king was justified in sending his army to occupy and colonies and suppress any rebellious acts. Shortly after, the colonies wrote the Declaration of Independence, officially starting the American Revolutionary War.

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Olive Branch: Etymology

An olive branch is a symbol of peace, especially after a period of friction and disagreement between two parties. The use of ''olive branch'' in this sense is a reference to the Judeo-Christian myth of Noah and the flood. In this story, God told Noah to build an ark to preserve his family and all the animal species from a flood that would cover the entire earth. After the flood was over, Noah sent out a dove, which returned carrying an olive branch. The olive branch was seen as a sign that God was ready to start a new period of peace and safety on the Earth despite his previous anger toward humanity.

The Roman and Greek cultures also used the olive branch as a symbol of peace, especially after times of war. Multiple combatants against the Roman empire, for example, brought olive branches as a symbol of complete submission and cessation of hostilities.

Olive Branch Petition: Background

In the years leading up to the Olive Branch Petition and the Revolutionary War, tensions between the colonies and the British empire had increased significantly. The Petition itself describes many of these developments. The colonies had, in their minds, contributed significantly to Great Britain's success in the European Seven Years' War by fighting in the concurrent French and Indian War in North America. They assumed that their efforts would result in greater prosperity and autonomy. They were therefore alarmed when the British Parliament passed a number of laws and regulations that increased restrictions on the colonies and led to increased taxes imposed on them. The colonists regarded this oppression as ''more dreadful'' than if they had been conquered by a foreign government. The existence of these laws was only made worse by corrupt British governors and bureaucrats. The immediate and most egregious cause of the Petition was the occupation of Boston by the British army.

Olive Branch Petition: Creation and Summary

The Olive Branch Petition was an attempt to appease the conflict between the British colonies in America and the British Crown after the Battles of Lexington and Concord and other conflicts.

The Olive Branch Petition was a product of debate and problems during the period. Its creation was part of a larger effort to address tensions between the colonies and the British government. A committee of the Second Continental Congress met over several weeks and created the petition. The primary writer of the petition was John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, but several congressional delegates helped edit the drafts.

The Olive Branch Petition was meant by the Second Continental Congress to appease the wrath of King George III.

Color image. These pages feature the signatures of all the delegates to the Second Continental Congress, who drafted the Olive Branch Petition.

When Was the Olive Branch Petition Created?

The Olive Branch Petition was created in 1775. Significant dates regarding its creation include:

  • June 3: The committee to write the Olive Branch Petition is created.
  • June 19: The first draft of the petition is submitted to Congress.
  • July 5: The final draft of the Olive Branch Petition, largely unchanged from the draft of June 19, is officially accepted by the Continental Congress.
  • July 8: The Olive Branch Petition is signed.

Who Wrote the Olive Branch Petition?

John Dickinson, the congressional delegate from Pennsylvania, was tasked with writing the Olive Branch Petition. Throughout the writing process, other delegates assisted in editing the drafts, including Benjamin Franklin.

What Was the Purpose of the Olive Branch Petition?

The purpose of the Olive Branch Petition was to appease the anger of King George III and, by extension, Parliament. The colonists hoped that by promising their loyalty and recognition of the power of the king and his government, war could be avoided. The Petition demonstrates that in the beginning of the American Revolutionary period, the colonists did not want complete independence, only eventual autonomy.

What Did the Olive Branch Petition Say?

The Olive Branch Petition begins by summarizing the beneficial relationship between the British empire and the American colonies before the French and Indian War. It also notes the efforts the colonists made in fighting for the British empire during the war. The bulk of the petition consists of two main ideas. It notes that, despite the colonists fighting for the British empire, more restrictions were placed upon them rather than less; and it promises the colonies' allegiance and fealty to the British empire, specifically the king, so long as the restrictions are lifted. The following quotes come directly from the document.

''[The colonists] were alarmed by a new system of statutes and regulations adopted for the administration of the Colonies, that filled their minds with the most painful fears and jealousies; and, to their inexpressible astonishment, perceived the danger of a foreign quarrel quickly succeeded by domestic danger, in their judgment of a more dreadful kind.''

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why did the Olive Branch Petition get rejected?

The Olive Branch Petition could have been rejected for several reasons. Most apparently, King George III was incensed by the events of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. However, some believe the petition was rejected because it was never even presented to the king.

What happened between the Olive Branch Petition and the Declaration of Independence?

Several important things happened between the sending of the Olive Branch Petition and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Two additional documents were written: the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (by colonies, July 6), and the Proclamation of Rebellion (by Great Britain, August 23). The colonies' militia also took significant action when they initiated an invasion of Quebec (December 31) in an attempt to secure Canada and secure French-Canadian support.

What was the Olive Branch Petition and who wrote it?

The Olive Branch Petition was an attempt by the Second Continental Congress to appease the British crown. It was written by John Dickinson and edited by several other delegates.

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