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The Olive Branch Petition Many Americans pinned their hopes for peace on King George. In July 1775, the Second Continental Congress sent a petition to George III asking him to end the quarrel. John Adams called the petition an “olive branch.” Olive tree branches are an ancient symbol of peace.
By the time the petition reached London, however, the king had declared the colonies to be in “open and avowed Rebellion.” He ordered his ministers “to bring the Traitors to Justice.”
Being called a traitor was enough to change the mind of one of Washington’s generals. The general confessed that he had long “looked with some degree of horror on the scheme of separation.” Now he agreed with Patrick Henry that colonists “must be Independent or Slaves.”
Common Sense Many colonists, however, still looked with horror at the idea of independence. Then, early in 1776, a Patriot named Thomas Paine published a fiery pamphlet entitled Common Sense. Paine scoffed at the idea that Americans owed any loyalty to King George. “Of more worth is one honest man to society,” he wrote, “than all the crowned ruffians who ever lived.”
Paine also attacked the argument that the colonies’ ties to Great Britain had benefited Americans. Just the opposite was true, he said. American trade had suffered under British control. Americans had also been hurt by being dragged into Great Britain’s European wars.
Paine ended with a vision of an independent America as a homeland of liberty. “Ye that love mankind!” he urged. “Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! . . . The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth.”
Within a few months, more than 120,000 copies of Common Sense were printed in the colonies. Paine’s arguments helped persuade thousands of colonists that independence was not only sensible, but that it was the key to a brighter future.