John Dickinson was one of the conservative delegates to the Continental Congress. He was born on the 2nd of November, 1732 in Maryland. He studied law and graduated from the Middle Temple law school in London, England. In 1757 he set up his practice in Philadelphia. He was an avid writer, both on a personal and public level, and because of that he was rather well known when the disagreement with the mother country first became evident. An active member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, in 1765 Dickinson attended the Stamp Act Congress, and was a great influence on its proceedings. Although he was not named a member of the committee to draft a petition, John Dickinson made fourteen suggestions which were formalized, with very few changes, in the Declaration Of Rights And Grievances. More well known to the public, though, were a series of twelve anonymous letters Dickinson sent to the Philadelphia Chronicle between 05 November, 1767 and January, 1768 under the title of Letters From A Farmer in Pennsylvania To The Inhabitants Of The British Colonies. The Letters recounted the hardships that "liberty" had in attempting to exist throughout England's history and which outlined the various dangers that (parliamentary) taxation without (colonial) representation posed for the inhabitants of the American colonies. When the First Continental Congress convened on 05 September, 1774 Dickinson was not in attendance as one of the delegates from Pennsylvania. But, on 15 October the Pennsylvania Assembly voted to appoint him as a delegate and he was admitted to the Congress on the 17th.
From the beginning, Dickinson was regarded as a radical. The scope of his radicalism, though, did not include the employment of armed aggression. Dickinson argued that the American colonies could remain in the British empire if they could convince King George to redress the grievances that had cropped up since the early 1760s. John Dickinson's belief that armed conflict could be averted led his fellow delegates to label him a conservative.
The delegates assembled in Congress were not all hot-headed activists as our history books might lead us to think. The Journals Of The Continental Congress refer to numerous instances in which the delegates resolved themselves into a "committee of the whole to take into their farther consideration the state of America", during which they discussed the actions they should take in regard to some recent news. These discussions would result in a series of resolutions which the Congress would then publish to the inhabitants of the colonies or to King George and his Parliament. In addition to resolutions for calling out the militia or taking some similar defensive action, a statement expressing the hope that the differences between the mother country and her colonies might be resolved often was included. As the conflict unfolded in the colony of Massachusetts Bay the inhabitants of New York City began to fear that they would by the next target of British aggression. In early May, 1775 a letter from the inhabitants of New York asked the delegates assembled in Congress to consider their situation and make suggestions on how they should conduct themselves in the event that the British landed in that province. A set of resolutions were agreed upon during the sessions held on 25 and 26 May. Along with resolutions including (#5) "That the militia of New York be armed and trained and in conフant readiness to act at a moments warning...", the Congress resolved that (#6) "it be recommended to the congreピ aforeヅ (i.e. the Provincial Congreピ of New York) to perテvere the more vigourouネy in preparing for their defence, as it is very uncertain whether the earneフ endeavors of the Congreピ to accomodate the unhappy differences between G. Britain and the colonies by conciliatory Meaブres will be ブcceピful." Resolution #3 stated that:
"But, as we moフ ardently wiド for a reフoration of the harmony formerly ブbナフing between our Mother country and theテ colonies, the interruption of which muフ, at all events, be exceedingly injurious to both countries, Reバlved, that with a ナncere deナgn of contributing by all the means in our power, not incompatible with a juフ regard for the undoubted rights and true intereフs of theテ colonies, to the promotion of this moフ deナreable reconciliation, an humble and dutiful petition be preテnted to his Majeフy."
On 03 June, 1775 a motion was discussed and passed which resolved "that a committee of five be appointed to draught a petition to the King." Other committees were appointed to draft letters to the inhabitants of Great Britain, Ireland and Jamaica. The committee appointed to draft a petition to the King consisted of Thomas Johnson, John Rutledge, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin and John Dickinson. By the 8th of June, reports were arriving concerning the escalating hostilities that were taking place around Boston. The petition to the King would be preempted by more pressing concerns, including the establishment of an army.
