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    Dorr Rebellion Collection, Rhode Island, 1841. Comprised of: Amos D. Smith Autograph Letter Signed, to Hannah Smith, in Pittsfield, Mass. Providence, R.I., June 28, 1844. With integral leaf addressed. Two pages. In part: "...Mr. Dorr is in the States Prison for life for the crime of treason. The Dorrites are rather uneasy about it, but it will be of no avail for them to complain. They must behave themselves if they would avoid trouble... "; Pamphlet "Constitution of the State of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, as Adopted by the Convention Assembled at Providence, November, 1841." (Knowles & Vose, 1842). 27 pages; and Pamphlet "Peoples' Constitution, Constitution of the State of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, as Finally Adopted by the People, in December, 1841." (1842?) 16 pages.

    The federal government has traditionally been reluctant to interfere in a state's internal affairs, even when gross inequities impair fair and free government for all of its citizens. While other states had rewritten their constitutions after the Revolution to allow for wider voting and office-holding, Rhode Island continued to operate under its archaic colonial charter of 1663. Heavy real-estate requirements denied about 60 percent of the free adult male population the ballot. Moreover, its method for apportioning representation in the legislature gave disproportionate influence to the declining rural towns, at a time when industrialization and urbanization were otherwise modernizing Rhode Island. Furthermore, the charter contained no procedure for its own amendment.

    The reformer Thomas Wilson Dorr (1805-1854) attempted to bypass the hidebound legislature by convening a People's Convention to write a radically egalitarian constitution (first pamphlet). This "People's Constitution" called for the extension of suffrage to "every white male citizen," including naturalized foreigners; and even left open the possibility "whether the word 'white '...shall be stricken out" An independent judiciary, a more powerful executive, and a legislature apportioned on the basis of "one man, one vote" would ensure a fair hearing for all levels of society. In defiance of existing state authorities, the People's Constitution was approved by referendum in December 1841. The following April, Dorr was elected the "people's governor." The state was thus confronted with two rival governments. After an attempt by the Dorrites to seize the state arsenal was put down, Dorr fled the state, only to be imprisoned upon his return. The established "Law and Order" government prosecuted Dorr for treason against the state.

    Meanwhile, in an attempt to blunt the appeal of Dorr, a so-called "Freeman's Constitution (second pamphlet) was adopted at a convention in November 1841 and ratified the next year. While relaxing property requirements for voting, the constitution discriminated against naturalized citizens and left the legislature's upper house under the disproportionate influence of the small rural towns. Not until the "Bloodless Revolution" of 1935 did the immigrant cities come fully into their own politically in Rhode Island.

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    October, 2016
    19th Wednesday
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