Petitions to government to redress grievances were recognized by the Magna Carta. Petitioning for Redress is by its nature a complaint against the government. The right to Petition for Redress of Grievances has been an accepted principle of free government since the 1200’s and validated by the English Bill of Rights 1689 saying, “That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.” A tradition developed in England that Parliament would respond to petitions with investigation, legislation and redress.
Petitioning for Redress of Grievances in the American Colonies
In the American Colonies, petitioning became the act of submitting grievances to local legislative assemblies. By the early eighteenth century, Americans submitted a wide range of petitions to the locally elected houses of assembly. Colonial petitions addressed a wide range of public and private subjects including religion and the established church, slavery, relations with Great Britain, debt (public and private), taxes, government structure, divorce, appeals from judicial decisions, and naturalization. Petitions frequently set the legislative agenda in the colonies and resulted in laws being passed.
The Right to Petition was not limited to voters, whom at the time generally were male property owners. Petitions were submitted by women, children and slaves. The elected bodies of the colonies understood their duty was to entertain the petitions of all. This was the background of petitioning when the Declaration of Independence was drafted.
Petitions for Redress of Grievances Today
Today, the right to Petition the government for Redress of Grievances is no longer practiced. People believe that just voting is enough to get their voices heard, leading to disappointment. Politicians no longer have petitions and discourse to guide them, leading an overreliance on polling. Petitions for Redress are a formal, powerful way to influence the government and should be practiced regularly. It can be argued that the lack of petitions, and hence the true voice of the people, is a primary reason for many of the complaints of a government no longer willing to listen to the people.
“When the government fears the people, it is liberty.
When the people fear the government, it is tyranny.”
– Thomas Jefferson