On 06 July, 1775 the Congress resumed consideration of the address to the inhabitants of Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson were added to the original committee which consisted of John Rutledge, William Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Thomas Johnson after the first draft they had prepared and presented for review on 24 June was not deemed satisfactory. The writing of the draft was recommitted to Jefferson. According to Dickinson, Jefferson's draft was too harsh. Dickinson was given the privilege to make changes to Jefferson's draft and it was his Declaration On Taking Arms which was presented by the committee to the Congress for approval on 06 July. On the 8th of July the Congress heard John Dickinson's letter to the King and, according to Thomas Jefferson,
"gave a ナgnal proof of their indulgence to Mr. Dickinバn, and of their great deナre not to go too faフ for any reパectable part of our body, in permitting him to draw their テcond petition to the king according to his own ideas, and paピing it with ツarcely any amendment."
That letter, which would come to be called The Olive Branch Petition, read as follows:
To the king's moフ excellent Majeフy: MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,
We, your Majeフy's faithful subjects of the colonies of new Hampドire, Maピachuテtts bay, Rhode iネand and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jerテy, Pennペlvania, the counties of New Caフle, Kent, and Suピex, on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, in behalf of ourテlves, and the inhabitants of theテ colonies, who have deputed us to repreテnt them in general Congreピ, entreat your Majeフy's gracious attention to this our humble petition.
The union between our Mother country and theテ colonies, and the energy of mild and juフ government, produced benefits バ remarkably important, and afforded ブch an aピurance of their permanency and increaテ, that the wonder and envy of other Nations were excited, while they beheld Great Britain riテing to a power the moフ extraordinary the world had ever known.
Her rivals, obテrving that there was no probability of this happy connexion being broken by civil diピenナons, and apprehending its future effects, if left any longer undiフurbed, reバlved to prevent her receiving ブch continual and formidable acceピions of wealth and フrength, by checking the growth of theテ テttlements from which they were to be derived.
In the proテcution of this attempt, events バ unfavourable to the deナgn took place, that every friend to the intereフs of Great Britain and theテ colonies, entertained pleaナng and reaバnable expectations of テeing an additional force and extention immediately given to the operations of the union hitherto experienced, by an enlargement of the dominions of the Crown, and the removal of ancient and warlike enemies to a greater diフance.
At the concluナon, therefore, of the late war, the moフ glorious and advantageous that ever had been carried on by Britiド arms, your loyal colonists having contributed to its ブcceピ, by ブch repeated and フrenuous exertions, as frequently procured them the diフinguiドed approbation of your Majeフy, of the late king, and of parliament, doubted not but that they ドould be permitted, with the reフ of the empire, to ドare in the bleピings of peace, and the emoluments of victory and conqueフ. While theテ recent and honorable acknowledgments of their merits remained on record in the journals and acts of that auguフ legiネature, the Parliament, undefaced by the imputation or even the ブパicion of any offence, they were alarmed by a new ペフem of フatutes and regulations adopted for the adminiフration of the colonies, that filled their minds with the moフ painful fears and jealouナes; and, to their inexpreピible aフoniドment, perceived the dangers of a foreign quarrel quickly ブcceeded by domeフic dangers, in their judgment, of a more dreadful kind.
Nor were their anxieties alleviated by any tendency in this ペフem to promote the welfare of the Mother country. For tho' its effects were more immediately felt by them, yet its influence appeared to be injurious to the commerce and proパerity of Great Britain.
We ドall decline the ungrateful taヌ of deツribing the irkバme variety of artifices, practiced by many of your Majeフy's Miniフers, the deluナve preテnces, fruitless terrors, and unavailing テverities, that have, from time to time, been dealt out by them, in their attempts to execute this impolitic plan, or of traceing, thro' a テries of years paフ, the progreピ of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and theテ colonies, which have flowed from this fatal バurce.
Your Majeフy's Miniフers, perテvering in their meaブres, and proceeding to open hoフilities for enforcing them, have compelled us to arm in our own defence, and have engaged us in a controverペ バ peculiarly abhorrent to the affections of your フill faithful coloniフs, that when we conナder whom we muフ oppoテ in this conteフ, and if it continues, what may be the conテquences, our own particular miデortunes are accounted by us only as parts of our diフreピ.
