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The Right to Petition the Government – 03-05-21 Download

00:58 Download March 5th

On todays episode, Don and Joanne talk about the First Amendments Right to Petition the Government.

The history and meaning of the First Amendment right to petition can be traced through several historical events:

Magna Carta, 1215. At the demand of feudal barons, King John of England set his seal on a document that stated a king was subject to the rule of law, that “free men” had certain rights, and that a king could be defied by his barons if he failed to respect those rights. The Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) represents an early form of petition in protest against grievances.

Petition of Right, 1628. The English Parliament complained in a petition to King Charles I that he had violated several laws. Issues at stake included taxation without Parliament’s consent, jailing people without cause, forcing subjects to house soldiers, and maintaining martial law in peacetime. In some of these demands we can see similarities to what American colonists would later demand.

Declaration of Independence, 1776. Not a petition but an announcement of separation from Great Britain, the famous document nonetheless noted after listing many tyrannical abuses that “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

First Amendment to the Constitution, 1791. Guaranteed the right of the people to petition the government. The First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

John Quincy Adams’s antislavery petitions, 1837. Because Southern members of Congress objected to any questioning of the practice slavery, Congress passed a “gag rule” in 1836 to prevent debate on the topic. Adams, an abolitionist, said the rule violated the First Amendment. Insisting that anyone, slaves included, could petition Congress, and he persisted in presenting antislavery petitions until the rule was rescinded.

Women’s suffrage petitions, 1866. An early effort to establish women’s right to vote, these petitions to Congress for “universal suffrage” were signed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among other feminist leaders. It would take until 1920 for the right to be guaranteed by the 19th Amendment. SOURCE

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