Cover: Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790–1870, from Harvard University PressCover: Democracy by Petition in HARDCOVER

Democracy by Petition

Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790–1870

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Product Details


$49.95 • £39.95 • €45.00

ISBN 9780674247499

Publication Date: 05/04/2021


648 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

11 photos, 15 illus., 20 tables


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.—Alexander Keyssar, author of Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?

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.—Tiya Miles, author of The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits

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.—Eric Schickler, author of Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932–1965

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.—Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865–1896

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.—Lisa Brooks, author of Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War

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