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This Day in History: King George III rejects the Olive Branch Petition

On this day in 1775, King George III formally receives an Olive Branch petition from the American colonies.

King George III, by Johan Joseph Zoffany

The Olive Branch Petition had been adopted by the Continental Congress mere weeks earlier, on July 5, 1775. Does the date sound familiar? It’s very close to another one that you are used to hearing, of course. Congressional delegates would end up adopting a Declaration of Independence almost exactly one year later, on July 4, 1776. But on this day in 1775, congressional delegates were still trying to figure out what to do. Some, like John Adams, thought that war was inevitable; however, the majority of Congress voted to give reconciliation a try. Thus, an Olive Branch petition was approved, then signed on July 8.

Notably, the petition blamed Parliament, not the King, for the problems between England and the colonies. The colonists spoke of themselves as “your majesty's faithful subjects” and expressed hope and confidence that the King would act to grant relief.

A copy of that petition arrived in London in mid-August. It was formally presented to the King on September 1. The King did not believe the colonists were sincere, however. He’d already issued a proclamation declaring the colonies to be in “open and avowed rebellion,” and he refused to even look at the petition.

The petition is a remarkable contrast to the Declaration of Independence, approved only a year later. The mindset of the colonists’ had changed drastically in just 12 short months. In the Petition, the colonists called themselves “subjects” and expressed hope that the King would help. In the Declaration, they blasted the King for “an absolute Tyranny over these States.” They concluded:

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America . . . solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”

It’s hard to hear that last sentence without a hearty “Amen!” -- isn’t it?!

P.S. The picture is of King George III.

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