Research on the Petition and Republican Government

Daniel Carpenter, Department of Government, Harvard University

I have recently begun a long-term study of petitioning in North American and Atlantic history. In recent years my archival and data-collection efforts have been focused upon petitions in nineteenth-century North America, colonial Massachusetts, colonial New France, and early modern France and England.

I am interested in many questions regarding early American petitions, such as why they flourished when they were so often ignored, whether they represented a distinct literary and rhetorical form, whether (and under what historical conditions) they were precursors to wider political mobilization, how they were used strategically by political organizers, and others. My running hypothesis (which stands as little more than a vague conjecture right now) is that petitions had as much to do with the evolution of republican (representative) government in the West as did elections. One reason that the democratic republic of the antebellum U.S. makes for a good case study in this respect is that scholars can study the use, meaning and influence of petitions before and after the extension of suffrage to lower social classes and before and after the rise of the mass parties of the Jacksonian period.

For support of this project, I gratefully acknowledge a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, a residential fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Academic Ventures Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institutional Development Initiative in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.


"Petitions and Party Emergence: The Whigs and the Bank War of 1832" [submission version] (with Benjamin Schneer), conditionally accepted, Studies in American Political Development.

"When Canvassers Became Activists: Antislavery Petitioning and the Political Mobilization of American Women" (with Colin D. Moore), American Political Science Review, 108 (3) (August 2014), 479-498. Lead article of August 2014 issue; doi:10.1017/S000305541400029X.

"Contested Boundaries of Representation: Patterns of Transformation in Black Petitioning in Massachusetts, 1770-1860" (with Nicole Topich), forthcoming in Emmanuelle Avril and Johann Neem, eds., Democracy, Participation and Contestation: Civil Society, Governance and the Future of Liberal Democracy (Routledge, 2014).



Congressional Antislavery Petitions database (replication data for When Canvassers Became Activists) at Dataverse: doi:10.7910/DVN/27176

Digital Archive of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions (rollout Fall 2014 and Winter 2015)

Congressional Women's Suffrage Petitions database (in progress)



"Recruitment by Petition: Evidence from American Abolitionism and Early Modern Europe."

"Supplication and Lament in Haudenosaunee Space: The Transformation of Petitioning Practices among the Six Nations, 1690-1760."

"The Petition as a Tool of Recruitment: Evidence from the Abolitionists' Congressional Campaign."

  •  presented at the Yale Conference on Crafting and Operating Institutions, April 2003
  • presented at the Stanford University American Empirical Seminar (AES) (November 2003)
  • presented at the Stanford GSB Organizations Workshop (January 2004)