J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“To petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

The part of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment that we forget most easily comes at the end: “the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The White House website now has a whole section inviting citizen petitions, called “We the People.” Individuals can sign in to create a petition or endorse one already posted.

And what do we the people care most about, based on the largest number of signatories to a single petition? As of yesterday, by a small margin, it’s:
“Crack down on puppy mills.”

That’s followed by cracking down on the T.S.A., not cracking down on hemp producers, and not cracking down on drugs in general. In fact, a lot of these petitions involve marijuana.

One of the more popular asks to end the Electoral College, a change that Boston 1775 has long supported. We must note, however, that amending the Constitution requires action by Congress and the states, not the executive branch.

Similarly, the White House is not where one should go to change the law of New York or overturn a Supreme Court decision.

Some petitions that appear to be properly directed also appear less than compelling. More than 12,000 people have asked the government to “formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race.”

Others plead, “Allow Seriously Backlogged EB2/EB3 Beneficiaries with Their I-140 Approved to File I-485 and Apply for EAD & AP.” That has a whiff of a special interest, wouldn’t you say?

At least one petition rhetorically reaches back to the Founders. “Recognize the contribution of Flemish Americans to the establishment and settlement of America” states:
George Washington is a direct descendant of the Count of Flanders and Benjamin Franklin, the Roosevelts, Lord Baltimore (the founder of Maryland), a dozen signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Jay (the 1st Chief Justice) and many others have Flemish ancestors.
(That’s mainly because William the Conqueror married a daughter of the Count of Flanders in the eleventh century and allied with that region; there are more than twice as many years between that event and Washington’s birth than between his birth and today.)

White House staffers have posted only ten responses so far. Unsurprisingly, they restate the administration’s policy positions or explain why it can’t take positions on matters pending in courts. On 4 November, Jon G. of Michigan replied by petitioning, “We demand a vapid, condescending, meaningless, politically safe response to this petition,” saying that would have a higher chance of success.

But perhaps the quality of response depends on the quality of ideas that We the People propose.

1 comment:

John L Smith Jr said...

...and here I was getting ready to petition that the president recognize Flemish extraterrestrials who grow hemp. I'm glad I read your blog first, Mr. Bell!