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JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY STDDIES
HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
HERBERT B. ADAMS, Editor.
History is past Politics and Politics present History freeman
BY WILLIAM E. FOSTER, A. M.
N. MURRAY, PUBLICATION AGENT, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
COPYRIGHT, 1886, BY N. MURRAY.
JOHN MURPHY A CO., PRINTERS,
RHODE ISLAND. 1
The application of the comparative method to the study of
early American history has within recent years been attended
with results of the most substantial value. The scattered
communities along the Atlantic coast which, since 1776, have
been united in a common bond of government had their
origin in widely diverse sets of conditions. While, therefore,
their development has been characterized by institutions bear-
ing a general analogy to each other, there is sufficient indivi-
duality and local differentiation to be observed in any one
instance, to render a somewhat close comparison of their points
of resemblance and difference extremely serviceable. It is
plain, moreover, that, the farther down in the scale of local
division we can go, the more fruitful will be the study of
these local institutions.
While, then, the nation is made up of the several States,
once colonies or provinces, and while the States are made up
of counties ; we need to notice that, descending still farther,
the counties are made up of towns, or, as in some States,
parishes. We may pass, for our present purpose, any con-
sideration of the counties 2 in connection with this question.
1 Bead before the Ehode Island Historical Society, Jan. 22, 1884, and
before the Historical Seminary, Johns Hopkins University, April 18, 1884.
2 See Dr. Edward Channing's paper, on "Town and County Government,
in the English Colonies of North America," Johns Hopkins University
Studies, 2d series, X.
6 Town Government in Rhode Island. [74
While in the Middle and Southern Colonies, owing to the
scattered condition of the population, and the comparative
fewness of compact settlements,, the county became a more
important political division than the town, in all the New
England Colonies, on the other hand, the county has never
possessed any political significance. 1 It has been merely a
convenience of administration.
In the town, however (as existing in New England), we find
most of the conditions for a unit of government. Its territory
is not too large for efficient combination and cooperation. Its
population is, in general, compactly massed. Its citizens are
a homogeneous whole. To this it should be added that the
town, in all the New England Colonies, has from the first
had a strong hold upon the interest of the citizens. This was
noticed by M. de Tocqueville, 2 who so long ago as 1835,
declared that the cooperation of the citizen '* insures his
attachment to its interest ; the well-being it affords him secures
his affection ; and its welfare is the aim of his ambition, and
of his future exertions. 77 The strong hold which the doctrine
of States-rights has always had in the colonies and States
south of Mason's and Dixon's Line, has been a striking fact
in our political history. To a far greater extent than in New
England, the States have, in the South, rivalled the national
government, in the interest, the concern, and the affection of
the citizens. Is not this difference to be explained, in part,
by the fact that in New England the town has been almost as
formidable a rival as the State, in this respect ? It has thus,
perhaps, resulted, that between the two tendencies, the regard
for the national government has not, in New England, been
materially encroached upon.
In this paper we shall examine some of the peculiar and
interesting conditions under which this institution the town
has manifested itself in Khode Island ; indicating the con-
1 In R. I., county officers have no functions beyond those of the courts.
2 "Democracy in America," (Ed. 1862), I., p. 85.
75] Town Government in Rhode Island. 7
trast to be observed between the beginnings of government
here and in the other New England colonies, and also some
of the marked characteristics which have continued to distin-
guish the local institutions of Ehode Island to this day.
THE INDEPENDENT ORIGIN OF THE TOWNS.
The colony of Rhode Island differs from the colony of
Massachusetts Bay, for instance, or from the colony of Penn-
sylvania, in the fact that her settlement was not a deliberate
act resulting from a formed purpose. The elements of which
the colony came in time to be composed were at first entirely
independent of each other. Rhode Island, moreover, had no
deliberate " founder," in the strict sense of the word. It is
true that such honor and distinction as we have come to
associate with the name of founder, belong in Rhode Island
to Roger Williams, in virtue of the many and signal services
which he rendered to this colony, and the far-reaching influ-
ence which has followed his self-sacrificing labors. Yet it is
only necessary to compare his coming to Rhode Island with
that of Winthrop to Massachusetts Bay, or that of Penn to
Pennsylvania, to see that his agency in the matter was not
the result of a conscious purpose. There is certainly nothing
to show that Roger Williams came from England to America
with the intention of founding a colony. Nor is it clear that
he brought with him from Salem to Providence any intention
quite so distinct as that. He left Salem because of the offi-
cial measures taken against him by the Massachusetts govern-
ment. In steering his " course to Narragansett Bay," l to use
his own language, his benevolent intentions were, upon his
own testimony, in behalf of the Indian occupants of the soil
(with whom a few years earlier he had had several interviews),
rather than in behalf of any countrymen of his own, for
1 Narragansett Club Publications, VI., p. 335.
8 Town Government in Rhode Island. [76
whom a colony might thus be founded. His primary pur-
pose, he afterward declared, was " to do the natives good and
to that end to have their language." ] He even adds more
explicitly that he " desired not to be troubled with English
company." It is quite true that he was not without English
company, either in his journey from Salem, or in his short
stay on the banks of the Seekonk, or in his final settlement
here at Moshassuck. But it is perfectly obvious that this
" company " was almost forced upon him. " Out of pity,"
he declares, " I gave leave to several persons to come along
in my company," and accordingly he was joined by Harris,
Smith, Angell and Wickes.
But Williams's mind was one which felt very readily the
weight of any strong consideration particularly a benevolent
one. And so, enlarging his original intention, he considered,
to quote once more his own language, " the condition of
divers of my distressed countrymen." 2 The result was that
he advanced at last to the distinctly formed plan of "a shelter
for persons distressed for conscience."
But when did he thus enlarge his conception ? We must
look a little backward, and a little forward as well, from the
month of January, 1636, in which he left Salem. So early
as the previous October the sentence of expulsion 3 had been
passed. That the intervening three months should not have
been partly given up to carefully weighing and considering
the matter with his Salem friends would not be quite natural.
It is in this light that we may read Governor Winthrop's
entry in his Journal, on hearing of Mr. Williams's departure,
that " he had drawn above twenty persons to his opinion,
and that they were intended to erect a plantation about the
Naragansett Bay." 4 The matter had reached that stage.
1 Williams's testimony, Nov. 17, 1677, Proceedings of Harris Commission.
*B. I. Col. Kecords, I., p. 22.
3 See the examination of this " Sentence of expulsion," in the Khode
Island Historical Society's " Collections," VII., pp. 95-100.