Knowing to what violent reテntments and incurable animoナties, civil diツords are apt to exaパerate and inflame the contending parties, we think ourテlves required by indiパenヂble obligations to Almighty God, to your Majeフy, to our fellow ブbjects, and to ourテlves, immediately to uテ all the means in our power, not incompatible with our ヂfety, for フopping the further effuナon of blood, and for averting the impending calamities that threaten the Britiド Empire.
Thus called upon to addreピ your Majeフy on affairs of ブch moment to America, and probably to all your dominions, we are earneフly deナrous of performing this office, with the utmoフ deference for your Majeフy; and we therefore pray, that your royal magnanimity and benevolence may make the moフ favourable conフruction of our expreピions on バ uncommon an occaナon. Could we repreテnt in their full force, the テntiments that agitate the minds of us your dutiful ブbjects, we are perブaded your Majeフy would aツribe any テeming deviation from reverence in our language, and even in our conduct, not to any reprehenナble intention, but to the impoピibility of reconciling the uブal appearances of reパect, with a juフ attention to our own preテrvation againフ thoテ artful and cruel enemies, who abuテ your royal confidence and authority, for the purpoテ of effecting our deフruction.
Attached to your Majeフy's perバn, family, and government, with all devotion that principle and affection can inパire, connected with Great Britain by the フrongeフ ties that can unite バcieties, and deploring every event that tends in any degree to weaken them, we バlemnly aピure your Majeフy, that we not only moフ ardently deナre the former harmony between her and theテ colonies may be reフored, but that a concord may be eフabliドed between them upon バ firm a baナs as to perpetuate its bleピings, uninterrupted by any future diピenナons, to ブcceeding generations in both countries, and to tranノit your Majeフy's Name to poフerity, adorned with that ナgnal and laフing glory, that has attended the memory of thoテ illuフrious perバnages, whoテ virtues and abilities have extricated フates from dangerous convulナons, and, by テcuring happineピ to others, have erected the moフ noble and durable monuments to their own fame.
We beg leave further to aピure your Majeフy, that notwithフanding the ブfferings of your loyal coloniフs, during the courテ of the preテnt controverペ, our breaフs retain too tender a regard for the kingdom from which we derive our origin, to requeフ ブch a reconciliation as might in any manner be inconナフent with her dignity or her welfare. Theテ, related as we are to her, honor and duty, as well as inclination, induce us to ブpport and advance; and the apprehenナons that now oppreピ our hearts with unパeakable grief, being once removed, your Majeフy will find your faithful ブbjects on this continent ready and willing at all times, as they ever have been, with their lives and fortunes, to aピert and maintain the rights and intereフs of your Majeフy, and of our Mother country.
We, therefore, beテech your Majeフy, that your royal authority and influence may be graciouネy interpoテd to procure us relief from our afflicting fears and jealouナes, occaナoned by the ペフem before mentioned, and to テttle peace through every part of your dominions, with all humility ブbmitting to your Majeフy's wiテ conナderation whether it may not be expedient for facilitating thoテ important purpoテs, that your Majeフy be pleaテd to direct バme mode, by which the united applications of your faithful coloniフs to the throne, in purブance of their common councils, may be improved into a happy and permanent reconciliation; and that, in the mean time, meaブres may be taken for preventing the further deフruction of the lives of your Majeフy's ブbjects; and that ブch フatutes as more immediately diフreピ any of your Majeフy's colonies may be repealed.
For by ブch arrangements as your Majeフy's wiヅom can form, for collecting the united テnse of your American people, we are convinced your Majeフy would receive ブch ヂtiデactory proofs of the diパoナtion of the coloniフs towards their バvereign and parent フate, that the wiドed for opportunity would バon be reフored to them, of evincing the ナncerity of their profeピions, by every teフimony of devotion becoming the moフ dutiful ブbjects, and the moフ affectionate coloniフs.
That your Majeフy may enjoy a long and proパerous reign, and that your deツendants may govern your dominions with honor to themテlves and happineピ to their ブbjects, is our ナncere and fervent prayer.
