A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era

By Elaine Forman Crane | Go to book overview

10
A Town at War with Itself

NOT ONLY DID BRITISH IMPERIAL POLICY create economic havoc in Newport and provide the setting for inter-urban rivalry; it also fostered an atmosphere that caused social harmony to disintegrate and submerged hostilities to break forth. In Newport's golden days, deepseated prejudices were suppressed for the sake of common goals. But as soon as the community was frustrated by economic dislocation, old animosities erupted, political and religious discord surfaced, and the interdependent network was strained beyond endurance.

The Ward-Hopkins "controversy" of the 1750s and early 1760s affected the political struggles of the following decades only indirectly. 88 As it turned out later, both parties could count whig and tory members, and in 1774 Samuel Ward and Stephen Hopkins walked arm in arm into Carpenter's Hall and the First Continental Congress.

Nevertheless, because of the unseemly nature of Rhode Island politics in the 1750s, the foundations on which both loyalists and whigs would build were well defined by 1764 when Revolutionary agitation began in earnest. The excesses of the Ward-Hopkins squabbles had produced a number of Newporters who argued that the hotly contested gubernatorial elections spawned factions that threatened the public good. By the early 1760s, a coterie of like-minded people was becoming vocal in opposition to the democratic character of Rhode Island politics and the popular election of the governor and assembly. A number of these people (mainly crown officers and others with close English connections) had petitioned the crown to revoke Rhode Island's self-governing charter and replace it with one which provided for an appointed royal governor and council. The philosophy of the clique was summed up by George Rome: "'The colonies have originally been wrong founded--They ought all to have been regal governments, and every executive officer appointed by the King.'"89

This kind of talk made Rome and his followers highly unpopular in New

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