4 Winthrop's Journal, I., p. 175.
77] Town Government in Rhode Island. 9
Let us now look forward from January, 1636, and see how
gradually and in what an unpremeditated 1 manner this infant
" Plantation about the Naragansett Bay " this " shelter for
a few of his distressed countrymen," developed by slow and
gradual stages into a chartered colony. Not until August do
we come upon the noteworthy agreement, August 20, 1636,
of those who were "desirous to inhabit in the town of Provi-
dence." 2 By this act they signified their readiness to submit
to whatever arrangements might be found desirable, " only in
civill things," by their thirteen predecessors, whom they men-
tion as the " present inhabitants." This, so far as any docu-
ments now remaining to us are concerned, was the beginning
of the organization known as "the town of Providence,"
though the language, " Towne meeting " is used in an entry
dated June 16. 3
" The town of Providence." And what were the bounda-
ries of this town of Providence ? Whose territories marched
with it on the north, on the west, and on the south ; and by
what charter or official sanction did it hold ? Boundaries it
had none, until the Indian deeds 4 approximately and only
approximately marked them out. With those of no other
English settlements did any of its lines coincide, except that it
was known to lie somewhere west of the Plymouth Colony. It
was, in fact, a settlement in the wilderness with undetermined
bounds. And by no charter or documentary authority, from
white men, was it secured in its possessions.
Here, then, in the North, was " the town of Providence,"
Williams's town. But at about the same time, another com-
pany of his " distressed countrymen," most of them residents
1 Compare R. I. Hist. Soc. Collections, VII., pp. 101-3.
* E. I. Col. Records, I., p. 14.
3 R. I. Col. Records, I., p. 12.
4 Printed in R. I. Col. Records, I., pp. 18, 22-25, 31-38. See also the
Narragansett Historical Register, II., pp. 222-25, 287-97, where they are
10 Town Government in Rhode Island. [78
of Boston had determined to remove to some place. They
were avowedly attracted by this beautiful bay, with its fertile
shores and its then delightful climate. They finally settled
near the northern end of the island known as Rhode Island.
This was the beginning of the town of Portsmouth. But what
relation existed between the town of Providence and the town
of Portsmouth ? None whatever. They were not two mem-
bers of the same colony. They were not even two organiza-
tions planted by the same authority. Nothing but the word
u independence " properly characterizes their attitude, both to
each other, and to the rest of America. Allegiance to the
King (and later to the Commonwealth) was all that they
These were the two parent settlements. In a short time
there came to be a settlement at Newport, as an outgrowth of
that at Portsmouth ; and one at Warwick, in part settled by
Portsmouth men and in part by Providence men. But though,
historically, this was the origin of Newport and Warwick,
politically the towns of Newport and Warwick acknowledged
no connection and no obligation, at first and for some time.
The first instance of coalescing, or running together in any
way, was in the case of the two towns on Rhode Island,
Portsmouth and Newport, and this occurred four years after
Roger Williams came to Providence. It was not until 1647,
more than ten years after the beginning of Williams's settle-
ment, that the four towns came together under a common
government, and that any such entity as a " Colony of Rhode
Island " existed.
Let us see how this consolidation, and creation of a colonial
government came about. There are doubtless other causes
than those which are now recognized, but the chief agencies
appear to be three in number : First, a common purpose
animating these settlers ; second, the danger of a common
opponent without ; lastly, but by no means of least importance,
the absolute need, in their internal administration, of " Some-
thing " to quote from Judge Staples, " to give stringency to
79] Town Government in Rhode Island. 11
their laws as among themselves." 1 Up to this date, however,
the town of Providence, dating from 1636 ; the town of Ports-
mouth, dating from 1638; and the town of Newport, dating
from 1639; all three of them during a part of this time
(and the town of Providence during the whole of it), existed
as independent communities ; more so than the two neighbor-
ing towns of Salem and Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay
Colony, more so than the towns of Boston and Springfield
in the same colony. To find an analogy, in fact, we cannot
stop short of comparing colony with colony, or colony with
one of these towns. The town of Providence was, in fact,
until 1647, as much an independent, self-centred, community,
as the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, or the Colony of Mary-
Was there not resistance to the proposed consolidation ?
We may be sure there was. It is not to be imagined that so
great power would pass from the hands of the several towns
without a struggle. The union was, however, seen to be
inevitable, and it was finally brought about ; but in such a
way that the language of John Quincy Adams, used many
years later and with reference to another matter, might with
almost equal propriety be applied to this. "The constitu-
tion," says Mr. Adams (speaking of the adoption of the
United States constitution in 1787-89), " The constitution
had been extorted from the grinding necessity of a reluctant
nation." 2 And so it might be said of the union of towns 3
which the meeting of the first General Assembly of Rhode
Island signalized, in 1647, that it was "extorted from the
grinding necessity" of four reluctant towns.
Roger Williams was dispatched to England, and from what
was at that time the highest authority in England, the par-
1 "Proceedings of 1st General Assembly," p. vii.
2 John Quincy Adams's address on " The jubilee of the constitution!,' 71
1839, p. 55.
3 These towns, as the author has elsewhere pointed out, "were scarcely
less than little 'States/ in the functions which they exercised." (Foster's-
" Stephen Hopkins," I., p. 158).
12 Town Government in Rhode Island. [80
liamentary government, he obtained the patent of 1643-4. 1
This patent established as one government, " The Incorpora-
tion of Providence Plantations, in the Narragansett Bay in
New England." Not until this point can we speak of the
colony as existing ; and it is of distinct importance to notice
that, while in the case of most American colonies, the charter
has preceded and has been the model of the colony, the order
is here reversed, and the charter is rather the outgrowth of
the nascent colony with its requirements, more or less urgent,
and more or less fundamental. That this latter is the order
of nature one need hardly hesitate to acknowledge ; nor did
twenty years pass before this same natural law of develop-
ment called for the replacing of this earlier " patent," with
the more highly organized "charter" of 1663.
It is well to pause here and notice how different was the
experience of Rhode Island in this regard from that of the
other New England colonies. The Plymouth settlers, before
landing from the Mayflower on American soil, signed in their
cabin the memorable compact which combined them into a
" civil body politic." The Massachusetts Bay settlers, after
obtaining their charter, carefully brought it across the Atlan-
tic with them. The Connecticut settlers planted Hartford
under a specific "commission" from the Massachusetts General
Court, which was granted, to quote its language, in order
u that some present government might be observed." 2 But in
the scattered communities which grew up on Rhode Island
soil between 1636 and 1647, there were lacking not only
organic law in common, but even documentary agreement in
common, and also any delegation of authority from outside
their limits, until the patent, whose provisions went into
operation in 1647.
1 See the address of Judge John H. Stiness, Feb. 4, 1885, on "The First
Charter," in the R. I. report on "The Providence County Court House,"
1885, pp. 13-58.
8 Mass. Col. Records, L, p. 171. (In the original, abbreviations are used.)
81] Town Government in Rhode Island. 13
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TOWNS.
