The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790-1860

The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790-1860

The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790-1860

The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790-1860

Excerpt

The writing of Rhode Island history by professional historians, like their writing of national history, has been governed by a preconceived framework. Partly because they have been prone to accept political propaganda at face value and partly because they have been guilty of political partiality, they have produced polarized interpretations. Some aspects of the Rhode Island story, most notably the state's eighteenth century emissions of paper currency and its rôle in the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, have suffered especially badly at the hands of the professionals. The Hamiltonians turned the Rhode Islanders into scoundrels deliberately bent on inflating the currency in order to evade their lawful debts; the Jeffersonians made them the apostles of agrarian democracy manfully resisting the oppressive designs of the money changers. But as recent scholarly studies have shown, the paper money question was not the pervasive issue earlier students made it, and most modern historians concede at least the complexity of the constitutional question.

Rhode Island's history has also suffered from neglect. In their preoccupation with national issues and trends the trained scholars have left its study almost entirely to the non-professionals. Only four general histories have been published since 1900. Of these, the multi-volume works edited or written by Edward Field (1902), Thomas Williams Bicknell (1920), and Charles Carroll (1932) fall into the general class of amateur, antiquarian, or commercial publications characteristic of so much of the writing of local history in America. Accordingly, they embody some of the strengths and most of the weaknesses of their kind. They are strongest on information, especially the catalogues of raw data so appealing to . . .

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