Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760- 1776

By David S. Lovejoy | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

A REHEARSAL of the issues, arguments, and incidents which occurred in Rhode Island in reaction to the designs of the British government is insufficient to explain why the colony left the Empire. An understanding of what encroachment by Parliament meant to Rhode Islanders involves an understanding of what Parliament encroached upon in Rhode Island. Such an inquiry has led to a study of the colony's economy, government, and politics and the reasons for resistance which were peculiar to the colony itself, in addition to the more general causes of revolt in the American colonies as a whole.

From the very beginning Rhode Islanders were noticeably independent in their attitude toward the British government. Once the revolutionary movement commenced, this independent attitude became even more apparent, and, from the crisis over taxation to the Declaration of Independence, Rhode Island seemed one step ahead of her sister colonies in defiance of the power of Parliament and the authority of the Crown. Politically Rhode Island had never fitted very well into the Empire, and when in the 1760's and 1770's the imperial structure became more sharply defined and more annoyingly restrictive, King and Parliament recognized that the colony fitted hardly at all.

A close study of Rhode Island reveals that this precocious attitude, this advanced point of view in regard to the colony's place in the Empire, was not identifiable with a demand for political democracy, except as self-government itself is a principle of democracy. According to Carl Becker, the issue in New York in the same period was not only a question of home rule, but also of who should rule at home. The revolutionary movement there shared the stage with a struggle between a colonial aristocracy and a disfranchised class which, in the interest of patriotism and democracy, pushed its way into the political arena by extralegal means.1 Rhode Island was also torn by a bitter dispute over who should rule, but the struggle, unlike that in New York, was not caused by the attempt of one class of people to tear down an-

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