Let us look now at some of the characteristics which
marked these local communities from the outset. As a con-
spicuous example, their extraordinarily exaggerated separatism
may be mentioned. In Providence, for instance, this ren-
dered any progress towards formal organization extremely
slow. The first organized action is that of the " agreement,"
signed Aug. 20, 1636, in which thirteen " present inhabitants "
are named, one being Roger Williams. A letter written by
Williams to Governor John Winthrop (the elder), at about
this very time, 1 is valuable as throwing some light on the
condition of mind in which these recluses approached even so
rudimentary a measure of local government as this. "We
have no patent," he remarks, " nor doth the face of magis-
tracy suit with our present condition."
" Hitherto," he remarks, further on, in the same letter,
"the masters of families have ordinarily met once a fortnight,
and consulted about our common peace, watch, and plant-
ing." 2 But as yet all right of ownership stood in the name of
Roger Williams, himself, until, some time in the year 1638,
he made over " equal right and power," etc. to his twelve
associates. And not until July 27, 1640, did "the inhabi-
tants of the town of Providence" reach the point of a regu-
lar election of town officers, and " agree for the towne to
choose" the various officers required. 3 So far, indeed, were
they from consciously founding a colony, that they thus
omitted the actual organization of a town government, by
appointment of officers to administer it, until apparently
forced to it step by step.
This agreement, says Staples, " went into immediate opera-
tion, and constituted the town government for several years." 4
1 In August or September, 1636. (Narragansett Club Pub., VI., p. 4.)
* Narragansett Club Pub., VI., p. 4.
3 Staples's "Annals," pp. 40, 41, 42, 43.
4 Staples's "Annals," p. 44.
14 Town Government in Rhode Island. [82
Another thing is significant as showing that the aim of
these first settlers was not consciously the founding of a great
and extensive centre of business or influence. In the lay-
ing of the foundations of other colonies, great care was
taken in the choice of the men who were to compose
the infant community. Winthrop, at Boston ; Bradford,
at Plymouth ; Hooker, in founding the Connecticut col-
ony; and, in fact, every deliberate organizer of a colony
went out with picked and chosen men, men who had just
the qualities needed to build up a political society. Was this
so in the case of the men who came to Providence with
Williams? Nay. "It can scarcely be believed," says Mr.
Dorr, " that if Williams had known the nature of the work he
had unwittingly begun he would have selected as his associ-
ates all the men who gathered around him." " Scarcely any,
save Williams, had any political experience." 1 They came
with him because they had been his friends or associates, or
wished to become associates. At Portsmouth, indeed, it was
slightly different. Such men as Coddington, Aspinwall,
Hutchinson, and Holden were not without experience in
political matters ; but what this community lacked in un fa-
miliarity with administration, it would seem to have amply
made up in incompatibility of temper.
This latter characteristic, in fact, indicates a third feature
in these early town governments, namely, a lack of harmony.
Repulsion, rather than attraction, was to be observed wherever
their various elements were brought into contact with each
other. They wanted very little else but to be let alone. If
any one from outside their limits would come to them, and
wished to become one of themselves, that was one thing.
It was quite another thing, however, if they were expected to
receive those who simply cared to make visits back and forth,
or if they were expected to keep thoroughfares open into the
other colonies. For this they had no mind. (We are speaking,
1 Dorr's " Providence," pp. 6-7.
83] Town Government in Rhode Island. 15
of course, of the very earliest years of the settlements.) They
did not exert themselves for exchange of merchandise by way
of trade, nor did they aim at the broadening effect of com-
mercial intercourse, nor did they lay themselves open to out-
side influence of any kind. Nor, on the other hand, were
they much more inclined to cultivate intercourse among them-
selves. And not only were the different communities fre-
quently at swords 7 points with each other, but each separate
community seemed to be capable of bringing forth an abun-
dance of discordant elements within its own limits. The
Portsmouth community found itself at so great difficulty in
reconciling itself to Gorton that he withdrew to Warwick.
During his brief stay in Providence, antagonism of the most
bitter nature had been developed between him and Roger
Williams. Between Williams and Harris, however, was an
even more bitter contention, which seems to have lasted with
unabated vigor to the close of their lives. At Pawtuxet,
also, another active opponent of Williams, who, to put it
mildly, was capable of somewhat excited invective, existed in
the person of William Arnold. In the Newport settlement,
William Coddington was a thorn in the side of more than
one of the community, and was in frequent collision with
William Brenton. And as if this were not enough, the
advent of the Quaker element, in 1654, added one more
inharmonious note to the chorus of discords.
Another characteristic is to be noted, in the lack of the
tendency to organize, in these several communities, in the
matter of local institutions. No common meeting-house, no
common burying-ground, no common school-house, no com-
mon town-house, revealed the fact that these settlers saw
before them a future of growth and development, for their
newly-planted settlement. On the contrary, says Mr. Dorr,
" the fields, the houses, and the barns of the Plantations were
the' primitive places, both of secular and religious meetings. 771
1 Dorr's " Providence," p. 9.
16 Town Government in Rhode Island. [84
A local community, in the Massachusetts or Connecticut
Colony, was, in fact, a crystallization around the meeting-
house and the school-house, as a nucleus. In the early town
of Providence there was no nucleus of this kind, except the
Another characteristic is, of course, the now world-renowned
principle of separation between the civil and religious func-
tions. Later, it became inseparably associated with the name
of the colony ; but its origin was in the exigencies of the
separate towns. 1
FUNCTIONS EXERCISED BY THE TOWNS.
Thus much for some of the characteristics of these towns,
but we must consider the functions exercised by them. For
these functions, in fact, determined in part their characteristics ;
and shaped the government which was organized under the
two colonial charters ; and continued to be exercised in a more
or less complete form, long after the adoption of the colonial
There is, (as should be expected,) a variation in these par-
ticulars in the various towns. Let us look for a moment at
the town of Providence, as it existed from 1636 to 1647.
The government was at first a pure democracy. Not an aris-
tocracy, in which certain chief members of the community
assumed the authority. Not even a representative republic,
in which the interests of all were subserved by the delegation
of actual legislation to a portion of their number. There
was no selection ; and there was no delegation. " It would,"
says Staples, 2 " be interesting to peruse the proceedings of a
colony of civilized men, commencing a political existence
with the principles of perfect equality, and to mark the
1 For an examination of this principle as established in Khode Island,
see K. I. Hist. Soc. Collections, VII., pp. 100-3.
*Staples's "Annals of Providence," p. 38.
