Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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RHODE ISLAND, one of the original thirteen states of the American Union. Its settlement was begun at Providence in 1636 by Roger Williams, as a place of refuge for persons banished from Massachusetts. In 1637 a band of antinomians, also banished from Massachusetts, made a settlement on Rhode Island; and the traces of this double settlement are still seen in the official title, "the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," and in the two capitals, Providence and Newport, in which the legislature meets alternately. The title to these and other settlements was at first derived from the Indians by purchase. Parliament was then the ruling power in Great Britain, and its lord high admiral of the colonies, Warwick, granted Williams a patent, March 14, 1643, which was renewed by Charles II. in 1663, as stated below.


—BOUNDARIES. The patent of 1643 assigned as limits the ocean on the south, the Plymouth and Massachusetts patents on the east and north, and the Narragansett Indian territory on the west. The charter of 1663 was more definite. The southern and northern boundaries remained as before. The western boundary was to be the Pawcatuck river to its head, and thence due north to the Massachusetts line. Originally the eastern boundary of Connecticut (see that state) was to have been the Narragansett river or bay; but this charter stipulated, with the consent of the Connecticut agents, that the Pawcatuck river should be "taken and deemed to be" the Narragansett river mentioned in the Connecticut boundary. Connecticut repudiated the action of her agent, claimed jurisdiction over the Narragansett country, east of the Pawcatuck, both by her charter and by conquest from the Indians, and pressed her claim by all legal means, by appeal to the New England union, and by preparations for force. Rhode Island's threat to appeal to the king brought about an agreement May 12, 1703, to run the boundary from the head of the Pawcatuck to the southwest corner of the Warwick purchase, and thence due north to the Massachusetts line. This was confirmed by the crown in 1727, and after sixty-five years of quarreling the line was settled, Sept. 27, 1728, and confirmed by both colonies in 1742. A new survey was made in 1840.


—The eastern boundary assigned was a line from the ocean three miles to the east of Narragansett bay and Seacunck, Blackstone, or Seekonk, river "to the falls called Patuckett falls," and thence due north to the Massachusetts line. But Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies claimed a large part of Rhode Island as lying within their patents; the former claimed Pawtuxet and Warwick; the latter, Aquidneck and the islands. Had these and the Connecticut claims on the west been allowed, very little would have been left of Rhode Island. Only the colony's stubborn resistance carried it safely through a struggle of more than a century, during which feeling ran so high as to exclude Rhode Island from political association with her neighbors. (See NEW ENGLAND UNION.) In 1703 the western boundary was fixed in favor of Rhode Island by royal commissioners, and in 1726 their award was confirmed by the crown. In 1741 the disputed eastern boundary was decided in the same way very nearly in accordance with Rhode Island's claim; and in 1746-7 the award was confirmed by the crown. Rhode Island thus gained its present northeast township, and five others on the southeast. The boundary between the two states was not finally settled until March 1, 1862, when it was so run as to throw Fall River into Massachusetts and Pawtucket into Rhode Island.


—CONSTITUTIONS. The provisions of the charter of 1663 gave the colony a "democratical" form of government. No appeal or veto power was reserved to the crown; and even the clause which forbade the making of laws contrary to the laws of England was only to extend so far as the nature and constitution of the colony would permit. The governor and general assembly were to be chosen by the people, and their statutes were final. Rhode Island was thus from the beginning a self-governing community. At first the legislature had but one house, but in 1696 a law was passed forming two houses: the council, or governor's assistants, as the upper house, and the delegates as the lower house. In 1724 a property qualification was established for the right of suffrage. It was subsequently modified, until in 1762 it was settled at £40 ($134) freehold, or 40 shillings ($7.50) annual rent. Only freemen with this qualification could vote or hold office, except that the eldest son of a freeman needed no qualification.


