[N.p. ca. 1836]. Partially-printed document, completed in manuscript, sewn horizontally to another sheet, the whole measuring 10 x 7 3/4 inches. Old folds, scattered foxing and spotting, mild edge wear. Very good. Item #WRCAM54711
A wonderful but sobering relic from a time before the abolition of slavery, when ordinary people sought to end the peculiar institution through sheer force of will and by petitioning the government for redress. The present document is one of numerous variant forms of the petition utilized by abolitionists, especially female abolitionists in the mid-19th century. The text of the petition reads, in full: "Petition to the Senate and House of Representatives, of the United States of America. The undersigned, Women of [Cumberland] deeply convinced of the sinfulness of Slavery, do earnestly petition your honourable body to Abolish Slavery, and the Slave Trade, in the District of Columbia, where you exercise "exclusive jurisdiction." We are aware that scenes of party and political strife, are not the fields to which a kind Providence has assigned us; we cannot, however, but regard it as our duty to supplicate for the oppressed, those common rights of humanity, of which they have been long deprived, and which they dare not ask for themselves." The printed text is sewn horizontally along the middle, attaching it to a blank sheet on which five women have added their signatures. This was likely the result of the printed form being made elsewhere and then distributed by an anti-slavery organization, after which the blank sheet was sewn to the form and signed locally. This form was signed by five women in a town named Cumberland, presumably either in Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, or Virginia. The names read, in order: Hannah Harrington, Dorkes Cole, Susan Elexander, Doras Angel, and Lydda Harres. From about 1820 through the start of the Civil War, Americans began to take their First Amendment rights seriously, petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances at unprecedented levels. Americans wrote to Congress to protest a myriad of subjects, including Indian removal, temperance and prohibition, and slavery. Petitioning against the continuation of slavery picked up steam in the 1830s and '40s, with the creation of organizations like the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, both founded in 1833. Such organizations encouraged antislavery petitioning campaigns across numerous states, and flooded Congress with thousands of petitions containing millions of signatures. This led to the creation of the Congressional "gag rule," which automatically tabled without discussion any petitions regarding slavery. This strategy helped choke off Congressional debate of the slavery question for almost a decade before its repeal in 1844 by a House group led by John Quincy Adams. Petitions such as these are also important as symbols of political influence for women long before they won the right to vote. "[M]ore than 8,500 petitions sent to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1833 to 1845...demonstrate that in 1836-37, when Congress 'gagged' antislavery petitions by tabling them...women subsequently became much more active in antislavery canvassing. Women began to circulate two kinds of petitions in greater numbers: (1) petitions signed by other women only and (2) petitions signed by both men and women, in which the names of male and female signatories appeared in separate columns" - Carpenter. The present petition is an example of the former. Though thousands of these petitions were sent to Congress, and many presumably remain in the National Archives, they are exceedingly rare in the open market. Only one example of a similarly-worded petition appears in OCLC, held at Brown University. An important exemplar of history from below, when women throughout America attempted to change the course of history by forcing their government to end slavery in the United States. Daniel Carpenter & Colin D. Moore, "When Canvassers Became Activists: Antislavery Petitioning and the Poltical Mobilization of American Women" in THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW, Vol. 108, No. 3 (American Political Science Association, August 2014), pp.479-98. OCLC 43901161 (ref).