85] Town Government in Rhode Island. 17
growth and increase of difficulties which gradually" " led them
to the abandonment of their pure democracy, to the delegation
of part of their powers, and to the institution of a repre-
sentative government." But the records are unfortunately
This was the time when the town of Providence paid no
heed nor regard to any other authority whatever, except a
king 2,500 miles and more across the sea; and when every
citizen of this same town of Providence was on perfect poli-
tical equality with every other, and acknowleged the authority
of no other. This was individual sovereignty, in actual
operation. It did not, of course, continue long.
Another function of the towns was connected with their
administration of justice and punishment of offenders. " Not
only for troubled consciences," says Judge Durfee, "did the
new accessions to their population come," but the settlement
was also a refuge "for troublesome eccentricities. Adven-
turers came full of restless ardor, chafing at every restraint."
" Men of vicious propensities came," also, " driven out of
their old haunts, and seeking fresh fields for indulgence."
At the outset in both Providence and Portsmouth, "the
major assent " of the freemen in open town-meeting was what
decided cases of equity, impositions of penalty, and miscel-
laneous legal questions. It was before the Providence town-
meeting, that Joshua Verin was brought, in May, 1637, and,
to quote again from Judge Durfee, 1 " was tried, convicted,
and disfranchised," for restraining liberty of conscience. 2 In
September, 1638, the Portsmouth town-meeting summoned
before its august presence, eight Portsmouth citizens, whom it
tried, convicted, and sentenced, respectively, for the offence of
drunkenness and rioting. 3 In another instance, the Ports-
mouth town-meeting condemned and divided the property of
1 Durfee's "Gleanings from the judicial history of Rhode Island," p. 2.
2 See the original record, R. I. Col. Records, I., p. 16.
3 R. I. Col. Records, I., p. 60.
18 Town Government in Rhode Island. [86
an absconding debtor. 1 There are some minor variations
between the practice of Providence and that of Portsmouth.
For instance, in the former town the administration of justice
was committed to the whole body of citizens, with at first
absolutely no discrimination. The next step was to select two
" deputies." In Portsmouth, on the other hand, the citizens
began by choosing one of their number "judge." Later in
the same year, three "elders" were associated with him, "in
the execution of justice and judgment." 2 Yet even they were
obliged to make a quarterly account of their rulings, to the
town-meeting (in early records designated "the Body").
The town-meeting, moreover, in every one of the Rhode
Island towns, exercised from the outset the functions of a
court of probate, nor did the creation of county organizations,
in 1703, serve to indicate to these towns the desirableness of
a transfer of these functions to a county court of probate, as
in most other New England colonies. To this day, in fact,
the only courts of probate in Rhode Island are, in the towns,
the town council itself sitting in that capacity ; 3 and in the
cities, such a body or judge as may be appointed 4 by the city
council for this purpose. 5
From such beginnings, by a series of extremely slow
accretions, and with modifications more slowly introduced
than elsewhere, has developed the present judicial system of
Rhode Island. 6
1 Ibid., I., p. 62. Compare also the instance of capital punishment, cited
by Governor Hopkins, in his History. (In R. I. Hist. Soc. Collections,
VII., p. 38.)
2 K. I. Col. Records, I., p. 64.
3 " Public statutes of Rhode Island," 1882, ch. 179, sec. 1.
4 Ibid., ch. 179, sec. 2. The town councils have the option of appointing
a "judge of probate," but have seldom availed themselves of it.
5 Another function exercised by the towns in Rhode Island, but usually
fey county officers elsewhere, is that of the care and control of highways.
For a curious instance of the infelicitous working of this arrangement, see
Science, Aug. 29, 1884, IV., p. 175, note.
6 Its growth and development have been traced by Chief Justice Durfee,
of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, in his recent monograph, " Gleanings
87]- Town Government in Rhode Island. 19
Another function exercised by these towns was connected
with financial administration. This has always been recog-
nized as an indispensable accompaniment of local self-govern-
ment; and there is therefore nothing noteworthy about it
except as connected with its re-appearance after the union.
There can be no doubt that a hesitation on this point lay at
the foundation of much of the reluctance to enter into the
Passing now from our consideration of the origin, the
characteristics, and the functions, of those towns before the
year 1647, let us examine the frames of government success-
ively imposed upon Rhode Island by the Patent adopted in
1647, by the Charter of 1663, and by the various modifica-
tions subsequently introduced ; and notice how the pronounced
independency of these early town governments gave character
to it all.
GOVERNMENT UNDER THE PATENT OF 1643-4.
The General Assembly of 1647 was the beginning of legis-
lative action in Rhode Island ; and in organizing under the
Patent obtained three years before, it adopted as its funda-
mental body of laws, "that remarkable piece of colonial
legislation " as Judge Durfee designates it, 1 " the code of
1647." By this code a legislative body was created (con-
sisting of a president, 8 assistants, and 24 commissioners).
But this scheme, unlike most systems of representative
government, placed no power to originate legislation in the
hands of these " representatives," with but a slight proviso.
" All laws," says Arnold, 2 " were to be first discussed in the
towns." When all four of the towns had acted upon the
from the Judicial History of Rhode Island," (R. I. Historical Tracts, Not
1 Judge Durfee's "Gleanings," p. 6.
2 Arnold, I., p. 203.
20 Town Government in Rhode Island. [88
proposed law, each by itself, and not before, and favorably
considered it, it was to be passed upon by the " General
Assembly," whose action was thus simply a final ruling
upon it. " Thus/' says Arnold, " the laws emanated directly
from the people." From this provision, says Governor Hop-
kins, " came the common story, that some towns had hereto-
fore repealed acts of the General Assembly." 1
Another provision of the code deserves consideration, as
showing the exceeding jealousy with which these colonists
looked upon the assumption of authority by any man.
Namely, that no person should " presume to beare or execute
any office, that is not lawfully called to it and confirmed in
it," nor presume " to do more or less " than he was expressly
authorized to do. 2 They believed in no " loose construction "
of their " constitution." The most striking feature of the
code is that connected with the question of sovereignty, as
it concerned Great Britain. Nothing has been more com-
mon in the granting of privileges by a royal government to a
colony or dependency, than to enumerate certain rights, and
cover the rest by a general provision which entitled the
colony to whatever was not at variance with the laws of the
home government. Was this the case with Rhode Island ?
Hardly. " Wee do agree," they say, " to make such lawes and
constitutions," (i. e., conformable to the laws of England) " so
far as the nature and constitution of our place will admit." 3
Instead of shaping their laws to those of Great Britain, they
were willing to adopt such of the laws of the home govern-
ment as would conform to theirs. And the surprising fact in
connection with it is, that, in this, they were but following
the language of their Patent, as granted by the English
We have said that these towns, and later the colony, owed
1 R I. Hist. Soc. Collections, VII., p. 45.
* R. I. Col. Kec., I., p. 197.
