Status: Complete



Work in Rhode lsland—Dorr War—Recollections of old friends—Further labors in Rhode
Island and elsewhere in New England.

In the State of Rhode Island, under the leadership of Thomas W. Dorr, an
effort was made in 1841 to set aside the old colonial charter, under which
that State had lived and flourished since the Revolution, and to replace it
with a new constitution having such improvements as it was thought that
time and experience had shown to be wise and necessary. This new constitu-
tion was especially framed to enlarge the bases of representation so far as
the white people of the State were concerned—to abolish an odious property
qualification, and to confine the right of suffrage to white male citizens only.
Mr. Dorr was himself a well-meaning man, and, after his fashion, a man of
broad and progressive views, quite in advance of the party with which he
acted. To gain their support, he consented to this restriction to a class, a right
which ought to be enjoyed by all citizens. In this he consulted policy rather
than right, and at last shared the fate of all compromisers and trimmers, for
he was disastrously defeated. The proscriptive features of his constitution
shocked the sense of right and roused the moral indignation of the abolition-
ists of the State, a class which would otherwise have gladly co-operated with
him, at the same time that it did nothing to win support from the conserva-
tive class which clung to the old charter. Anti-slavery men wanted a new
constitution, but they did not want a defective instrument which required
reform at the start. The result was that such men as William M. Chace,
Thomas Davis, George L. Clarke, Asa Fairbanks, Alphonso Janes, and oth-
ers of Providence the Perry brothers of Westerly, John Brown and C. C.
Eldridge of East Greenwich, Daniel Mitchell, William Adams, and Robert
Shrove of Pawtucket, Peleg Clarke, Caleb Kelton, G. J. Adams, and the
Anthonys and Goulds of Coventry and vicinity, Edward Harris ofWoonsocket,
and other abolitionists of the State, decided that the time had come when the
people of Rhode Island might be taught a more comprehensive gospel of
human rights than had gotten itself into this Dorr constitution. The public
mind was awake, and one class of its people at least was ready to work with
us to the extent of seeking to defeat the proposed constitution, though their
reasons for such work were far different from ours. Stephen S. Foster, Parker
Pillsbury, Abby Kelley, James Monroe, and myself, were called into the
State to advocate equal rights as against this narrow and proscriptive consti-
tution. The work to which we were invited was not free from difficulty. The

Notes and Questions

Nobody has written a note for this page yet

Please sign in to write a note for this page