—This charter was the organic law of the colony and state until 1843. It was suspended by common consent during James II.'s quo warranto warfare upon the colony charters, but was quietly resumed after his abdication. It was not altered at the revolution, except by a law of the legislature in May, 1776, substituting allegiance to the colony for allegiance to the king.


—A very simple and excellent constitution was framed by a state convention at Newport and East Greenwich, Sept. 12-Nov. 5, 1842. It was ratified, Nov. 21-23, by a popular vote of 7,032 to 59, and went into force in May, 1843. It gave the right of suffrage to males over twenty-one, on the old property qualification of $134, or on the annual payment of a state tax of one dollar. The governor, a house of representatives of not more than seventy-two members, and a senate of one member from each town or city, were all to be elected annually, and there were few restraints on their action. In 1864 an amendment was made, to allow the state's volunteer soldiers to vote for presidential electors, congressmen and state officers.


—GOVERNORS. Nicholas Cooke, 1775-8; William Greene, 1778-86; John Collins, 1786-90; Arthur Fenner, 1790-1805; Isaac Wilbour, 1805-7; James Fenner, 1807-11; William Jones, 1811-17; N. R. Knight, 1817-21; Wm. C. Gibbs, 1821-4; James Fenner, 1824-31; Lemuel H. Arnold, 1831-3; John B. Francis, 1833-8; William Sprague, 1838-9; Samuel W. King, 1840-43; James Fenner, 1843-5; Charles Jackson, 1845-6; Byron Diman, 1846-7; Elisha Harris, 1847-9; H. B. Anthony, 1849-51; Philip Allen, 1851-3; William W. Hoppin, 1853-7; Elisha Dyer, 1857-9; Thos. G. Turner, 1859-60; William Sprague, 1860-63; James Y. Smith, 1863-6; Ambrose E. Burnside, 1866-9; Seth Padelford, 1869-73; Henry Howard, 1873-5; Henry Lippitt, 1875-7; C. C. Van Zandt, 1877-80; Alfred H. Littlefield, 1880-83; Augustus O. Bourn, 1883-4.


—POLITICAL HISTORY. The natural conformation, by which Narragansett bay penetrates almost every part of the state, had from an early period developed a large commercial interest; but the apportionment of representation in the legislature among the towns gave the agricultural interest complete control of legislation. For twenty years before the outbreak of the revolution there had been a constant struggle between the town and country, hard money and paper money, parties, led by Samuel Ward and Stephen Hopkins, respectively. The steady and successful struggle of a century against the encroachments of two powerful neighbors had kept up a strong state feeling, which, combined with the rivalry of the state's two great interests, made Rhode Island the brake on every effort at a closer union among the states. On every grant of additional-power for which congress asked (see CONFEDERATION, ARTICLES OF) Rhode Island put a veto which was final, since any change in the articles required the approval of every state. The agricultural representatives were determined, 1, to retain the power of laying duties on imports, in order to lighten state taxes; 2, to retain the power of compelling the commercial classes to accept as a legal tender the depreciated paper currency of the state; and 3, to resist any change in the national constitution which should curtail these privileges. Hence, though the urban population was warmly federalist, the state was not represented in the convention of 1787, and the legislature refused even to call a state convention to consider the new constitution, remitting it to the town meetings, when it was overwhelmingly defeated. The new question increased the division of feeling so much that the legislature passed a bill to compel holders of state securities to accept five shillings in the pound for them, and removed the state judges who pronounced the law unconstitutional; and a country army, headed by a judge of the state supreme court, marched upon Providence to prevent a celebration of the general adoption of the constitution, July 4, 1788. In the latter case, bloodshed was averted by an agreement to have a common banquet, without reference to the constitution. Finally, the state yielded, and ratified the constitution, May 29, 1790. (See SECESSION, I.; STATE SOVEREIGNTY.)


—Having once gained control of the state, the commercial interest kept it federalist for over ten years; and the tendency was assisted by the operation of Hamilton's scheme for the assumption of state debts (see FEDERAL PARTY, I.), under which the holders of state securities recovered that portion which they had lost under the state paper money laws. The governors, legislatures and congressmen were thus federalist; and the state's electoral votes were cast in 1792 for Washington and Adams, in 1796 for Adams and Ellsworth of Connecticut, and in 1800 for Adams and Pinckney, with one vote for John Jay. (See CAUCUS, CONGRESSIONAL, I.) The general democratic success of 1800 encouraged the party in Rhode Island to a new alignment of country against town. It was immediately successful; the state became democratic in 1801, and in 1804 her electoral votes were cast for Jefferson and Clinton. But, as the embargo system began to press more heavily upon agriculture as well as commerce, the small democratic majority disappeared, and the state again became federalist in 1808, casting her electoral votes for Pinckney and King. In the following year the state government also became federalist, and so remained throughout the war. (See EMBARGO; CONVENTION, HARTFORD.)


—The manufacturing interest, which had been developed by the restrictive system and the war, and which was destined to put an end to the federal party (see FEDERAL PARTY, II.), probably grew more rapidly in Rhode Island than in any other state, and has since controlled the state's politics to this day. It gave the state's electoral votes to Monroe and Tompkins, the democratic candidates, in 1816 and 1820; it elected Gov. Knight in 1817 and subsequent years; and, on the break-up of the democratic party in 1824-5, it carried the state into the Adams, or protective tariff, portion, the germ of the whig party. (See WHIG PARTY, I.) From 1824 until 1850 the state's electoral votes were cast for Adams and other whig candidates, with the exception of 1836, when they were given to Van Buren by a majority of 254 out of 5,674 votes. During the same period the governors, legislatures, senators and congressmen were whig, with the exception of a few protective tariff democratic congressmen.


—The charter, an excellent one for a purely agricultural population, had long before 1842 been made obsolete by the growth of other interests. The grievance usually assigned was the property qualification required of voters; but the comparative unimportance of this is shown by the fact that the increase of voting population was 2,947 (51.9 per cent.) from 1836 until 1840, and 3,675 (42.6 per cent.) from 1840 until 1844, after the practical abolition of the property qualification. A more serious grievance was the unequal representation of the towns. While they had varied enormously in their growth, their proportionate representation remained fixed as at first; and the "minority-majority" stubbornly refused to make any change. Representative reform had been unsuccessfully proposed by the growing cities in 1796, 1824 and 1830; and in 1840 the state of affairs seemed unendurable. Providence, with 23,000 inhabitants, had four representatives; Portsmouth, with 1,700, had four, and Newport, with 8,000, had six. Of the whole number of seventy-two representatives, thirty-eight represented towns with 29,020 inhabitants (2,846 voters), and thirty-four represented towns with 79,804 inhabitants (5,776 voters). Party feeling added bitterness to the question. The demand for reform came mainly from the democrats, and was resisted by the whigs; and in other states party organs supported their respective party friends in Rhode Island. The result was the "Dorr rebellion." (See that title, and INSURRECTION, II.) Concurrently with its suppression, the new state constitution was framed and put in force. It removed discontent by slightly relaxing the property qualification: and still more by apportioning representation to population equitably throughout the state on a ratio of one representative to 1,530 inhabitants.


—In 1851 the coalition of democrats and free-soilers (see REPUBLICAN PARTY, I.) elected the governor, a majority of the legislature on joint ballot, one of the two congressmen, and the United States senator: and in the following year the state's electoral votes were given to the democratic candidates, Pierce and King, by a majority of 465 out of 17,005 votes. In the congress of 1853-5, for the first and last time since 1824, all the state's senators and congressmen were democrats. The elections of 1854-5 put an end to the temporary democratic supremacy, and by the end of the latter year there were in the legislature but two democratic senators out of thirty-two, and three democratic representatives out of seventy-two. At first the majority called itself the American party (see that title), but before 1856 it had settled into the republican party. Gov. Hoppin's election in 1855 was almost unanimous. From that time until the present the state has been republican in all elections, presidential, congressional and state. But the state's republicanism has never been ultra: it has been fairly represented by such moderate and conservative members as Anthony, Sprague, Jenckes and Burnside. Until 1861, indeed, the republicans elsewhere looked with some suspicion upon the Rhode-Island delegations, as if commercial interest had made them cautious even to cowardice. In January, 1861, the legislature even repealed its "personal liberty law" (see that title), as a peace measure. But the call for troops in April showed that the state's caution covered an equally strong determination. Her quota was filled immediately, and the governor literally fulfilled his constitutional function of "captain general and commander-in-chief of the military and naval forces of this state," by heading the state's contingent in person.


—Since the close of the rebellion the republican share of the total vote has been from 60 to 70 per cent., except in 1876, when the vote for Hayes was 15,787, and that for Tilden 10,712. In 1880 Garfield had 18,195 votes, Hancock 10,779, and 261 were scattering. In the state elections there is frequently no popular choice of governor, since the democratic and prohibition votes, each inferior to the republican vote, are together superior to it, and prevent a popular majority for any candidate. Any coalition between the two minority parties is at once followed by a complete republican majority; and their separate existence is followed by no popular majority, and the choice of a republican by the legislature. In the legislature in 1883 the republicans had thirty senators and sixty-five representatives, and the democrats seven senators and seven representatives. In every county the republicans are in a large majority.


—Among the leaders in state politics have been the following: Henry B. Anthony, whig governor 1849-51, republican United States senator 1859-90; Samuel G. Arnold, whig lieutenant governor 1852-3 and 1861-2, republican United States senator 1862-3, and author of the standard history of the state; Tristam Burges, whig congressman 1825-35; Ambrose E. Burnside, major general in the war of the rebellion, republican governor 1866-8, and United States senator 1875-81; Nathan F. Dixon, congressman (whig) 1849-51, and (republican) 1863-71; Job Durfee, federalist congressman 1821-5 and state chief justice; William Ellery, delegate to congress 1776-81, a signer of the declaration of independence, state chief justice 1785-9, and collector of the port of Newport 1790-1820; James Fenner, United States senator 1805-7, governor 1807-11, 1824-31, and 1843-5; David Howell, delegate to congress 1782-5, and federal district judge 1812-24; Thos. A. Jenckes, republican congressman 1863-71, and the first effective promoter of reform in the federal civil service, Stephen Hopkins, chief justice 1751-4, governor 1755-6, 1758-61, 1763-4, and 1767, and delegate to congress 1774-8; Nehemiah R. Knight, governor (democratic) 1817-20, and whig United States senator 1821-41; Francis Malbone, federalist congressman 1793-7, and United States senator, May, June, 1809; Duttee J. Pearce, democratic congressman 1825-37; Elisha R. Potter, whig congressman 1843-5; William Sprague, democratic congressman 1835-7, governor 1838-9, and United States senator 1842-4; William Sprague (nephew of the preceding) republican governor 1860-63, and United States senator 1863-75; and Samuel Ward governor 1762 and 1765-7, delegate to congress 1774-5.


—See 2 Poore's Federal and State Constitutions; Arnold's History of Rhode Island; Bartlett's Records of Rhode Island (to 1792), Rhode Island Historical Tracts; Bowen's Boundary disputes of Connecticut, 31 (western boundary of Rhode Island); Callender's Early History of Rhode Island (edit. of 1838); Rhode Island Hist. Soc. Coll.; G. G. Channing's Recollections of Newport (1793-1811); Peterson's History of Rhode Island (to 1815, and thence very meagrely to 1850); Bowen's Memoir of Tristam Burges (1835); authorities under DORR REBELLION; G. W. Greene's Short History of Rhode Island (1875: the Dorr constitution is at p. 317); Stone's Rhode Island in the Rebellion; and, in general, Bartlett's Bibliography of Rhode Island (1864).


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