3 R. I. Col. Records, I., p. 158.
89] Town Government in Rhode Island. 21
allegiance to no one but the government of Great Britain
across the sea. One might almost go farther and say, in view
of this remarkable provision, that they regarded themselves
largely as independent even of that. It is true that at this
time the King was not on his throne, and that the ascendency
of the parliamentary and revolutionary government might be
supposed to have loosened and unsettled for the moment the
ordinary ties of allegiance. It is true, that when in 1663,
the extraordinarily liberal charter of the colony was obtained
from Charles II., the Rhode Island government failed not in
its formal acknowledgment of his rule. But it is also true,
and it should never be overlooked, in tracing the growth of
that spirit of independence in this colony, which led to the
independent principles and the resolute deeds of the revolu-
tion, that the colony started on a basis which almost wholly
ignored any outside authority whatever. It had its origin in
towns which were politically independent. And that same
spirit of independence was transmitted to the colonial organi-
If, now, we examine the operation of government since
1647, we shall be no less struck with the survival of this
early spirit of independence, growing out of the town gov-
ernments. A formal union had taken place under the first
patent. But when in 1651 William Coddington obtained
from the home government the act which placed in his hands
the long-desired supremacy, the stability of this colonial union
received its first test. It yielded. The colony fell apart.
Again, as at the beginning, Portsmouth and Newport acted
together. Providence and Warwick, left thus to themselves,
formed a separate government. The government of the
towns, not indeed each one by itself, but by twos in combina-
tion, was resumed. Doubtless, if the tendency had not been
arrested, the next step would have been to the original condi-
dition ; the government of each of the four towns, independ-
ent of every other.
22 Town Government in Rhode Island. [90
THE CHARTEK OF 1663.
But the tendency was arrested. There were enough of the
citizens who were by this time convinced of the absolute
necessity for joint action, to unite in sending Roger Williams
and John Clarke to England to secure still further charter
rights. Unfortunately, the instructions which they received,
if any, have not been preserved, so that we are unable to
judge whether the distinct advance which the charter of
1663 marked in the direction of a stronger central govern-
ment, was or was not expressly authorized by the colonists.
It probably was not, and undoubtedly was exceedingly dis-
tasteful to them. But none the less, it was felt to be a ten-
dency which was inevitable and imperative.
In the patent adopted in 1647, no attempt had been made
to declare or prescribe the boundaries of the new colony.
The charter of 1663, however, did attempt this, and for the
first time expressed in formal, official, language, what the
colony claimed for itself. This was in 1663. Not until
1747 was the last of these lines fully settled and determined,
and the right of possession of the territory by Rhode Island
formally acknowledged by the neighboring colonies. And
this is a consideration of no slight importance in considering
the gradual growing together of the Rhode Island towns into
one government, and the overcoming of the centrifugal by a
centripetal tendency.' In the days of 1787 to '89, when the
union of thirteen somewhat inharmonious States was the one
thing ardently hoped for, there was a toast which went freely
circulating about the country, "A hoop to the barrel ! "
This colony of Rhode Island in its early history needed a
hoop badly enough, to be sure. Yet it may be considered to
have had one in the pressure it experienced from its hostile
neighbors, in the steady encroachments of the adjoining colo-
nies on the territory which it claimed, and in the uncom-
promising hostility with which its planting and its rise were
regarded by them. It was this constant, though unfriendly
91] Town Government in Rhode Island. 23
pressure which became one of the strongest agencies in
compacting the colony into shape.
Yet the centrifugal tendency was not altogether a thing of
the past when the last quarter of the 17th century was
reached, and when the advent of Sir Edmund Andros, with
his measures of radical reconstruction, once more, and for
the last time, dissolved the union which had constituted the
colony of Rhode Island, and threw it back into its original
state of town organizations simply. It was a singular pro-
ceeding, and one well worthy of careful study. Not so
much a revolution, as a resumption of original relations
which had been interrupted. Not an act of violence and
anarchy, but apparently, under the circumstances, the only
natural step to take.
No more marked difference can be conceived of than that
between Rhode Island and the other New England colonies,
in relation to what is known as the usurpation of Andros.
In the other colonies it was an interruption of ordinary rela-
tions, and an interference with the exercise of every orderly
function of government. But in Rhode Island before 1647,
says Arnold, 1 " each town was in itself sovereign, and enjoyed
a full measure of civil and religious freedom. They had now
only to fall back upon their primitive system of town govern-
ments to be as free" as before. 2 On the 29th of June, 1686,
the General Assembly voted that it should be " lawful for the
freemen of each town in this collony to meet together," and
make all necessary provision " for the managing the affairs of
their respective towns." 3 The Assembly then dissolved. In
1 Arnold, I., p. 487.
2 R.L Col. Kec., II., p. 191.
3 In the interval between 1647 and 1686, however, 4 new town govern-
ments had been organized ; King's Towne and Westerly in the Narragansett
Country ; and Jamestown and New Shorehain, on the Islands.
24 Town Government in Rhode Island. [92
1690, the government under the charter was as peacefully
resumed as it had been set aside, the interference of the royal
agent being now at an end. In all these occurrences the prin-
ciple assumed as a basis of action, without apparently a ques-
tion or protest, was, that these separate, independent town
organizations had at their own pleasure united in 1647 in a
league for their mutual welfare and defence ; a league which
was subject to dissolution at any time by these same indepen-
dent towns, at their pleasure. This was the theory upon
which they acted in 1686 ; and it bears a striking resemblance
to the extreme theory of States-rights, or secession, as applied
to States; the theory upon which the hesitating States
defended their attitude in 1787-89, in delaying to ratify the
United States constitution; the theory on which the States of
Virginia and Kentucky acted in the passage of the disorgan-
izing "Kesolutions of 1798," and "Resolutions of 1799";
the theory on which the thirteen Southern States acted in
1861, in withdrawing from the Union.
A LOCAL RHODE ISLAND SENTIMENT CREATED.
How the existence of this principle and this spirit in
Rhode Island, passed gradually from an insistence on local
town sovereignty, as opposed to the claims of a centralized
colonial government, to an insistence on colonial and state
sovereignty, as opposed to a centralized national government,
is now to be considered.
How did this take place ? The answer is, that the once
heterogeneous community of which the colony of Rhode
Island was made up, had become by slow and gradual stages
an extremely horn ogeneous com munity . Homogeneous, indeed,
it could not help becoming. After the first generation of its
settlers, immigration from without was not encouraged, and
for years its families went on marrying and inter-marrying,
with an almost inappreciable infusion of outside blood. Tra-
ditions, handed down through successive generations, deep-
93] Town Government in Rhode Island. 25
ened and intensified the strongly local sentiment which early
in the history of Rhode Island had become a predominant
and characteristic feature of the colony. It scarcely needed
the steady, unremitting pressure of hostile encroachment from
without, which, however, was never absent, to cause this
tendency to pass, as it were, into the very blood of Rhode
FUNCTIONS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
It is an interesting study to notice in what form this local
tendency manifested itself, after the colonial government had
secured a firm foothold, as opposed to the separate town gov-
ernments. As was natural, this was to be seen in the promi-
nence given to the legislative branch of the colonial govern-
ment, at the expense of the executive and judicial. The
General Assembly, that body which in its organization came
nearest to a connection with the popular will, never aban-
doned the position of superiority in which the original patent
had placed it; and while it has since then strengthened itself
as compared with the power possessed by the towns, it has
never suffered either the executive 'or the judicial departments
to gain a position of relative preponderance over it.
