Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760- 1776

By David S. Lovejoy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
RHODE ISLANDISM

T HE CHARTER which John Clarke brought back from London to Roger Williams and the people of Rhode Island in 1663 established "The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, in New-England, in America." What is more, it established the Colony of Rhode Island as "a bodie corporate and politique, in ffact and name." The charter has been justly celebrated for the permission it granted the inhabitants "to hold forth a livelie experiment" to prove that a civil state may exist and flourish "with a full libertie in religious concernments." What has not been as justly celebrated is the fact that this charter established also an experiment in colonial self-government which the colony continued for a hundred years with little interference from the mother country. In addition to the opportunity to govern themselves, the people of Rhode Island were guaranteed the liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects "as if they, and every of them, were borne within the realme of England."1

The charter of Rhode Island placed control of the government squarely in the hands of the General Assembly, and according to this charter the only check upon that body was that its laws "bee not contrary and repugnant unto, butt, as neare as may bee, agreeable to the laws of this our realme of England, considering the nature and constitutione of the place and the people there." With England 3000 miles distant, this was not much of a check, and as Rhode Island matured politically it developed into a virtually independent state acknowledging, only when necessary, an allegiance to the King.

The legislature combined all the powers of the government in one branch, and neither the Governor, the elected officials, nor the courts could act independently of it. Sovereignty lay in the General Assembly, and control of that body meant control of the government itself. But the freemen chose the members of the Assembly, and since the legisla

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