The right to petition the government is provided in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.


5 - 8


Social Studies, Civics



A petitioner requests people to sign against the building of new houses in the Dry Street Pastures outside of London.

Photograph by Meibion / Alamy Stock Photo
A petitioner requests people to sign against the building of new houses in the Dry Street Pastures outside of London.

In a general sense, petition is a verb that means “to request” or a noun that means “a formal request.” In a legal sense, in the United States, petition is the right guaranteed by the last 10 words of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “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.”

In simpler terms, the right to petition is the right of a citizen to have his or her complaints heard by government representatives. This is an essential part of a democratic government, in which the people play a critical role in self-governance. In Britain, the idea that a citizen may address his or her government with complaints goes back more than 800 years to the Magna Carta of 1215, in which the nobles petitioned King John of England to address a series of grievances. In 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence listed ignored petitions as one of King George’s offenses against the colonies: “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

For United States citizens, petitioning the government includes the right to contact a government representative directly. This has traditionally been done by mail, in person, or by telephone. In modern times, electronic petitions are another option. The right to sign or collect signatures for a written petition made by a group has been upheld by the Supreme Court. The right to petition has also been interpreted as protecting the right of citizens to bring a case in front of a court.

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Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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