The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action

By Joseph F. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

The Rhode Island Financial Town Meeting

Rhode Island, in common with Connecticut, was settled by people who migrated from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s and founded the towns of Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and Warwick. The Rhode Island settlers differed from the Connecticut settlers in that the former were dissenters, and the latter were Puritan zealots. 1 This difference accounts for the centralization of political powers in the early Connecticut General Court in contrast to the retention of significant powers by the four towns that formed the colony of Rhode Island in 1643.

The first permanent European settler of Rhode Island was Episcopal preacher William Blackstone, who lived the life of a hermit and did not contribute to the settlement of a town. 2 The founder of Rhode Island was Roger Williams, a friend of Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A theologian, Williams declined the offer of a pastorage of the church in Boston on the grounds the Boston Church had not separated itself from the Church of England but accepted an offer from the church in Salem. 3 Soon thereafter he became the assistant to Pastor Ralph Smith of the church in Plymouth, which was Separatist.

Williams challenged the covenant theology of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and maintained, among other things, that the settlers did not rightly own their lands because they had not purchased them from the Indians. Williams held a different interpretation of the Bible than the one held by the Puritans with specific reference to Christ’s incarnation and was convinced ‘‘that Christ had set forth new laws of worship which had stripped judges, kings, and civic magistrates of their right to enforce the first’’ four commandments. 4 In October 1635, the General Court issued a decree of banishment against Williams and ordered that he be returned to England. 5 Pleading that he was too ill to travel to England, Williams moved to the area of Rehoboth but was ordered by Governor Winslow

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The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables and Figures ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Chapter 1 - Law-Making by Assembled Citizens 1
  • Chapter 2 - Genesis of the Town Meeting 15
  • Chapter 3 - The Massachusetts Open Town Meeting 27
  • Chapter 4 - The New Hampshire Open Town Meeting 59
  • Chapter 5 - The Vermont Open Town Meeting 83
  • Chapter 6 - The Maine Open Town Meeting 103
  • Chapter 7 - The Connecticut Open Town Meeting 117
  • Chapter 8 - The Rhode Island Financial Town Meeting 129
  • Chapter 9 - The Representative Town Meeting 139
  • Chapter 10 - Democratic Law-Making 163
  • Appendix I 195
  • Appendix II 197
  • Appendix III 199
  • Appendix IV 207
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 229
  • About the Author 233
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