Petition “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “petition” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:”




A formal request in writing addressed to one in a position of authority or to a body, such as a municipal council, usually signed by a number of persons. An application. The name given in some jurisdictions to the pleading by which the plaintiff in a civil action, whether in law or equity, sets forth his cause of action and invokes the jurisdiction of the court [41 Am J1st Pub L § 73]. In some jurisdictions, the pleading by the plaintiff in a special proceeding. The pleading which seeks condemnation of property in a proceedings in eminent domain [27 Am J2d Em D § 395].



  1. An instrument of writing or printing containing a prayer from the person presenting it, called the petitioner, to the body or person to whom it is presented, for the redress of some wrong, or the grant of some favor, which the latter has the right to give.

  2. By the constitution of the United States the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” is secured to the people [Amendm. Art. 1]

  3. Petitions are frequently presented to the courts in order to bring some matters before them. It is a general rule, in such cases, that an affidavit should be made that the facts therein contained are true as far as known to the petitioner, and that those facts which he states as knowing from others he believes to be true.


A written address, embodying an application or prayer from the person or persons preferring it, to the power, body, or person to whom it is presented, for the exercise of his or their authority in the redress of some wrong, or the grant of some favor, privilege, or license.

  • In practice: an application made to a court ex parte, or where there are no parties in opposition, praying for the exercise of the judicial powers of the court in relation to some matter which is not the subject for a suit or action, or for authority to do some act which requires the sanction of the court; as for the appointment of a guardian, for leave to sell trust property, etc.

    The word “petition” is generally used in judicial proceedings to describe an application in writing, in contradistinction to a motion, which may be viva voce [Bergen v. Jones, 4 Metc. (Mass.) 371]

  • In the practice of some of the states, the word “petition” is adopted as the name of that initiatory pleading in an action which is elsewhere called a “declaration” or “complaint.” [see Code Ga. 1882 § 3332].

  • In equity practice: an application in writing for an order of the court, stating the circumstances upon which it is founded; a proceeding resorted to whenever the nature of the application to the court requires a fuller statement that can be conveniently made in a notice of motion [1 Barb. Ch. Pr. 578].

    • Petition de droit: in English practice, a petition of right; a form of proceeding to obtain restitution from crown of either real or personal property, being of use where the crown is in possession of any hereditaments or chattels, and the petitioner suggests such as right as controverts the title of the crown, grounded on facts disclosed in the petition itself [3 Bl. Comm. 256].

    • Petition in bankruptcy: a paper filed in the court of bankruptcy, or with the clerk, by a debtor praying for the benefits of the bankruptcy act, or by creditors alleging the commission of an act of bankruptcy by their debtor and praying an adjudication of bankruptcy against him.

    • Petition of right: in English law, a proceeding in chancery by which a subject may recover property in the possession of the king.

    • Petition of rights: a parliamentary declaration of the liberties of the people, assented to by King Charles I in 1629. It is to be distinguished from the bill of rights (1689), which has passed into a permanent constitutional statute.

  • (Webster’s)

    PETI’TION, n. [L. petitio, from peto, to ask, properly to urge or press.]

    1. In a general sense, a request, supplication or prayer; but chiefly and appropriately, a solemn or formal supplication; a prayer addressed by a person to the Supreme Being, for something needed or desired, or a branch or particular article of prayer.
    2. A formal request or supplication, verbal or written; particularly, a written supplication from an inferior to a superior, either to a single person clothed with power, or to a legislative or other body, soliciting some favor, grant, right or mercy.
    3. The paper containing a supplication or solicitation. Much of the time of our legislative bodies is consumed in attending to private petitions. The speaker’s table is often loaded with petitions. Petitions to the king of Great Britain must contain nothing reflecting on the administration.

    PETI’TION, v.t. To make a request to; to ask from; to solicit; particularly, to make supplication to a superior for some favor or right; as, to petition the legislature; to petition a court of chancery.

    The mother petitioned her goddess to bestow on them the greatest gift that could be given.
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