Rhode Island

Dorr Rebellion 1842 Broadside, Rhode Island's Middle Class Crisis

Dorr Rebellion 1842 Broadside, Rhode Island's Middle Class Crisis


Dorr Rebellion Broadside, 7.5" x 9", "Who may vote on the adoption of the Constitution?" Circe 1842. Document lightly foxed and with small stains/ink burns. 



An important early document from a rebellion emanating from the increasing elitism of the upper class land owners from the working class in Rhode Island, circa 1842. Dorr's Rebellion of 1842 was an extra legal attempt to achieve suffrage reform and create a new state constitution for Rhode Island. It was suppressed by force, but a new state constitution corrected the problems of disfranchisement and malapportionment that had provoked the uprising. By 1841 Rhode Island was experiencing severe disfranchisement because suffrage under the state constitution (still the 1663 royal charter) was limited to male freeholders owning at least $134 of real property and their eldest sons, creating a state dominated by rural interests. The effect of this requirement created disparity which ramped up in the 1830s when the rapidly growing industrial cities were far outnumbered in the legislature by representatives of rural towns, to the annoyance of major businessmen and industrialists of the cities. The state legislature lagged in investing in infrastructure and other needs for urbanizing areas, and generally did not respond to urban needs.


The voting system maintained representation in the legislature by towns. Under this geographic system, the larger populations in cities were dramatically under-represented. Furthermore, because of the property requirement, few immigrants or factory workers could vote, despite their growing numbers in the state. In 1840 other states that had been receiving immigrants had a huge surge in turnout, but Rhode Island voting remained suppressed.  In 1841 a radicalized reformist group, the Rhode Island Suffrage Association, drew up a new state constitution, called the People's Constitution, that meliorated both problems. The association then submitted it for ratification to the entire male electorate, the disfranchised as well as freeholders. Suffragists relied on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, especially its ideal of popular sovereignty. Concurrently, the so-called Freeholders' government drafted its own reformed constitution but submitted it only to freeholders for ratification. The People's Constitution was overwhelmingly (but extralegally) ratified, while voters rejected the Freeholders' document. The suffragists then held elections for a new state government, in which Thomas Wilson Dorr was elected governor. They installed a state legislature and hoped that the Freeholders government would dissolve itself. Instead, it enacted repressive legislation and declared martial law to suppress what it considered an insurrection. President John Tyler declined to assist the Dorr government and covertly promised to back the Freeholders government. The Freeholders crushed a minor effort to defend the Dorr government by force. Dorr himself was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment but was later pardoned. The victorious Freeholders then adopted a new constitution that conceded most of what the suffragists had demanded.


Perhaps of most interest is the interpretation of the rebellion, which has been debated continually by historians: Mowry (1901) portrayed the Dorrites as irresponsible idealists who ignored the state's need for stability and order. Gettleman (1973) hailed it as an early working-class attempt to overthrow an elitist government. Dennison (1976) saw it as a legitimate expression of Republicanism in the United States, but concluded that politics changed little for Rhode Islanders after 1842 because the same elite groups ruled the state.


The broadside document offered here is shown transcribed in part below:


"Who may vote on the adoption of the Constitution? …

"All persons now qualified to vote, and those who may be qualified to vote under the existing laws, previous to the time of such their voting, - and all persons who shall be qualified to vote under the provisions of such Constitution, shall be qualified to vote upon the question of the adoption of said Constitution."

Which then continues in separate sections of:

"Upon the adoption of the Constitution


Form of Oath"


The Thomas Wilson Dorr Rebellion of 1841-43 is considered the most significant constitutional and political event to occur in Rhode Island history.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.



Item: 66447

Price: $600.00
 Rhode Island
Rhode Island
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