AskDefine | Define petition

Dictionary Definition



1 a formal message requesting something that is submitted to an authority [syn: request, postulation]
2 reverent petition to a deity [syn: prayer, orison] v : write a petition for something to somebody; request formally and in writing

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A formal, written request made to an official person or organized body, often containing many signatures.
  2. A compilation of signatures built in order to exert moral authority in support of a specific cause.
  3. A formal written request for judicial action.


  1. To make a request, commonly in written form.

Extensive Definition

A petition is a request to an authority, most commonly a government official or public entity. Petitions to a deity are a form of prayer.
In the colloquial sense, a petition is a document addressed to some official and signed by numerous individuals. A petition may be oral rather than written, and in this era may be transmitted via the Internet. The term also has a specific meaning in the legal profession as a request, directed to a court or administrative tribunal, seeking some sort of relief such as a court order.
A petition can also be the title of a legal pleading that initiates a case to be heard before a court. The initial pleading in a civil lawsuit that seeks only money (damages) might be titled (in most U.S. courts) a complaint; an initial pleading in a lawsuit seeking non-monetary or "equitable" relief such as a request for a writ of mandamus or habeas corpus, or for custody of a child or for probate of a will, would instead be termed a petition.

Early history

In pre-modern Imperial China petitions were always sent to an Office of Transmission (Tongzheng si) where court secretaries would read petitions aloud to the emperor. Petitions could be sent by anybody, from a scholar-official to a common farmer, although the commoners' petitions were more likely read to the emperor if they were persuasive enough to impeach questionable and corrupt local officials from office. When petitions arrived to the throne, multiple copies were made of the original and stored with the Office of Supervising Secretaries before the original written petition was sent to the emperor.
Petitions were a common form of protest and request to the British House of Commons in the 18th and 19th centuries, the largest being the Great/People's Charter, or petition of the Chartists. They are still presented in small numbers.
The Petition Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of the people "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The right to petition has been held to include the right to file lawsuits against the government.

Modern use

Petitions are commonly used in the U.S. to qualify candidates for public office to appear on a ballot; while anyone can be a write-in candidate, a candidate desiring that his or her name appear on printed ballots and other official election materials must gather a certain number of valid signatures from registered voters. In jurisdictions whose laws allow for ballot initiatives, the gathering of a sufficient number of voter signatures qualilfies a proposed initiative to be placed on the ballot. The 2003 California recall election, which culminated in the recall of Governor Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, began when U.S. Representative Darrell Issa employed paid signature gatherers who obtained millions of signatures at a cost to Issa of millions of dollars. Once the requisite number of signatures was obtained on the recall petition, other petitions were circulated by would-be candidates who wanted to appear on the ballot as possible replacements for Davis. After that step, a vote on the recall was scheduled.
Other types of petitions have included those which sought to free Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment by the former apartheid government of South Africa. The petitions had no legal effect, but the signatures of millions of people on the petitions represented a moral force which may have helped to free Mandela and to end apartheid. Non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International often use petitions in an attempt to exert moral authority in support of various causes.
In February 2007, an online petition against road pricing on the UK Prime Minister's own website attracted over 1.8 million e-signatures, from a population of 60 million people (although it has not been verified that there was only one e-signature per person, merely one per email address). The site was official, but experimental at the time. Shocked government ministers were unable to backtrack on the site's existence in the face of national news coverage of the phenomenon. The incident has demonstrated both the potential and pitfalls of online e-government petitions. It remains to be seen if policy will be permanently affected.



  • Brook, Timothy. (1998). The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22154-0

External links

petition in Bulgarian: Петиция
petition in Czech: Petice
petition in German: Petition
petition in Spanish: Petición
petition in French: Droit de pétition
petition in Italian: Petizione
petition in Dutch: Petitie
petition in Japanese: 請願
petition in Russian: Петиция

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Angelus, Ave, Ave Maria, Hail Mary, Kyrie Eleison, Paternoster, address, aid prayer, appeal, appeal to, application, apply for, apply to, ask, asking, beadroll, beads, beg, beseech, beseechment, bidding prayer, breviary, call on, call upon, chaplet, circulate a petition, collect, commune with God, communion, contemplation, demand, desire, devotions, entreat, entreaty, expressed desire, give thanks, grace, impetration, imploration, implore, importune, imprecation, indent, intercession, invocation, invoke, litany, make supplication, meditation, memorialize, obsecration, obtestation, offer a prayer, orison, plea, plead, pray, pray over, prayer, prayer wheel, prefer a petition, recite the rosary, request, requisition, return thanks, rogation, rosary, say grace, sign a petition, silent prayer, solicit, solicitation, sue, suit, supplicate, supplication, thanks, thanksgiving, wish
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