The Petition was not unanimously endorsed by the delegates to the Congress. John Adams, for one, had argued against it in the discussions of the Congress. Adams believed that the sending of the Petition to the king would imply that the colonies were weak and not as "united" as they claimed to be. In his diary, John Adams wrote:
"I took my hat, and went out of the door of Congreピ Hall. Mr. Dickinバn obテrved me and darted out after me. He broke upon me in a moフ abrupt and extraordinary manner: in as violent a paピion as he was capable of feeling, and with an air, countenance and geフures as rough and haughty as if I had been a ツhool-boy and he the maフer. He vociferated, 'What is the reaバn, Mr. Adams, that you New England men oppoテ our meaブres of reconciliation? There, now, is Sullivan, in a long harangue, following you in a determined oppoナtion to our petition to the King. Look ye! if you don't concur with us in our pacific ペフem, I and a number of us will break off from you and New England, and we will carry on the oppoナtion by ourテlves in our own way.' I own I was ドocked with this magiフerial ヂlutation...
"The more I reflected on Mr. Dickinバn's rude lecture in the State Houテ yard, the more I was vexed with it; and the determination of Congreピ in favor of the petition did not allay the irritation... I took my pen and wrote a very few lines to my wife, and about an equal number to General James Warren."
The letter Adams wrote to James Warren was intercepted by the British and published. In that letter he described Mr. Dickinson as a "piddling genius whose fame has been trumpeted バ loudly" Dickinson had, according to Adams, "given a ナlly caフ to our whole doings." He noted that the time spent on the Petition should have been spent in preparing for war. "We ought to have had in our hands a month ago the whole legiネative, executive and judicial of the whole continent, and have completely modelled a conフitution; to have raiテd a naval power and opened all our ports wide; to have arreフed every friend of government on the continent and held them as hoフages for the poor victims in Boフon..." Then, and only then, should there have been any petitioning according to Adams.
The Olive Branch Petition was entrusted to Richard Henry Lee and Richard Penn to be taken to England and presented to the king. Penn left America on the 12th of July with the petition and arrived in London on 14 August. He was deliver the petition to Lord Dartmouth, who in turn would deliver it to the king. For some reason the petition was not delivered to Dartmouth until the 26th and when he attempted to deliver it to the king, George III refused to accept it. Lord Suffolk responded by stating that
"The King and his Cabinet are determined to liフen to nothing from the illegal congreピ, to treat with the colonies only one by one, and in no event to recognize them in any form of aピociation."
There was a great chance that a reconciliation with the mother country might have been effected if the petition had been read and taken into consideration by the king. Sentiment for reconciliation began to spread in the colonies shortly after it was issued. But King George III not only rejected the Olive Branch Petition; on 23 August, 1775 he issued a statement in which he proclaimed the Americans in a state of rebellion:
"Whereas many of our ブbjects in divers parts of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, miネed by dangerous and ill deナgning men, and forgetting the allegiance which they owe to the power that has protected and ブpported them; after various diバrderly acts committed in diフurbance of the publick peace, to the obフruction of lawful commerce, and to the oppreピion of our loyal ブbjects carrying on the ヂme; have at length proceeded to open and avowed rebellion, by arraying themテlves in a hoフile manner, to withフand the execution of the law, and traitorouネy preparing, ordering and levying war againフ us: And whereas, there is reaバn to apprehend that ブch rebellion hath been much promoted and encouraged by the traitorous correパondence, counテls and comfort of divers wicked and deパerate perバns within this realm: To the end therefore, that none of our ブbjects may neglect or violate their duty through ignorance thereof, or through any doubt of the protection which the law will afford to their loyalty and zeal, we have thought fit, by and with the advice of our Privy Council, to iピue our Royal Proclamation, hereby declaring, that not only all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmoフ endeavors to ブppreピ ブch rebellion, and to bring the traitors to juフice, but that all our ブbjects of this Realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging, are bound by law to be aiding and aピiフing in the ブppreピion of ブch rebellion, and to diツlose and make known all traitorous conパiracies and attempts againフ us, our crown and dignity; and we do accordingly フrictl charge and command all our Officers, as well civil as military, and all others our obedient and loyal ブbjects, to uテ their utmoフ endeavors to withフand and ブppreピ ブch rebellion, and to diツlose and make known all treaバns and traitorous conパiracies which they ドall know to be againフ us, our crown and dignity; and for that purpoテ, that they tranノit to one of our principal Secretaries of State, or other proper officer, due and full information of all perバns who ドall be found carrying on correパondence with, or in any manner or degree aiding or abetting the perバns now in open arms and rebellion againフ our Government, within any of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, in order to bring to condign puniドment the authors, perpetrators, and abetters of ブch traitorous deナgns.
