After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, the British imposed a series of 11 acts that were designed to force the American colonists to pay off their huge war debts. Several of those acts were imposed to force the colonists to accept British authority and hopefully quell the growing tension and protests among the colonists.
On April 5, 1764, the British imposed the Sugar Act.
On September 1, 1764, the British imposed the Currency Act.
On March 22, 1765, the British imposed the Stamp Act.
On March 24, 1765, the British imposed the Quartering Act.
On March 18, 1766, the British imposed the Declaratory Act.
On June 29, 1767, the British imposed the Townsend Revenue Act.
On May 10, 1773, the British imposed the Tea Act.
On March 31, 1774, the British imposed the Boston Port Act, the first of the Intolerable Acts.
On May 20, 1774, the British imposed the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act, both part of the Intolerable Acts.
On June 2, 1774, the British imposed another Quartering Act, part of the Intolerable Acts.
On June 22, 1774, the British imposed the Quebec Act, one of the Intolerable Acts.
By 1775, relations between the American colonies and British crown were so strained that it appeared conflict was eminent.
On April 19, 1775, that conflict came to fruition with the ‘shot heard around the world.’ Alarms were sounded in Lexington before dawn, summoning the Minutemen and any other willing patriot. By the time the British troops arrived, Minuteman Captain John Parker had managed to assemble about 70 militias on the common green of the Lexington.
The British were led by Major John Pitcairn, who ordered the Minutemen to disperse. The tension was at the breaking point as silence loomed across the green. Eventually, the Minutemen, realizing they were outnumbered 10 to 1, began to withdraw from the green when suddenly a shot rang out.
No one knows who fired the shot, but once it rang out, the green was filled with a thick cloud of musket smoke. The skirmish didn’t last long, but when the smoke wafted off the green, the Minutemen suffered 8 dead and 10 wounded. The British suffered 1 injury.
That initial shot has long been referred to as the shot heard around the world as it was the shot that launched the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. Before the war ended, it also involved France and Spain.
But a number of delegates in the Continental Congress didn’t want war with Great Britain. They held out hope that a peaceful resolution could be achieved through diplomacy and that with the right approach, King George III could be persuaded to ease up on the American colonies.
It was decided to write a petition to the King. Thomas Jefferson penned the first rough draft of the petition, but his draft was too caustic and probably would have incited all-out war instead of peace. Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson was recruited to re-write the petition to the King.
Dickinson had previously written the Declaration of Rights and Grievances in October 1774. He had also gained fame for his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British Colonies.
On this day, July 5, 1775, the Continental Congress approved the Olive Branch Petition and signed their names to it. While the petition was considered the last hope to prevent war with Great Britain, it was written in such a way as to nullify itself and almost seal the deal for war.
One source pointed out the flawed logic of the petition, writing:
“In fact, the Olive Branch Petition has an odd irrelevance about it, and raises questions about its sincerity. For the Continental Congress to say that it would pledge allegiance to the King while rejecting Parliament’s authority to do anything in the colonies was a bit like asking the King to denounce Parliament. The weakness of the logic could not have escaped the notice of sharp minds at Philadelphia, and leaves the impression that there was a public relations purpose in its drafting because Congress then stated that it was not interested in independence but would nevertheless continue to resist the current British policy in America.”
John Adams also wrote about the paradox of the Olive Branch Petition:
“These opinions of some colonies which are founded I think in their wishes and passions, their hopes and fears, rather than in reason and evidence will give a whimsical cast to the proceedings of this Congress. You will see a strange oscillation between love and hatred, between war and peace – Preparations for war and negotiations for peace. We must have a petition to the King and a delicate proposal of negotiations, etc. This negotiation I dread like death: But it must be proposed. We can’t avoid it. Discord and disunion would be the certain effect of a resolute refusal to petition and negotiate. My hopes are that Ministry will be afraid of negotiation as well as we and therefore refuse it. If they agree to it, we shall have occasion for all our wit vigilance and virtue to avoid being deceived, wheedled threatened or bribed out of freedom. If we strenuously insist upon our liberties, as I hope and am pretty sure we shall however, a negotiation, if agreed to, will terminate in nothing. It will effect nothing. We may possibly gain time and powder and arms…”
Richard Penn and Arthur Lee arrived in Great Britain in August 1775 to deliver the petition to King George III. However, before the petition was delivered, the King had already issued a Proclamation of Rebellion against the colonies.
On October 27, 1775, King George III addressed Parliament and formally refused the terms of the Olive Branch Petition.
Sources for the above includes: Olive Branch Petition; Today, April 19, 1775: The Shot Heard Around the World Was Fired; Today, July 2, 1776: America’s Real Independence Day; Declaration of Rights and Grievances; The Olive Branch Petition, 1775; United States Passes Export Control Act; Olive Branch Petition; The Olive Branch Petition; What Was the Olive Branch Petition?;