Congress' response to King George's rejecting the Olive Branch Petition

Olive Branch Petition

After King George refused to receive the united colonies' petition for peace, known as the Olive Branch Petition, the Americans were deeply angered. Their delegates in Congress sent this response to him, but it didn't change the king's mind either. They tried to avert the Revolutionary War, but because of the king's stubbornness, they were forced to make their Declaration of Independence less than a year later.

"We, the Delegates of the thirteen United Colonies in North America, have taken into our moƒt ƒerious conƒideration, a Proclamation iƒsued from the Court of St. James's on the Twenty-Third day of Auguƒt laƒt. The name of Majeƒty is uƒed to give it a ƒanction and influence; and, on that account, it becomes a matter of importance to wipe off, in the name of the people of theƒe United Colonies, the aƒperƒions which it is calculated to throw upon our cauƒe; and to prevent, as far as poƒsible, the undeƒerved puniƒhments, which it is deƒigned to prepare for our friends. We are accuƒed of "forgetting the allegiance which we owe to the power that has protected and ƒuƒtained us." Why all this ambiguity and obƒcurity in what ought to be ƒo plain and obvious, as that he who runs may read it? What allegiance is it that we forget? Allegiance to Parliament? We never owed --we never owned it. Allegiance to our King? Our words have ever avowed it, --our conduct has ever been conƒiƒtent with it. We condemn, and with arms in our hands, --a reƒource which Freemen will never part with, --we oppoƒe the claim and exerciƒe of unconƒtitutional powers, to which neither the Crown nor Parliament were ever entitled. By the Britiƒh Conƒtitution, our beƒt inheritance, rights, as well as duties, deƒcend upon us: We cannot violate the latter by defending the former: We should act in diametrical oppoƒition to both, if we permitted the claims of the Britiƒh Parliament to be eƒtabliƒhed, and the meaƒures purƒued in conƒequence of thoƒe claims to be carried into execution among us. Our ƒagacious anceƒtors provided mounds againƒt the inundation of tyranny and lawleƒs power on one ƒide, as well as againƒt that of faction and licentiouƒness on the other. On which ƒide has the breach been made? Is it objected againƒt us by the moƒt inveterate and the moƒt uncandid of our enemies, that we have oppoƒed any of the juƒt prerogatives of the Crown, or any legal exertion of thoƒe prerogatives? Why then are we accuƒed of forgetting our allegiance? We have performed our duty: We have reƒiƒted in thoƒe caƒes, in which the right to reƒiƒt is ƒtipulated as expreƒsly on our part, as the right to govern is, in other caƒes, ƒtipulated on the part of the Crown. The breach of allegiance is removed from our reƒiƒtance as far as tyranny is removed from legal government. It is alledged, that "we have proceeded to an open and avowed rebellion." In what does this rebellion conƒiƒt. It is thus deƒcribed --"Arraying ourƒelves in hoƒtile manner, to withƒtand the execution of the law, and traiterouƒly preparing, ordering, and levying war againƒt the King." We know of no laws binding upon us, but ƒuch as have been tranƒmitted to us by our anceƒtors, and ƒuch as have been conƒented to by ourƒelves, or our repreƒentatives elected for that purpoƒe. What laws, ƒtamps with theƒe characters, have we withƒtood? We have indeed defended them; and we will riƒque every thing, do every thing, and ƒuffer every thing in their defence. To ƒupport our laws, and our liberties eƒtabliƒhed by our laws, we have prepared, ordered, and levied war: But is this traiterouƒly, or againƒt the King? We view him as the Conƒtitution repreƒents him. That tells us he can do no wrong. The cruel and illegal attacks, which we oppoƒe, have no foundation in the royal authority. We will not, on our part, loƒe the diƒtinction between the King and his Miniƒters: happy would it have been for ƒome former Princes, had it been always preƒerved on that part of the Crown.

Beƒides all this, we obƒerve, on this part of the proclamation, that "rebellion" is a term undefined and unknown in the law; it might have been expected that a proclamation, which by the Britiƒh conƒtitution has no other operation than merely that of enforcing what is already law, would have had a known legal baƒis to have reƒted upon. A correƒpondence between the inhabitants of Great Britain and their brethren in America, produced, in better times, much ƒatiƒfaction to individuals, and much advantage to the public. By what criterion ƒhall one, who is unwilling to break off this correƒpondence, and is, at the ƒame time, anxious not to expoƒe himƒelf to the dreadful conƒequences threatened in this proclamation --by what criterion ƒhall he regulate his conduct? He is admoniƒhed not to carry on correƒpondence with the perƒons now in rebellion in the colonies. How ƒhall he aƒcertain who are in rebellion, and who are not? He conƒults the law to learn the nature of the ƒuppoƒed crime: the law is ƒilent upon the ƒubject. This, in a country where it has been often ƒaid, and formerly with juƒtice, that the government is by law, and not by men, might render him perfectly eaƒy. But proclamations have been ƒometimes dangerous engines in the hands of thoƒe in power; information is commanded to be given to one of the Secretaries of State, of all perƒons "who ƒhall be found carrying on correƒpondence with the perƒons in rebellion, in order to bring to condign puniƒhment the authors, perpetrators, or abettors, of ƒuch dangerous deƒigns." Let us ƒuppoƒe, for a moment, that ƒome perƒons in the colonies are in rebellion, and that thoƒe who carry on correƒpondence with them, might learn by ƒome rule, which Britons are bound to know, how to diƒcriminate them; Does it follow that all correƒpondence with them deƒerves to be puniƒhed? It might have been intended to apprize them of their danger, and to reclaim them from their crimes. By what law does a correƒpondence with a criminal tranƒfer or communicate his guilt? We know that thoƒe who aid and adhere to the King's enemies, and thoƒe who correƒpond with them in order to enable them to carry their deƒigns into effect, are crimina1 in the eye of the law. But the law goes no farther. Can proclamations, according to the principles of reaƒon and juƒtice, and the conƒtitution, go farther than the law?

But, perhaps the principles of reaƒon and juƒtice, and the conƒtitution will not prevail: Experience ƒuggeƒts to us the doubt: If they ƒhould not, we muƒt reƒort to arguments drawn from a very different ƒource. We, therefore, in the name of the people of theƒe United Colonies, and by authority, according to the pureƒt maxims of repreƒentation, derived from them, declare, that whatever puniƒhment ƒhall be inflicted upon any perƒons in the power of our enemies for favouring, aiding, or abetting the cauƒe of American liberty, ƒhall be retaliated in the ƒame kind, and the ƒame degree upon thoƒe in our power, who have favoured, aided, or abetted, or ƒhall favour, aid, or abet the ƒyƒtem of miniƒterial oppreƒsion. The eƒsential difference between our cauƒe, and that of our enemies, might juƒtify a ƒeverer punishment: The law of retaliation will unqueƒtionably warrant one equally ƒevere.

We mean not, however, by this declaration, to occaƒion or to multiply puniƒhments: Our ƒole view is to prevent them. In this unhappy and unnatural controverƒy, in which Britons fight againƒt Britons, and the deƒcendants of Britons, let the calamities immediately incident to a civil war ƒuffice. We hope additions will not from wantonneƒs be made to them on one ƒide: We ƒhall regret the neceƒsity, if laid under the neceƒsity, of making them on the other."

Extract from the Minutes,

Charles Thomson, Sec.

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