Tensions about the rights of native and foreign-born workers in Britain, and attempts to deal with them, are not new but have been the subject of public debate for centuries. Even during the later Middle Ages, the influx of alien workers and its implications for the employment of English-born people was high on the agenda, provoking political crises and prompting the central government to issue new legislation.
Petitions are an ancient type of interaction between people and authority that continue to be central to British political culture in the twenty-first century. At the time of writing over 6 million names have been attached to an e-petition to Parliament to revoke article 50 to enable the UK to remain in the EU. Richard Huzzey and Henry Miller look at how the modern form of mass petitions emerged in the nineteenth century to compare them with contemporary e-petitions.