Virginia Literary Festival Legislative Petitions

As the primary catalyst for legislation within the commonwealth, petitions addressed public enhancements, military claims, divorce, manumission of slaves, division of counties, incorporation of cities, spiritual freedom, and taxation, among other issues. Between 1774 and 1865, members of the General Assembly reviewed petitions reporting that hogs were running loose through the streets of Smithfield; protesting that an Albemarle County woman’s personal inheritance was sold to pay the debts of her drunken and runaway husband; complaining that two ex-sheriffs of Cumberland County had not been paid; and requesting freedom, a slave who rendered “exemplary service” within the military.

Petitioning played a very important role in Virginia politics from the American Revolution to the Civil War. The right to petition was not restricted by class, race, or sex; as a result, women, free blacks, and slaves petitioned the General Assembly, although they were all denied the correct to vote. Citizens were encouraged by their legislative representatives to send petitions to Richmond; in flip, the delegates gave every petition thought and due procedure. These pleas from the people of Virginia function a vibrant register of widespread opinion on matters each public and private.