Your Humble Petitioner closed on November 19, 2022. Please check the Library’s website for updates on our next exhibition coming in January 2023.
Imagine having to explain to the House of Delegates why you want to divorce your spouse, or change your name, or take other actions that affect your life. Virginians had to do just that for nearly a century. Their stories can be found in the Library’s Legislative Petitions Collection.
During the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Virginians submitted petitions to the General Assembly to bring local or personal issues to the attention of their legislators. The Library’s collection of nearly 25,000 petitions reveals how Virginians communicated their concerns on a wide range of topics. To obtain legal permission to operate a ferry, maintain a tavern, or carry out many other activities, residents of the commonwealth were required to introduce a petition into the House of Delegates to begin the process of acceptance or rejection. The right to petition was not restricted by class, race, or sex. Your Humble Petitioner highlights petitions that involved deeply personal issues such as divorce and requests by emancipated Black people to remain in the commonwealth, offering a glimpse into the realities of 18th- and 19th-century life.
The right of citizens to petition their government is an ancient one, dating back indirectly to the “Great Charter” (Magna Carta) from 1215 and in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Even today, citizens of Virginia exercise their right to petition their government.
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Read more about legislative petitions featured in Your Humble Petitioner in The UncommonWealth Blog:
- The High Cost of Entertainment
- Two Revolutionary War Petitions
- “That the Oppressed May Go Free”: A Petition to the General Assembly for Religious Freedom
- Latest Digital Images of Legislative Petitions Now Available (March 2014)
Additional information about legislative petitions from The UncommonWealth Blog:
- Latest Digital Images Of Legislative Petitions Now Available (October 2013)
- “Let Jews, Mehometans, And Christians Of Every Denomination Enjoy Religious Liberty”
- Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Legislative Petitions For Divorce
Watch our In the Gallery videos to learn more about some of the petitions featured in the exhibition.
Search the Legislative Petitions collection.
Read the Petitions in Your Humble Petitioner
Click each petition description to read a transcription of the handwriting.