The Evolution of Petitioning in Europe and North America, 1850-2000

Richard Huzzey, Henry Miller

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Petitioning was a ubiquitous practice in twentieth-century North America and Europe, but has often appeared invisible to historians and social scientists, or only cited incidentally in classic studies such as Almond and Verba (1963). This neglect stems from the trend, evident across many polities, away from petitioning national legislatures, where petitions were frequently recorded as part of formal institutional ‘petitions systems’, to petitioners appealing to other authorities, which were often unrecorded. Petitioning also mutated and was partly superseded into related forms, such as referendums triggered by signatures or mass letter-writing to political leaders and representatives. Even so, petitions were evident in a diverse range of different contexts – within protest movements, authoritarian and autocratic regimes, and during wartime – that testifies to their ubiquity and significance across many polities. The proliferation of international institutions such as the League of Nations and United Nations provided a further avenue for petitioners, particularly stateless peoples, refugees, and peoples seeking national self-determination or independence from colonial rule. High profile attempts to bring together civil society and citizens across borders behind global petitions, such as Jubilee 2000, provide another example of the importance of petitioning for the modern repertoire of campaigning within democratic societies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPetitions and Petitioning in Europe and North America: From the Late Medieval Period to the Present
EditorsRichard Huzzey, Maartje Janse, Henry Miller, Joris Oddens, Brodie Waddell
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press/ British Academy
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780197267721
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2024

Publication series

NameProceedings of the British Academy
PublisherOxford University Press/ British Academy

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