Colored Convention Petitions
This project's purpose is to locate when, where, and how petitions appear in and outside of Colored Conventions. We hope this project will lead to collaborative and generative research on Colored Convention organizing and activism between students, teaching partners, and the Center for Black Digital Research. Below, we offer our current findings and definitions on Colored Convention petitions.
What is a petition?
Petitions are formal written requests that appeal to individuals or authorities. Groups of individuals sign petitions to request support or rights related to a specific cause. Petitions are familiar documents for examining political history and are particularly useful for answering questions about people’s engagement with the legislative process. When nineteenth-century Americans used the word “petition” a signed request was what they had in mind. This is also the definition of “petition” that modern scholars and archivists use when they look for, examine, and catalog these documents.
How did the Colored Conventions use petitions?
We have identified two working definitions for the role of petitions in the Colored Conventions movement: copies of the surviving documents and clues about the larger organizing campaigns.
First, we have found a number of petitions created and published by members of the conventions. Second, we have found a large number of references to different kinds of petitions where the location of the text itself is unknown.
Drafting and Circulating Petitions
Petitions often were drafted and addressed to (white) legislative bodies and often read during convention proceedings advocating for general and specific causes (e.g., suffrage, governmental documentation revision, education rights and equality).
Petitions can be found in different forms:
- Extant petitions (link to an example)
- References to petitions in convention minutes and newspapers
- Blank petitions that circulated in newspapers
- Fragments and quotes of petitions that appear in newspapers and other periodicals
Collective Activism and Organizing Campaigns
Petitions were collective organizing efforts that crossed national, state, and local conventions and communities. Colored Convention delegates collectively drafted petitions and taught their communities how to petition. These efforts looked like CC committees lecturing about the importance of petitioning at county conventions and creating newspapers that circulate petition templates.
Why do petitions matter?
As we have found above, Colored Convention petitions complicate historical and accepted understandings of the petition. Examining these petitions links to a genealogy of direct political action that emerge from the conventions movement and beyond. Colored Convention petitions help us see how collective approaches to writing and organizing are important factors of petitioning. We believe that studying these petitions provides a closer look into nineteenth-century African American political mobilization efforts that still appear today.
How can you contribute to this effort?
You can help us search for Colored Convention petitions! We are still in the early stages of understanding Colored Convention petitions.
Explore our Digital Records
Many of the petitions remain undiscovered in our Colored Convention records. We have found that keywords such as "petition," memorial," "congress," "equal rights league," "legislature," "representatives," "senate/senators," and "president/executive" have helped us find instances of petitions and petitioning.
Find Petitions outside of our Records
If you find petitions or have suggestions for records that we don't already list on this page, you can submit new documents for the collection on this form.
- CCP’s Digital Collections
- Chronicling America
- African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 (Readex subscription req’d)
- Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers (Gale Cengage subscription req’d)
- State Legislative Journals
- US Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1873
- Congressional Record (Bound Edition) 1873-2016