Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery and Women's Political Identity. By Susan Zaeske. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. 272 pp. $19.95 paper.
Susan Zaeske recaptures the underdeveloped history of women involved in politics as she chronologically illustrates their political identity prior to the women's suffrage movement. She beautifully depicts the participatoiy role women took to involve themselves in political life through their only civil right-petitioning. Zaeske argues that women indelibly changed the face of politics through their involvement in the antislavery movement with their usage of collective petitioning to Congress as a valid form of political involvement for women, which was a critical stride toward securing future rights.
According to Zaeske, the antislavery campaign was one of the first instances of political engagement for free black and white American women to influence national policy and public opinion. Petitioning became a useful tool for moral suasion because petitions were not only read by Congress but printed in many periodicals that were circulated in public. As women began to enter political life, their rhetoric conveyed humility because their involvement was radical and highly criticized. However, through the primary means of petitioning, women soon created a northern middle-class notion of citizenship and transformed their tone to one of insistence.
Zaeske emphasizes that the petitioning …