Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.

3 responses to “RI’s Charter First To Codify Religious Freedom”

  1. leftyrite

    Incidentally, it was called a charter to distinguish it from a “covenant,” a term with religious overtones.

    Today, of course, we have found another, at least as imprecise use for the word charter, as a euphemism for ”corporate contract, with public money guarantee.”

    A much less lively, but much more controlled experiment. 

    We also have charter prisons. 

    How about a charter that separates Wall Street from the rest of us?   

  2. Patrick Brady

    Do all of you fans of this ‘lively experiment’ know that Rhode Island didn’t have universal
    suffrage until 1973? 

    One of the more ‘lively’ aspects of the experiment was the way our Yankee forefathers
    used the Charter to perpetuate their power advantages by denying voting rights to
    most of the citizens of Rhode Island for almost two hundred years.

    The Charter was in effect from 1663-1843. It limited the right to vote to white males who owned property worth at least $134 (approximately $3,290 in today’s dollars) and to their oldest son. Everyone else had to sit and watch.This requirement was called the freehold qualification.

    The suffrage movement sought to end this tax requirement in the old Charter with Thomas Dorr’s People’s Constitution, approved by voters in 1842. The state ruled that Dorr’s Constitution wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, leading to open rebellion and the Dorr War, where Dorr’s forces were badly beaten.

    Rhode Island’s first attempt at a Constitution contained concessions to Dorr and his followers, but wasn’t endorsed by Dorr and was voted down in 1842. This defeat split the Dorr folks and opened the way for an 1843 Constitution that was very similar to the old Colonial Charter, the exceptions being that black males over the age of twenty-one were given voting rights (an interesting story in itself) and native born males could replace the freehold burden by paying a $1 registration, even though they were still precluded from voting for city councils or on municipal financial issues.

    The freehold qualification arrived with your ‘lively experiment’ and never really left until a 1928
    Constitutional Amendment made any property tax at all sufficient to qualify one for voting. Even then, many couldn’t vote because they didn’t own any property. Another amendment in 1973 completely eliminated tax requirements, finally removing the weight of the 1663 Colonial Charter and providing Rhode Island with universal suffrage.

  3. leftyrite

    Interesting response, Patrick.

    But, you would, I think, admit:

    not bad by 1663 standards?

    Charles II looks like he’s ready to play

    bass for Mungo Jerry, doesn’t he? 

    Rock on, Little Rhody. 

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