The First Modification protects 5 distinct freedoms: non secular freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of meeting, and freedom to petition. When requested to listing these freedoms, most college students omit the final, as a result of it’s so little regarded in our personal time compared with the others. In antebellum America, nonetheless, the best to petition was as soon as among the many most controversial of those protected freedoms, as a result of it was a political proper belonging to all of the folks—and never merely to voters. Petitions allowed even the disenfranchised to take part within the political system; as a result of petitions have been explicitly linked to the “redress of grievances,” they carried an innate recognition that nonvoters had pursuits and even rights that the federal government was obligated to respect. As a result of petitions have been additionally by nature a comparatively passive technique of political engagement (and have been typically couched within the language of “requests” for consideration or privilege somewhat than “calls for” of rights), they have been additionally thought-about to be an ideal car for ladies’s political expression.
Till the 1820s, ladies’s petitions have been mostly directed at state and native governments, however the situation of Indian removing underneath Andrew Jackson’s administration impressed reformers like Catharine Beecher to show their efforts to petitioning Congress. Beecher was recruited by Jeremiah Evarts, the secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Overseas Missions (ABCFM), to draft an enchantment to the ladies of America on behalf of the Cherokee and different southeastern tribes. The letter was what is called a “round” as a result of it was meant to be circulated amongst Beecher’s associates after which forwarded to their circles of affect, and so forth.
Beecher argued that as a result of ladies have been the normal keepers of personal (and by extension, public) morality, they’d an obligation to talk towards the injustice being executed by the federal government. Sagely, she urged ladies to counsel their political representatives to uphold what was proper as a matter of their very own self-interest. Just like the Biblical heroine Esther, she argued that if American ladies hesitated to take up the reason for the oppressed, they’d be justly topic to divine punishment. By talking, in distinction, even within the unprecedented nationwide discussion board of petitioning Congress, they may but make sure that they and their family members “could also be saved from the terrible curses denounced on all who oppress the poor and needy, by Him, whose anger is to be dreaded greater than the wrath of man.”
As with earlier petitions to state and native governments, these impressed by Beecher’s Round have been comparatively cautious in asserting a task for ladies in public discourse, framing all criticism by way of conventional gender roles and a female responsibility to see to the wants of the poor and oppressed. Girls continued to petition on the federal stage all through the following decade, making use of an identical logic to the odious topic of slavery.
A very hanging instance of the connection between freedom of petition and the rights of the disenfranchised occurred after Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, talks of annexation instantly adopted, however have been slowed by present treaties with Mexico. Throughout Congress’ first collection of debates over the annexation of Texas in 1838, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) tried to current petitions signed by roughly 4 hundred ladies from Massachusetts towards the admission of one other slave state. One other congressman commented that he “thought-about it discreditable” for ladies to aim to increase their political affect past their very own households. Adams—whose mom had famously urged that the brand new nation ‘keep in mind the women’ when carving out protections for private rights and freedoms—refused to let such a remark stand. Over the following three weeks, he delivered a collection of speeches addressing the query of ladies’s position in political life. Weaving collectively examples from the traditional world to the American Revolution, Adams’ argument highlights ladies’s important public position in republican societies, as voices within the mixture of democratic discussions, shaping coverage even with out formal electoral privileges.
Learn extra about ladies’s casual political activism via the facility of petition in these paperwork from our forthcoming assortment on Gender and Equality:
[Catharine Beecher], CIRCULAR: Addressed to Benevolent Women of the US (December 1829)
John Quincy Adams, “The Proper of the Folks, Males and Girls, to Petition,” June 16–July 7, 1838