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Blog Post  Massachusetts Declaration of Rights – Article 19

Right to Assemble and to Petition the Legislature
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Article 19 (1780)

The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.

Precedents and Quotations

Nathaniel Ward, Body of Liberties, (1641):

“Every man whether Inhabitant or fforreiner, free or not free shall have libertie to come to any publique Court, Councel, or Towne meeting, and either by speech or writeing to move any lawfull, seasonable, and materiall question, or to present any necessary motion, complaint, petition, Bill or information, whereof that meeting hath proper cognizance, so it be done in convenient time, due order, and respective manner.” 

Constitution of Pennsylvania, “A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth or State of Pennsylvania”, Section XVI. September 28, 1776:

“That the people have a right to assemble together, to consult for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to the legislature for redress of grievances, by address, petition, or remonstrance.” 

First Amendment, United States Constitution, became law Dec. 15, 1791 when ratified by Virginia, the 10th state to approve the 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, now known as the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Stephen A. Higginson, “A Short History of the Right to Petition Government for the Redress of Grievances”, 96 Yale Law Journal 142 (1986):

“The original design of the First Amendment petition clause (‘Congress shall make no law. . . abridging. . . the right of the people. . . to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’) – stemming from the right to petition local assemblies in colonial America, and forgotten today – included a governmental duty to consider petitioners’ grievances. . . [C]olonial assemblies, accustomed to quasi-judicial lawmaking and anxious to encourage petitions as sources of both jurisdiction and information, generally favored citizens’ rights to assembly consideration. . . Aggrieved persons could reformulate causes of action for judicial redress into grievances of abridged liberties in order to secure legislative relief. . .Not only the enfranchised population, but also unrepresented groups – notably women, felons, Indians, and, in some cases, slaves – represented themselves and voiced grievances through petitions. This broadening of participation and access to relief mitigated some of the hardship of limited colonial suffrage. The right to petition vested these groups with a minimum form of citizenship: petitioning meant that no group in colonial society was entirely without political power.”

State Library of Massachusetts, “Massachusetts Citizens’ Right to Free Petition”, 2016:

“Massachusetts is the only state in the country that gives the citizens the right to file bills directly in its state legislature.”

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