How ordinary petitions helped end slavery and make women into political activists

From Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (YaleUniversity) Newsletter 29 September.

By Daniel Carpenter

September 22, Washington Post

Democracy needs activists, gadflies and, yes, “community organizers” both left and right. Ours is a democratic republic, one in which most lawmaking and policy are in the hands of elected officials. But those officials are elected or appointed by citizens, and citizens communicate actively with those who hold power. As political thinkers have known since at least the Roman Republic, however, this requires an active citizenry. Alexis DeTocqueville warned his readers about “individualism,” that “calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself.” If everyone isolates, if everyone is content to stay a great “family man” or “family woman,” DeTocqueville worried, then who will keep tabs on the powers that be, not least the government itself?

DeTocqueville’s worry raises another problem: If a society needs activists, whatever their political persuasion, how does it grow them? Where do they come from? It turns out that petitioning – the most common form of engagement with government at all levels in early America – was very effective at doing just this. When anti-slavery activists began to send dozens of petitions into Congress in the 1830s, they could not have predicted the immense, nationwide transformation that ensued.

Read more:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/09/22/how-ordinary-petitions-helped-end-slavery-and-make-women-into-political-activists/

About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy, housing and environment issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly. I am a member of the Love Norbury Residents Associations Planning & Transport Committees, and Chair of Nobury Community Land Trust. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and edit the North East Popular Politics database. History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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