If the patent of 1643 be compared with the charter of
1663, as regards the powers committed to the General Assem-
bly, it will be seen that while the remarkable restriction by
which the originating of legislation was originally devolved
upon the towns had disappeared; and the General Assembly,
as constituted in 1663, was invested with full power and
authority " to make, ordeyne, constitute, or repeal, such laws,
statutes, orders and ordinances," ] as it shall decree ; yet so
apprehensive w r ere the towns of any tendency to drift away
from "the people/ 7 that the election of delegates to this body
was to recur so often as once in six months. For no longer
1 E. I. Col. Kecords, II., p. 9.
26 Town Government in Rhode Island. [94
period were the towns willing to entrust the management of
their affairs to the body which they themselves had created.
At every meeting of the General Assembly, moreover, regu-
lar or adjourned, the charter was to be formally read.
Another feature of no less importance in this connection is
the attempt, made with great determination and persistency,
to connect this semi-annual session of the colonial govern-
ment as really and fully as possible with the actual, individual,
undelegated suffrages of every citizen of every town. At the
outset, in so small a colony as this, it was possible ; and twice
a year, therefore, in May and October, the citizens themselves,
of Providence, of Warwick, of Portsmouth, of whatever
part of the State, assembled in person at Newport, and there
in solemn council cast their votes for those who they decreed
should deliberate for them for the ensuing six months. 1 This
over, they returned to their homes, having inaugurated the
session, so to speak, and left it to run of itself for the remain-
der of the time. Of course, the natural tendency of any
such system as this was to a gradual modification by reason of
the inconvenience and even impossibility of personal attend-
ance, in many instances; and this was met by the gradual
introduction of the system of proxy votes. But the votes of
the citizens, personal and by proxy, continued to be cast at
Newport, until 1760. 2 Thus closely was the General Assem-
bly linked with the actual assemblage of the people of the
But if its relations to the people, on the one hand, were
thus interesting and intimate, no less interesting was its rela-
tion, on the other hand, to the executive and judicial depart-
ments of the government. Indeed, that relation might
almost be expressed by the word " identity." Let us see how
it was in the case of the executive. Look at the language of
1 Compare Freeman's "Growth of the English Constitution," etc.,
(Tauchnitz ed.), pp. 17-23.
2 E. I. Col. Kecords, VI., pp. 256-57.
95] Town Government in Rhode Island. 27
the charter. It reads : " The governor, or in his absence, or
by his permission, the deputy -governor of the said company,
for the time being, the assistants, and such of the freemen of
the said company as shall be so as aforesaid, shall be called
the General Assembly." That body, therefore, " called the
General Assembly" consists, not merely of the "deputed"
freemen called " deputies " and of " assistants," but also of
the governor himself, or the deputy-governor. The governor
was o?i6 of the General Assembly. Had he any power apart
from it? In 1731 an occasion arose for testing this question.
Governor Jencks, justly disapproving of the act of the Gen-
eral Assembly by which an issue of " bills of credit" to the
amount of 60,000 had been decreed, 1 " negatived " the bill.
His power to do this was immediately questioned. The ques-
tion went by appeal to the law officers of the Crown, 2 in London,
and the decision 3 there reached by an examination of the pro-
visions of the charter sustained the claim of the General
Assembly, and settled it that " in this charter no negative voice
is given to the governor," and that when the governor is present
"he is merely a part of the assembly and included by the
And he has no veto power to-day. In this particular,
Rhode Island stands almost alone among the 38 States,
Delaware, North Carolina, and Ohio being the only others
whose governor has no veto.
Look now at the relation of the General Assembly to the
judicial department. It was the court, at first and for a long
time. Just as in Massachusetts the " General Court," as it
was designated, exercised judicial, as well as legislative func-
tions, so in Rhode Island, the code of laws adopted in 1647,
constituted the General Assembly "a Generall Court of Tryalls
for the whole Colonie." 4 In like manner the charter of 1663
1 R. I. Col. Rec., IV., pp. 454.
2 The Attorney General, P. Yorke ; and the Solicitor General, C. Talbot.
3 John Carter Brown MSS., Nos. 582, 566, 567.
4 R. I. Col. Rec., L, p. 191.
28 Town Government in Rhode Island. [96
established the same arrangement under the new organization.
" The charter," says Judge Durfee, "did not create judicial
tribunals, but empowered the General Assembly to create
them ; and accordingly the General Assembly, at its first
session under the charter, provided that the governor or
deputy governor, with at least six assistants, should hold " the
general court of trials." 1 It was not until 1729 that the
" Inferior court," the " Court of Common Pleas," was estab-
lished. It was not until 1747, that a " Superior Court" was
established, which should, in the functions which it exercised,
supersede the General Assembly, (i. e., the governor and
assistants). By the act passed in that year, there was now to
be, in the place of the governor and assistants, "a chief judge
and four assistants." But it would be a mistake to suppose
(and this has been very lucidly traced by Judge Durfee, 2 in
his interesting monograph), that the General Assembly here-
upon relinquished all claim to the exercise of judicial func-
tions. By no means. The result was, that the two bodies
came, more than once, into collision with each other. In
1752, the case of Mawney vs. Peirce came up to the Superior
Court, in the regular course, and was decided in favor of the
plaintiff. Thereupon the unsuccessful party appeared before
the General Assembly, as before a court having appellate
jurisdiction, and petitioned for a new trial. 3 And it was
granted him. The General Assembly thus deliberately over-
ruled the decision of the highest actual judicial authority in
the colony. The case of Trevett vs. Weeden in 1786 is too
well known to need more than bare mention. In this case
also, the General Assembly was astounded that the Superior
Court had declared one of its acts of legislation unconstitu-
tional, and actually summoned the judges before it, and com-
pelled them to answer for their action. Judge Durfee
1 Judge Durfee's "Gleanings," p. 11.
2 Judge Durfee's " Gleanings," pp. 58-65.
3 R. I. Col. Kec., V., p. 359.
97] Town Government in Rhode Island. 29
remarks, that there were not a few who maintained "that
after the revolution 1 (the English revolution), the General
Assembly of Rhode Island was as omnipotent as the parlia-
ment of England. 77
Since the decision rendered by Chief- Justice Ames in 1856,
and the action of the General Assembly in 1860, the General
Assembly, says Judge Durfee, "has never intentionally at
least, encroached upon the proper province of the judiciary."