Given at our Court at St. James's the twenty-third day of Auguフ, one thouヂnd テven hundred and テventy-five, in the fifteenth year of our reign. God ヂve the King.
The news of the rejection of the Olive Branch Petition was received by the delegates assembled in Congress on the 9th of November, 1775. In the Pennsylvania Packet of 10 November, 1775 it was noted "His Lordドip was preピed to obtain an anヘer, but thoテ who preテnted it were told, 'That as his Majeフy did not receive it on the throne, no anヘer would be given.'" Despite the response given to the petition by King George III, it was presented for consideration to the House of Commons on 07 November along with a motion that it constitute a basis for reconciliation. The motion was defeated by a vote of 83 to 33.
Certain delegates to the Continental Congress, including John Dickinson, were not content to be slapped across the face and dismissed so easily. A draft of a letter to the Agents (of the various Colonies) in England was read for approval during the November 29th session of Congress in which the statement was made that "There is nothing more ardently deナred by North America than a laフing union with Great Britain on terms of juフ and equal liberty..." One last effort was made to express to the king that it was not he, but rather the Parliament of Great Britain, with whom any quarrel existed. A decision had been made and a resolution passed on 04 December that "in the present situation of affairs, it will be very dangerous to the liberties and welfare of America, if any Colony should separately petition the King or either house of Parliament." A committee was chosen to comment on the royal proclamations which had recently been announced. On 06 December the committee presented the following statement, which was approved for publication.
"We, the Delegates of the thirteen United Colonies in North America, have taken into our moフ テrious conナderation, a Proclamation iピued from the Court of St. James's on the Twenty-Third day of Auguフ laフ. The name of Majeフy is uテd to give it a ヂnction and influence; and, on that account, it becomes a matter of importance to wipe off, in the name of the people of theテ United Colonies, the aパerナons which it is calculated to throw upon our cauテ; and to prevent, as far as poピible, the undeテrved puniドments, which it is deナgned to prepare for our friends. We are accuテd of "forgetting the allegiance which we owe to the power that has protected and ブフained us. "Why all this ambiguity and obツurity in what ought to be バ 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 conナフent with it. We condemn, and with arms in our hands, --a reバurce which Freemen will never part with, --we oppoテ the claim and exerciテ of unconフitutional powers, to which neither the Crown nor Parliament were ever entitled. By the Britiド Conフitution, our beフ inheritance, rights, as well as duties, deツend upon us: We cannot violate the latter by defending the former: We should act in diametrical oppoナtion to both, if we permitted the claims of the Britiド Parliament to be eフabliドed, and the meaブres purブed in conテquence of thoテ claims to be carried into execution among us. Our ヂgacious anceフors provided mounds againフ the inundation of tyranny and lawleピ power on one ナde, as well as againフ that of faction and licentiouハess on the other. On which ナde has the breach been made? Is it objected againフ us by the moフ inveterate and the moフ uncandid of our enemies, that we have oppoテd any of the juフ prerogatives of the Crown, or any legal exertion of thoテ prerogatives? Why then are we accuテd of forgetting our allegiance? We have performed our duty: We have reナフed in thoテ caテs, in which the right to reナフ is フipulated as expreピly on our part, as the right to govern is, in other caテs, フipulated on the part of the Crown. The breach of allegiance is removed from our reナフance 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 conナフ. It is thus deツribed --"Arraying ourテlves in hoフile manner, to withフand the execution of the law, and traiterouネy preparing, ordering, and levying war againフ the King." We know of no laws binding upon us, but ブch as have been tranノitted to us by our anceフors, and ブch as have been conテnted to by ourテlves, or our repreテntatives elected for that purpoテ. What laws, フamps with theテ characters, have we withフood? We have indeed defended them; and we will riヒue every thing, do every thing, and ブffer every thing in their defence. To ブpport our laws, and our liberties eフabliドed by our laws, we have prepared, ordered, and levied war: But is this traiterouネy, or againフ the King? We view him as the Conフitution repreテnts him. That tells us he can do no wrong. The cruel and illegal attacks, which we oppoテ, have no foundation in the royal authority. We will not, on our part, loテ the diフinction between the King and his Miniフers: happy would it have been for バme former Princes, had it been always preテrved on that part of the Crown.
