Winner of the James P. Hanlan Book Award
Winner of the J. David Greenstone Book Prize
Winner of the S. M. Lipset Best Book Award
This pioneering work of political history recovers the central and largely forgotten role that petitioning played in the formative years of North American democracy.
Known as the age of democracy, the nineteenth century witnessed the extension of the franchise and the rise of party politics. As Daniel Carpenter shows, however, democracy in America emerged not merely through elections and parties, but through the transformation of an ancient political tool: the petition. A statement of grievance accompanied by a list of signatures, the petition afforded women and men excluded from formal politics the chance to make their voices heard and to reshape the landscape of political possibility.
Democracy by Petition traces the explosion and expansion of petitioning across the North American continent. Indigenous tribes in Canada, free Blacks from Boston to the British West Indies, Irish canal workers in Indiana, and Hispanic settlers in territorial New Mexico all used petitions to make claims on those in power. Petitions facilitated the extension of suffrage, the decline of feudal land tenure, and advances in liberty for women, African Americans, and Indigenous peoples. Even where petitioners failed in their immediate aims, their campaigns advanced democracy by setting agendas, recruiting people into political causes, and fostering aspirations of equality. Far more than periodic elections, petitions provided an everyday current of communication between officeholders and the people.
The coming of democracy in America owes much to the unprecedented energy with which the petition was employed in the antebellum period. By uncovering this neglected yet vital strand of nineteenth-century life, Democracy by Petition will forever change how we understand our political history.
A tour de force of prodigious research and muscular analysis. Carpenter persuasively demonstrates that petitions were critical to the process of democratization in nineteenth-century North America. Along the way, he sheds new light on a wide range of issues and episodes, many of which have previously escaped the notice of historians and political scientists. The book, quite simply, is eye-opening.
Democracy by Petition presents a magisterial view of an evolving political practice in which individuals and groups across North America seized the right to petition higher authorities for aid, redress, protection, or access. With riveting examples and clarifying analyses, Daniel Carpenter illuminates how Native Americans, African Americans, Irish Americans, Mexicans, French Canadians, women of all backgrounds, and many more became agents of political change, sharpening the possibility for real democracy by means of an antiquated though often effective tool: the paper prayer. A monumental achievement of political history, this book is crucial reading for anyone seeking to learn how democratic practices are forged through unexpected and ‘emergent’ politics.
In this landmark book, Daniel Carpenter demonstrates the essential role that petitioning has played in the politics of democratization. Drawing upon a massive data collection effort and deep archival research, Carpenter offers a new way of thinking about how the dialogue between government and citizens shapes political development.
An astonishing piece of scholarship, such as comes along once in a generation. Democracy by Petition urges us to reconsider what democracy is, how it extends beyond electoral politics, and how governance in North America actually works.
Daniel Carpenter illuminates petitions as active agents of democratization, harnessed by diverse and divergent groups across North America—including Indigenous nations who refused removal and Black abolitionists who refused containment by an emergent ‘settler republic.’ As Democracy by Petition reveals, these efforts refashioned the petition itself from a humble plea into an instrument of political power.
Possibly the most original work on democracy in 2021…Offers lessons that transcend the American experience, because it allows us to think about democracy and democratization as something far more diverse than the package of the Western Consensus.
Daniel Carpenter’s Democracy by Petition is an extraordinary tour de force. In this extensively researched book, Carpenter places petitions at the forefront of the development of democracy in North America. He demonstrates how groups as distinct as French Canadians in Lower Canada, Indigenous nations throughout the continent as well as African Americans and women used petitions to seek redress and promote political change. Carpenter's book reshapes our understanding of the emergence of democracy in North America. It foregrounds the role of a largely overlooked set of diverse civil society actors and their novel political strategies in prompting democratic development.
- 2021, Winner of the J. David Greenstone Book Prize
- 2022, Winner of the Seymour Martin Lipset Prize
- 2022, Winner of the James P. Hanlan Book Award
- 648 pages
- 2 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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