We have been thus minute in touching upon the predomi-
nance of the General Assembly in the organization of the
colonial government, because it represented, so very perfectly
and intimately, the survival of the spirit of local town
SUEVIVAL OF THE LOCAL SENTIMENT.
To quite a late period, the towns still kept alive a very
vigorous flame of the same local spirit. Perhaps one of
the most striking instances to be met anywhere in the
annals of Rhode Island, is one which occurred late in the
eighteenth century. The town in question was the town of
Scituate, not one of the original four towns, but one created
in 1731, by an act of the General Assembly.
Coddington's commission, in 1651, had been held to dis-
solve, virtually, the colonial government under the existing
patent. Andros's usurpation, likewise, in 1686, was con-
sidered as again resolving the government into its elements.
Did the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, possess simi-
larly significant powers of dissolution? Here was a town
government which held that it did. In the paper drawn up
by a committee of the town of Scituate, dated April 28,
1777, (the chairman being a distinguished general of the
revolution), it was maintained 2 that upon the Declaration
1 Judge Durfee' s " Gleanings," p. 55.
2 Arnold, II., p. 400. The original is in Foster papers, II., p. 19.
30 Town Government in Rhode Island. [98
of Independence, the charter became void, and hence that no
legal government existed in the State ; and that " upon the
Declaration aforesaid, the power again vested in the people
where, we are convinced it still remains, as we do not find the
people have, since that time either by any person legally
authorized by them or themselves fixed any settled form
of government." In the view of this committee, therefore,
what had been the " Colony of Rhode Island and Providence
Plantations" was at that moment reduced once more to a
government by towns, and immediate steps towards placing
the government again on a deliberately-organized political
basis were imperatively necessary.
However sound this view of the case may have been, it
does not appear to have been shared by any other of the
29 towns then existing, and the "State of Rhode Island and
Providence Plantations," obstinately refusing to be regarded
as non-existent, continued to exercise the functions of govern-
We may also glance briefly at the Somewhat remarkable
phase which the process of development took, in one of the
four original towns, the town of Providence. It started, as
was noticed, with a pure democracy, purer than has been wit-
nessed anywhere else in the world unless it be the Ekklesia
of ancient Athens, or the assemblies of certain Swiss cantons.
Inevitably, a system of representation came to be introduced.
The power, for instance, of deciding on the allotment of cer-
tain disputed lands, or the punishment of certain offences,
was delegated to certain officers, known as deputies. Those
who constituted " the people " remained an unchanged body
until a new element gradually made itself manifest. Persons
began to be received as townsmen who were not, and who did
not become owners of land, "purchasers," "proprietors."
Hereupon was introduced a line of distinction which soon
established a very marked and noticeable division. On the
one hand, the "proprietors," on the other, the non-pro-
prietors, the simple townsmen. As is very evident, here
99] Town Government in Rhode Island. 31
were the very conditions needed for the development of an
That in fact is what resulted from it, though only after
slow stages, and with many protests and efforts at resistance.
Gradually the form of government became a close corporation.
The original purchasers who received each one hundred acres,
admitted some years later, certain other purchasers, who
received each twenty-five acres. "The whole number of pur-
chasers/ 7 however, says Staples, " never exceeded one hundred
and one persons." 1 Their successors in the corporation were
their heirs and grantees. Gradually there grew up, outside
of this landed aristocracy, a body of citizens interested in the
conduct of the town's affairs, and desirous of having a voice
in it. The purchasers began in 1662, says Staples, "to hold
meetings distinct from town-meetings, for the transaction of
business relating to the propriety, but they had the same
clerk, and used the same record book till 1718." 2 What was
the status of the body of citizens which lay outside of this
circle, and which in each succeeding year was becoming more
numerous, both by accessions from without and by the natural
increase of population ? These men could become " free-
holders," this the colony charter provided for, but they
could never become proprietors. Thus were developed, in
conflict with each other, on the one hand an aristocracy based
on land, and on the other, a class equally desirous of represen-
tation in the government, but studiously kept from attaining
to the privileges of the " proprietors." Without expressing
any view as to the wisdom or expediency of this course, we
may recognize it as a sufficiently singular departure from the
pure democracy of the earliest times. The action, however,
says Mr. Dorr, by which the proprietors became a close
corporation, and rigidly insisted on the line of separation, was
8 ibid., p. 131.
32 Town Government in Rhode Island. [100
not taken without a struggle on the part of many of the
proprietors themselves. l
Looking now at this tendency to town action, 2 and town
sentiment, as a characteristic of Rhode Island government,
from the first, it is seen to have been at all times a predomi-
nating tendency. It was inevitable that when in the years,
1774 to 1790, Rhode Island was brought into association
with the other colonies, and finally in 1790 became a part of
the Union, this principle should continue to characterize her
action. In the structure of government and law, which, by
slow and gradual advances became embodied in the constitution
of the United States, these are elements which can be traced
to this one and that one of the thirteen original colonies.
What elements in it are to be traced to Rhode Island ? Two,
1 The connection above cited as existing between the proprietorship of
land and the development of an aristocratic element in government, at
Providence, is sufficiently curious, but it is not the only Rhode Island
instance. For another instance, see the peculiar state of society in the
Narragansett Country, as described in Dr. Channing's paper on " The Nar-
2 The city of Providence, (which exchanged a town government for a
city charter in 1832, and which has grown in these 54 years from a popula-
tion of less than 20,000, to nearly 120,000, is perhaps the only instance
of a city similarly organized which still continues to hold an annual town-
meeting, though, in some instances, as in the case of Hartford, Conn.,
there is an organized municipality within, and forming a part of a larger
territory bearing the same name, and governed by town officers. This
town-meeting, always called for the consideration of precisely the
same business, the administration of certain valuable lands and funds
bequeathed in 1824 to the then town of Providence, is a curious survival
of an old institution. The stranger in Providence, on the 20th of Decem-
ber, 1884, would have had his attention arrested by the clanging of bells
from four church towers, and on entering the room designated for the
town-meeting, would have witnessed the choice of a moderator, the ordinary
routine of motions, votes, and speeches, as in any village town-meeting, and
perhaps an undercurrent of humorous enjoyment of the experience. This
town-meeting is held in consequence of certain provisions in the will of
Ebenezer Knight Dexter, dated May 28, 1824, and recorded in Providence
Wills, XIII., p. 194.
