The Second Continental Congress, gathering in May of 1775 on the heels of the opening shots of the American Revolution, was pretty strongly divided. A small contingent of delegates favored separation from England, while the larger body wanted to make every attempt to put off war and reconcile to the Crown. The majority was led by John Dickinson (shown here), one the wealthiest and most respected men in the Colonies who, despite his many writings in favor of independence, still desired peace above war.
John Adams, who also held Dickinson in high regard, vehemently disagreed with his “pacifist” stance, and said so in a strongly worded letter to a friend. The letter, which also condemned the British government and endorsed war with England, was intercepted by the British and published in a bunch of newspapers. Needless to say, Adams probably felt like he had just defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, as friend and foe alike sought to distance themselves from the patriot.
As a result, a sheepish minority in the Congress gave way to Dickinson, who crafted The Humble Petition (aka The Olive Branch Petition). In it, the Colonists stated their desire to negotiate trade regulations, tariffs, and taxes with England, rather than having them dictated from afar. Dickinson believed that, even with taxation, if the Colonists had a say in the legislation, their desire for “Taxation with Representation” could be achieved.
Furthermore, the delegates believed that sending the Petition to England on the heels of the British defeat at Lexington and Concord just eight weeks prior might add a little extra incentive to the King. The first draft, written by Thomas Jefferson, was considered a little too strongly worded, so Dickinson rewrote most of it himself. It was submitted by the Congress to the King on July 8, 1775, having been drafted and approved three days prior.
Of course, the Petition required six weeks to travel to England. When it finally arrived, King George III refused to even open the Petition. Having gotten wind of Adams’ letter and hearing of the actions the Colonists, he pronounced the Colonies in a state of rebellion.
The road to full-blown Revolution in America had now been trod, and the majority in the Congress now recognized that reconciliation was all but impossible.
Recommended Reading: A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic