The Dorr War: Republicanism on Trial, 1831-1861

By George M. Dennison | Go to book overview

2.
REFORM

We Know Our Rights, and Knowing, Dare Maintain Them.

Rhode Island reformers finally decided to take matters into their own hands. Conditions within the state constituted the classic case described in 1837 by James Buchanan as requiring an appeal to the sovereign power of the people to rectify existing evils in government.1 Reformers explained the situation from that ideological perspective. As early as 1837 William Peckham had advised Dorr that only "the People...meeting in Primary Assemblies" could change the obsolete system of government in Rhode Island.2 In early 1840 the First Reform Society of New York City circulated an "Address to the Citizens of Rhode Island who are denied the Right of Suffrage".3 The circular urged the nonfreemen and sympathetic freemen to elect a popular convention to prepare a new constitution. Once completed, the constitution should be submitted for ratification by all the American citizens who resided in Rhode Island. The charter government had no authority to interfere. If the constitution carried by majority vote, the charter government would terminate automatically, and the new regime would move Rhode Island into the modern age of democracy and equal rights.

The New Yorkers ignored some potential legal problems that might arise should the charter government resist the experiment. They glossed over any possible difficulties by asserting the recognized right of American majorities to change governments at will. If the charter government acquiesced, as seemed

-32-

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The Dorr War: Republicanism on Trial, 1831-1861
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Prologue - THE BARRICADES 1
  • Part I - THE TRIAL 9
  • 2 - REFORM 32
  • 3 - PEACEABLE REVOLUTION 60
  • 4 - SUPPRESSION 84
  • Part II- THE TESTING 112
  • 6 - THE CONGRESS 126
  • 7 - THE JUDICIARY 141
  • 8 - THE SUPREME COURT 169
  • Epilogue - THE "PRECEDENT OF 1842" 193
  • Notes 207
  • BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY 235
  • Index 245
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