101] Town Government in Rhode Island. 33
above all. First, the separation of the civil and religious
functions in government; second, the recognition of local
self-government, as a tendency counterbalancing that in the
direction of centralization. Yet both of these principles,
though in themselves wise and desirable, may, if carried to
an unbalanced extreme, become something quite the reverse.
It is not difficult to see that Rhode Island has itself fur-
nished a field for illustrating this tendency, as regards local
government. Nowhere else has the tendency to centraliza-
tion been encountered by a more thorough-going tendency to
decentralization. No other State, even at present, has two
capitals. 1 In no other State is there a provision analogous to
that recognizing what is in effect a third seat of government,
once in four years. 2 In no other is each one of the towns
separately represented in the State Senate. 3 In no other State
was the system of rotation among a half dozen different local
centres, 4 of the successive sessions of the General Assembly,
so long retained. In no other State was the original welding
together of the various elements into one colony, so difficult
a process and one which required to be several times repeated,
in consequences of as many repeated dissolutions. 5 In no
other State was the colony so direct an outgrowth, or rather
1 The last State, other than this, to retain the double-capital was Con-
necticut, which abolished it in 1873.
2 By statute it is provided that, after each presidential election, the
electors chosen in this State "shall meet at Bristol, in the county of
Bristol." (" Public statutes of Rhode Island," 1882, ch. 12, sec. 6.)
3 The States in which each county is separately represented in the upper
house of the State Legislature, are by no means exceptional. The town, how-
ever, in Rhode Island, is here, as well as in other connections, the real unit.
4 As an instance in point may be mentioned four successive sessions of the
General Assembly, in the years 1789-90; (1) in September, at Newport;
(2) in October, at East Greenwich ; (3) in October-November, at South
Kingstown ; (4) and, in January, at Providence. On the following Sep-
tember, the session was held at Bristol. (R. I. Col., Records, X., pp. 338,
357, 362, 367, 388.)
5 See pp. 10-12, 20-21, 23-24. Compare Foster's "Stephen Hopkins,"
II., 170, note.
34 Town Government in Rhode Island. [102
creation, of town organizations previously existing, and
wholly independent of each other. 1 In no other State, more-
over, had the principle of independence associated itself so
strongly with the minds of the individual citizens, as well as
the colony and the town.
In any consideration, moreover, of the refusal of the Rhode
Island State government in 1787-90, to accede to the consti-
tution of the United States, it is necessary to observe the
close connection of this action with the predominatingly local
characteristics which had so strongly marked the earlier stages
of Rhode Island history. The national constitution then
offered, and later happily acceded to by this state, was at
the widest possible remove from those theories of local sov-
ereignty, and those political methods of combination in the
manner of a league merely, which had come to be the cher-
ished doctrines of Rhode Island citizens. Those earlier Rhode
Islanders, who, to use the language of Roger Williams, had
" drank so deep of the cup of liberty," had found it difficult
in the extreme to merge their independent town governments
in a common colonial government in 1647. Their descen-
dants, in 1787-90, found it no less difficult to merge their
independent Rhode Island government in the common national
government now proposed.
That the United States constitution is not "a compact
between sovereign States," is a thesis which has been stoutly
maintained, and as warmly denied, by the giants of debate
in both houses of Congress. It is worth while to notice that
in the minds of the Rhode Island legislators, who, in 1787-
90, so desperately resisted the constitution, there was appar-
ently no room for question on this point. As they regarded
it, this national constitution was not a league between sovereign
states. For that reason they opposed it with all their might.
Mr. Bancroft, the historian, ii an address before the New
York Historical Society, in 186 6, 2 remarked that "more ideas
1 See pp. 7-10.
2 Jan. 2, 1866.
103] Town Government in Rhode Island. 35
which have since become national have emanated from the
little colony of Rhode Island than from any other." This
colony has, in fact, been a sort of microcosm, in which there
have been developed, on a smaller scale, the more important
issues which have operated in a larger way on the stage of
national government. 1 Nor should the significance of the
long contest of 1787-90, in Rhode Island be misunderstood.
The fact to which it points is not that a tendency had existed
to emphasize unduly and to press to a most mischievous
extreme, the local, as opposed to the national idea. That was
inherent in the very nature of the State's political history up
to that period. The fact of commanding importance is rather
that, in the determined and even desperate encounter between
these two tendencies in Rhode Island, the national principle
here gained a decisive triumph, how decisive may be seen
from the fact (elsewhere cited by the present writer), that,
" from this time on, so long as there was any active Federalist
party, Rhode Island was a Federalist State." 2
Briefly to recapitulate, we have seen that the political his-
tory of Rhode Island, in the eighteenth and nineteenth cen-
turies, no less than in the seventeenth, is everywhere tinged
by the influence of these early town governments of the seven-
teenth century. We have seen that the town governments
ante-dated the colony ; that they were of distinctly independ-
ent origin ; that they embodied the political views of men
originally averse to organized government; that the colonial
government growing out of them was only very reluctantly
and very sparingly entrusted with power by them ; that the
functions exercised by them before the consolidation were such
as belong to independent governments ; that the powers dele-
1 Compare also the remark in a recent publication, apropos of Rhode
Island : " The diversity of character and interest in the smallest of the
colonies is another illustration of the truth taugh't by Greek and Italian
history, that it is not always the large States that afford the most instruc-
tive date for political history." The Nation, Aug. 7, 1884, XXXIX., p. 117.
2 Foster's " Stephen Hopkins," II., p. 154.
36 Town Government in Rhode Island. [104
gated by the towns to the colonial government have been in at
least two instances retaken from it and again exercised by the
towns ; that the predominance of this local, or town idea of
government, has ever since the adoption of the colonial gov-
ernment under the charter, given character to the political
development of Rhode Island. No one can traverse this
interesting period of local history, moreover, without perceiv-
ing that, while there has been a gradual progress from the
rudimentary to the more highly-organized forms of civil gov-
ernment, and from narrowly local to broader and more com-
prehensive political theories, yet this advance has required
long periods of time for its issue and development. It is
hardly fitting to judge of the present or the future, in the study
of Rhode Island institutions, otherwise than as related to
what we thus know of the past.
RETURN CIRCULATION DEPARTMENT
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ALL BOOKS MAY BE RECALLED AFTER 7 DAYS
1 -month loans may be renewed by calling 642-3405
6-month loans may be recharged by bringing books to Circulation
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DUE AS STAMPED BELOW
APR 5 1979
r\r-f\ 4 r- 4QQO
DEC 1 raw
-UTODISCCfRf <T7 1
HEC,CIR. K cl3'
MAY 1 3 1986
BECcrnc MAR 3 1<
HIBBiSC OCT 3 '.-3
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY
FORM NO. DD6, 40m, 3/78 BERKELEY, CA 94720
GENERAL LIBRARY -U.C. BERKELEY