‘Petition! Petition!! Petition!!!: Petitioning and Political Organization in Britain, c. 1800–1850’
This chapter explores petitioning as a form of political organization in Britain in the 1800–1850. After providing an overview of the huge surge in petitioning in the early nineteenth century, the advantages of petitioning are examined. Unlike other forms of political activity, petitioning had a strong constitutional basis and, uniquely, provided direct access to Parliament. Petitioning gave coherence to campaigns that were often riven by various tensions and struck a balance between central co-ordination and local activity, while allowing movements to appeal to and claim the support of public opinion. While there was a shift towards highly co-ordinated, organized forms of mass petitioning, epitomized by the Anti-Corn Law League’s campaign, in this period, petitioning still facilitated genuine popular participation for people in a pre-democratic era.