First Amendment: Freedom of Petition (1791)

Individuals have the right to petition the government in order to express their views and ask for change. The Founders brought with them a strong tradition of petitioning government in the face of tyranny: The Magna Carta included limited protection for petitioning, and the Petition of Right reminded the King that he was not above the law. Founders like John Dickinson urged the colonists to petition the British Crown rather than separate from England. The Declaration of Independence charged the king with ignoring those petitions: “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.”

Throughout American history, citizens have exercised and fought for this First Amendment right. John Quincy Adams fought for years to convince Congress to repeal the Gag Rule and hear thousands of anti-slavery petitions. Historical leaders including Angelina Grimke, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King, Jr. encouraged citizens to petition government to expand political and civil rights. Petitioning government is a method of individual efficacy that all citizens can use in their everyday lives.