GOVT 2301 The Freedom to Peacefully Assemble and to Petition Government for a Redress of Grievances and Interests Groups
This section covers the last participatory freedoms established in the First Amendment and the key consequences of those freedoms
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.
Simply put, these refer to the right of people to form groups and to use those groups as means of taking complaints to government
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Some argue these are two sides of the same right. The ability to successfully petition rests on the ability to assemble effectively.
The ability of a population to assemble is essential if they are to develop the strength to force limits on governmental power.
Once people were allowed to freely congregate and exchange ideas, societies were able to further develop, evolve and improve.
But both rights have led to the development of political institutions some find distasteful
The consequences of these freedoms are the existence of interest groups (and any organization in general to be truthful) and the ability to lobby, or otherwise attempt to influence governmental officials, in each of the three branches.
What is an Interest Group?“any association of individuals or organizations, usually formally organized, that, on the basis of one or more shared concerns, attempts to influence public policy in its favor.” - Britannica
What is Lobbying?“The act of attempting to influencebusiness and governmentleaders to createlegislation or conduct an activity that will help a particular organization. People who do lobbying are called lobbyists” – The Business Dictionary.
These may be the most important freedoms listed in the First Amendment. They make the other freedoms effective.History suggests that freedom is obtained only when groups organize to petition, and if necessary fight, for it.
Think of the assembly of noblemen who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, the members of Parliament who presented Charles I with the Petition of Right, and the colonists who presented similar petitions to George III.
An authoritarian regime with any competence will make it illegal for groups of people to meet or congregate. This makes coordinated activity difficult.
The denial of the right to assemble is critical if one is to be a successful despot.For Example: Burma.
They will also make it not illegal, but effectively impossible for citizens to petition for a redress of grievances.
One measure of oppression is the degree to which a government denies or punishes assembly and petitionThe Right to Petition in China.
For a literary example: The Castle, Franz KafkaThe protagonist wanted to meet the bureaucrats necessary to address a problem, but never learned who he could take his petition to.
But free societies must allow the population to assemble, and for them to create groups – or what Madison called factions in Federalist #10.
Recall that Madison argued that groups would inevitably form in a free society. Every issue, presumably, would lead to the formation of a group dedicated to promoting the interests of that group.
This leads to unruly, unstable politics (think of the shifting alliances of independents) but Madison argued that this was preferable to the loss of freedom necessary to eliminate factions.
The Rights to Assembly and Petition are among the oldest of the rights established in Anglo-American governing history.
It may be that the most important legacy of the Magna Carta was the Security Clause which permitted a handful of the nobility to assemble and oversee the actions of the executive.
This right was implicitly granted when King John signed the Magna Carta, contained in the security clause (Section 61 – an assembly of barons could petition the king if Magna Carta was not being upheld) but did not become a legal part of the British system of government until the English Bill of Rights.
This recognized the right to assembly, and implicitly the right for that assembly to petition the king.
From FindLaw: The right of petition took its rise from the modest provision made for it in chapter 61 of Magna Carta (1215). 207 To this meagre beginning are traceable, in some measure, Parliament itself and its procedures in the enactment of legislation, . . . and proceedings against the Crown by ''petition of right'‘ . . .
. . . Thus, while the King summoned Parliament for the purpose of supply, the latter--but especially the House of Commons--petitioned the King for a redress of grievances as its price for meeting the financial needs of the Monarch, and as it increased in importance it came to claim the right to dictate the form of the King's reply, until, in 1414, Commons declared itself to be ''as well assenters as petitioners'‘ . . .
. . . Two hundred and fifty years later, in 1669, Commons further resolved that every commoner in England possessed ''the inherent right to prepare and present petitions'' to it ''in case of grievance,'' and of Commons ''to receive the same'' and to judge whether they were ''fit'' to be received.
The rights to assemble and petition were not fully established for the general population in Britain until the English Bill of Rights established a constitutional order which began the slow process of checking governmental power.
A critical example of a petition: The Petition of Right – 1628The document was intended to remind Charles the First of the ancient rights and liberties possessed by Parliament.
Charles I’s rejection of the Petition of Right of 1628 increased the conflict he had with the British Parliament.Ultimately, as we know, he would be executed by Parliament.
The Right to Petition the King would be included in the British Bill of Rights.
Chapter 5 of the Bill of Rights of 1689 asserted the right of the subjects to petition the King and ''all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning to be illegal.'‘- The English Bill of Rights and Its Influence on the United States Constitution
The English Coffeehouse MovementPeople were more free to meet and discuss radical political, cultural and scientific ideas. Early political parties were also being established.
While the British Civil Wars waged, colonial assemblies not only grew in strength, but the North American colonists grew to assume that such assemblies were the most legitimate governing system
In 1641, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties became the first royal charter to protect this right expressly, recognizing that "[e]very man whether Inhabitant or fforeigner, free or not free shall have libertie to come to any publique Court, Councel or town 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.“ – First Amendment Center.
1765: Blackstone's Commentaries are published and read in the colonies. Blackstone argues that the right to petition belonged to every person.
As conflict developed between the colonists and the British, assemblies would begin to meet and send petitions to both the King and Parliament containing grievances.
As we know, King George’s attempts to reign in the colonial assemblies was a key factor in the decision to declare independence.But assemblies were necessary in order for individuals to recognize their shared grievances and determine how to act on them.
Beginning in the 1760’s Committees of Correspondence began to meet to coordinate the actions of the 13 colonies in response to the actions of the British government.Sons of Liberty: The group that brought you the Boston Tea Party.
1765The Stamp Act Congress produced the Declaration of Rights and Grievances.