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Evolution Of The Right To Petition

3518 words - 15 pages

Evolution of the Right to Petition, and Modern Applications

Back when I lived in Houston, TX there was a plan to place a small sewage treatment facility right next to the entrance of my neighborhood. As soon as residents heard of this plan they immediately gathered to petition our local government to stop these plans in their tracks. Soon after submitting their petition the group was met with a lawsuit from the company responsible for construction, claiming charges of defamation. Every day Americans assume they are able to enjoy and exercise the inalienable rights that were protected by our founding fathers in the Bill of Rights. However, in recent years it has come to the attention of ...view middle of the document...

Petitioning the King for redress long predated the writing of the Magna Carta or any significant legal document. Contrary to what we would see in 1215, it historically applied only to a very limited set of grievances. These were only brought to the king after being addressed by lower authorities and was seen as the ultimate symbol of regal authority. This notion is supported by codifications that explicitly state that relief was available for the benefit of the monarch, not the claimant (Gregory). Similarly, these petitions were not used in any way to affect change in the king’s actions and thus provided no actual check on the king’s power. After the numerous abuses of power by King John, it quickly became evident that a check needed to be placed upon him, and thus the Magna Carta was written. This document was the inaugural document that attempted to hold a king responsible for his actions toward the people. The abuse of power on his part saw a departure from the customs of common feudal law that had governed the land for years before. The Magna Carta provided the barons the ability to petition the King, therefore bringing his failure to observe the aforementioned provisions to his eye (Painter). Unfortunately the rights that were agreed upon in the Magna Carta were ultimately short-lived and ineffective as a product of each king having to re-sign and agree to the document. However, it’s place in English common law was eventually solidified and it became the building block upon which later generations would attempt to secure their “natural rights” they believed every Englishman was born with. Additionally it fundamentally changed the way in which the right to petition was utilized. Transforming it from a government function that benefited the king, to a way in which common citizens could attempt to affect change in governmental policy.
Over the next 400 years the right to petition was used mainly in the realm of parliamentary procedure and would eventually become the fundamental tool used to secure additional rights for Englishmen in 1628. The English Petition of Right, like many of these groundbreaking documents, arose from hardships placed upon English citizens at the hands of their ruler. After enduring increasing taxes to pay for failing wars, forced loans, periods of martial law (which at the time was considered the absence of law), and a great number of other grievances, the House of Lords and House of Commons began to greatly distrust King Charles I and his ministers. They attempted to write public resolutions that secured further rights for Englishmen, however none could be passed without Charles’ signature and were therefore essentially useless. Facing this obstacle, Sir Edward Coke suggested that the two houses join together and pass the resolutions in the form of a petition, one of the oldest forms of parliamentary processes. Eventually after drafting and much debate on revisions, the Petition of Right was passed by the House of...

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