Violence vs. Reconciliation: The Continental Congress Explains the War

After the outbreak of armed conflict between British soldiers and American colonial troops, the Second Continental Congress struggled to agree on how best to proceed. While most of the delegates were not leaning toward independence (though they would be within a year), there were delegates who saw the colonists’ military action as justified, paving the way toward a wider war and, eventually, independence.  However there were also delegates who were eager to reconcile with Britain and put the fighting behind them.

In framing a response to the British government concerning the growing conflict, delegates produced two messages. One was belligerent–an explanation of “The Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms.” A second message, which became known as the “Olive Branch Petition,” was much less provocative. The first, more belligerent document, was the one noticed by the British government, leading King George III to declare the colonies in a state of open rebellion.

The Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms

The Olive Branch Petition

Questions for consideration:

  1. How did the the Continental Congress justify their military action against the British?
  2. What mention, if any, is made of idea of independence for the colonies in either of these documents?
  3. Whose fault is the fighting, according to each document? Cite specific portions which discuss this?
  4. Using specific examples from them, describe the difference in tone between these two documents.
  5. Which of these two documents do you find more effective and why?