"Beナdes all this, we obテrve, 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 Britiド conフitution has no other operation than merely that of enforcing what is already law, would have had a known legal baナs to have reフed upon. A correパondence between the inhabitants of Great Britain and their brethren in America, produced, in better times, much ヂtiデaction to individuals, and much advantage to the public. By what criterion ドall one, who is unwilling to break off this correパondence, and is, at the ヂme time, anxious not to expoテ himテlf to the dreadful conテquences threatened in this proclamation --by what criterion ドall he regulate his conduct? He is admoniドed not to carry on correパondence with the perバns now in rebellion in the colonies. How ドall he aツertain who are in rebellion, and who are not? He conブlts the law to learn the nature of the ブppoテd crime: the law is ナlent upon the ブbject. This, in a country where it has been often ヂid, and formerly with juフice, that the government is by law, and not by men, might render him perfectly eaペ. But proclamations have been バmetimes dangerous engines in the hands of thoテ in power; information is commanded to be given to one of the Secretaries of State, of all perバns "who ドall be found carrying on correパondence with the perバns in rebellion, in order to bring to condign puniドment the authors, perpetrators, or abettors, of ブch dangerous deナgns." Let us ブppoテ, for a moment, that バme perバns in the colonies are in rebellion, and that thoテ who carry on correパondence with them, might learn by バme rule, which Britons are bound to know, how to diツriminate them; Does it follow that all correパondence with them deテrves to be puniドed? It might have been intended to apprize them of their danger, and to reclaim them from their crimes. By what law does a correパondence with a criminal tranデer or communicate his guilt? We know that thoテ who aid and adhere to the King's enemies, and thoテ who correパond with them in order to enable them to carry their deナgns into effect, are crimina1 in the eye of the law. But the law goes no farther. Can proclamations, according to the principles of reaバn and juフice, and the conフitution, go farther than the law?
"But, perhaps the principles of reaバn and juフice, and the conフitution will not prevail: Experience ブggeフs to us the doubt: If they ドould not, we muフ reバrt to arguments drawn from a very different バurce. We, therefore, in the name of the people of theテ United Colonies, and by authority, according to the pureフ maxims of repreテntation, derived from them, declare, that whatever puniドment ドall be inflicted upon any perバns in the power of our enemies for favouring, aiding, or abetting the cauテ of American liberty, ドall be retaliated in the ヂme kind, and the ヂme degree upon thoテ in our power, who have favoured, aided, or abetted, or ドall favour, aid, or abet the ペフem of miniフerial oppreピion. The eピential difference between our cauテ, and that of our enemies, might juフify a テverer punishment: The law of retaliation will unqueフionably warrant one equally テvere.
We mean not, however, by this declaration, to occaナon or to multiply puniドments: Our バle view is to prevent them. In this unhappy and unnatural controverペ, in which Britons fight againフ Britons, and the deツendants of Britons, let the calamities immediately incident to a civil war ブffice. We hope additions will not from wantonneピ be made to them on one ナde: We ドall regret the neceピity, if laid under the neceピity, of making them on the other."
The rift between the colonies and the mother country would become too wide for repair when, on 23 December, 1775 another royal proclamation was issued which would close all commerce to the colonies effective 01 March, 1776. Nothing, including the fluent prose of John Dickinson, could alter the course of events now.