Committee formation in early American legislatures happened when those assemblies were inundated with petitions, a relationship unexamined in institutional political science. We develop a model where a floor creates committees to respond to topic-specific petitions, predicting committee creation when petitions (1) are topically specific, (2) are spread across constituencies, and (3) have complex subject matter, and predicting committee appointments from petition-heavy constituencies. Analysis of case studies and with two original datasets – petitions sent to the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1766 to 1769, and over 100,000 petitions sent to Congress and recorded in the House Journal (1789-1875) – shows petitions, their complexity and their geographic dispersion predict committee creation. Our theoretical argument embeds asset specificity in legislative institutions, and helps reinterpret the entropy of political agendas and the origins of standing committees in American legislatures.
For much of American political history, the electoral franchise was restricted to only a portion of the population. By contrast, the right to petition was considered universal and enshrined in the First Amendment, giving voice to the voteless. Petitioning thus served as a fundamental mechanism of representation. Still, fundamental questions remain: How was petitioning used, how did Congress respond to petitions, and did the petition allow for partial representation of the marginalized and unenfranchised? We address these questions by analyzing the Congressional Petitions Database (CPD), an original endeavor tracking virtually every petition introduced to Congress from 1789 to 1949. Our analyses document how (1) two important groups of unenfranchised constituents—Native Americans and women—petitioned regularly and (2) Congress's initial treatment of Natives' and women's petitions was similar to that of all others, thus offering systematic evidence highlighting the petition's role as a mechanism for representation among otherwise unenfranchised groups.
We introduce the Congressional Petitions Database (CPD), an original endeavor tracking virtually every petition introduced to Congress from 1789 to 1949. Exploiting Congress’s ritual reading of petition prayers, we leverage a supervised machine learning algorithm to create a database comprising over 537,000 petitions. For each petition we code the prayer and its subject matter, geographic origin, initial disposition and other information. Initial analyses suggest that (1) per-capita petitioning peaked nationwide in the mid- and late-nineteenth century and remained at higher levels until World War I, declining appreciably thereafter; (2) the South exhibits lower petitioning from 1802 to 1870 (but not before 1800), cratering in the 1840s through 1860s and again later in the Jim Crow Era; and (3) the unenfranchised petitioned regularly and their petitions were afforded process similar to all others. The CPD will be useful for studies of legislative development, social movements, interest group advocacy, federalism and sectionalism.
Après un demi-siècle de critique presque continuelle, les organes qui composent l’État fédéral aux États-Unis souffrent aujourd’hui d’un profond malaise en termes de réputation. La loyauté des citoyens, les marques de respect social, l’attractivité en ce qui concerne le recrutement de jeunes fonctionnaires, tous ces éléments positifs de la relation des Américains à l’État fédéral semblent disparaitre. En même temps, on constate que certaines agences fédérales jouissent d’une meilleure réputation que d’autres. Pendant un moment, au cours de la crise financière et économique de 2007-2008, certaines d’entre elles ont même bénéficié d’un regain de popularité. Quelles leçons pouvons-nous tirer de cette évolution ? En ce qui concerne la période actuelle, faut-il s’attendre à une renaissance des attentes du citoyen à leur égard, ou même une réaction dudeep stateface aux critiques des tenants de M. Bannon et du Président Trump ? Ou bien la société américaine est-elle condamnée à la constante détérioration de l’image des organisations qui composent l’État fédéral ? Le présent article montre que la défiance des citoyens américains à l’encontre de l’État est profondément ancrée dans une société marquée par les clivages partisans et une longue tradition de dénigrement.
As much as any other site in the nineteenth century, Francophone Lower Canada saw immense waves of popular petitioning, with petitions against British colonial administration attracting tens of thousands of signatures in the 1820s. The petition against Governor Dalhousie of 1827–28 attracted more than 87,000 names, making it one of the largest mass petitions of the Atlantic world on a per-capita scale for its time. We draw upon new archival evidence that shows the force of local organization in the petition mobilization, and combine this with statistical analyses of a new sample of 1,864 names from the anti-Dalhousie signatory list. We conclude that the Lower Canadian petitioning surge stemmed from emergent linguistic nationalism, expectations of parliamentary democracy, and the mobilization and alliance-building efforts of Patriote leaders in the French-Canadian republican movement. As elsewhere in the nineteenth-century Atlantic, the anti-Dalhousie effort shows social movements harnessing petitions to recruit, mobilize, and build cross-cultural alliances.
The American woman suffrage movement remade the U.S. Constitution and effected the broadest expansion of voting eligibility in the nation's history. Yet it did more than change laws and citizenship. It also plausibly shaped participatory patterns before and after the winning of voting rights for women. Drawing upon the idea of formative practice and reporting on a range of historical materials—including an original data set of 2,157 petitions sent to the U.S. Congress from 1874 to 1920 concerning women's voting rights—we focus on woman suffrage petitioning as both presaging the practice of voting and, in a sense, preparing tens of thousands of women for that activity. Our analyses reveal that, before 1920, suffrage petitioning activity was heightened in general and midterm election years (especially among Republican-leaning constituencies), suffrage petitioning both enabled and reflected organization in critical western states, and that post-suffrage women's turnout was immediately and significantly higher in states with greater pre-suffrage petitioning (controlling for a range of political, organizational, and demographic variables). In its claims, symbolism, habits, and temporality, suffrage petitioning differed from other petitioning in American political development and marked a formative practice for women on their way to voting.
Petition canvassers are political recruiters. Building upon the rational prospector model, we theorize that rational recruiting strategies are dynamic (Bayesian and time‐conscious), spatial (constrained by geography), and social (conditioned on relations between canvasser and prospect). Our theory predicts that canvassers will exhibit homophily in their canvassing preferences and will alternate between “door‐to‐door” and “attractor” (working in a central location) strategies based upon systematic geographical variation. They will adjust their strategies midstream (mid‐petition) based upon experience. Introducing methods to analyze canvassing data, we test these hypotheses on geocoded signatory lists from two petition drives—a 2005–6 anti–Iraq War initiative in Wisconsin and an 1839 antislavery campaign in New York City. Canvassers in these campaigns exhibited homophily to the point of following geographically and politically “inefficient” paths. In the aggregate, these patterns may exacerbate political inequality, limiting political involvement of the poorer and less educated.
Why do petitions flourish when they are often denied if not ignored by the sovereigns who receive them? When activists seek to build political organizations in network-rich but information-poor environments, petitioning as institutional technology facilitates recruitment. A petition’s signatory list identifies and locates individuals sympathetic to its prayer and expresses to other citizens who and how many agree with the prayer. Three historical moments—the explosion of antislavery petitioning in the antebellum United States, the emergence of Protestantism in sixteenth-century France, and England’s suppression of petitioning after the Restoration Settlement of 1660—provide vivid demonstrations of the theory. A recruitment-based theory implies that petition drives mobilize as much as they express, that well-established groups and parties petition less frequently, and that the most important readers of a petition are those asked to sign it. The petition’s recruitment function complements, but also transforms, its function of messaging the sovereign. Contemporary digital petitioning both routinizes and takes its force from the petition’s embedded recruitment technology.