RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS. This, in territorial extent, is the smallest state in the Union. It lies between 42° and 43° north latitude, and 71° and 72° west longitude from London, and comprises an area of about 1306 square miles. It is bounded north and east by Massachusetts, south by the Atlantic Ocean, and west by Connecticut. The natural features of the state are somewhat peculiar. About one tenth part of it is water, and of the residue, a very considerable portion is made up of islands. The interior, with the exception of the intervales along the streams, is generally rough and hilly, better adapted to grazing than to the raising of grain. Most of the islands, together with that part adjoining salt water, are very fertile. The most considerable hills in the state are Mount Hope in Bristol, Pine in Exeter, Easchaheague and Hopkins in West Greenwich, Chopmist in Scituate, Neutaconkanet in Johnston, Woonsocket in Smithfield, and Diamond in Cumberland. The state abounds in streams of water, the banks of which are lined with manufacturing establishments of various kinds. Narragansett Bay extends from the sea, more than 30 miles into the state, affording commodious and safe harbors along its whole length. The harbor of Newport, at its mouth, is not excelled by any in the United States. The harbors of Bristol and Wickford are easy of access at all seasons for vessels of heavy burden. That of Providence has less water than either of these, nor can it be safely entered by any vessel of any considerable size without a pilot.
In 1839, Dr. Jackson, of Boston, under appointment of the legislature, made an agricultural and geological survey of the state. The mineral resources brought to light by this survey are not extensive or peculiarly valuable. Iron ore abounds in many localities. Anthracite coal is found in large quantities on the Island of Rhode Island, and also in Cumberland, and is fast coming into use. Limestone abounds in several towns, and is extensively and profitably wrought for use.
The state is divided into 5 counties, — Newport, Providence, Washington, Kent, and Bristol,— which are subdivided into 31 townships.
The settlement of the state by Europeans was commenced by Roger Williams and his associates at Providence, in the year 1636. The settlers came from Massachusetts, from which colony their leader had been banished for alleged political and religious heresies. In 1638, some of the religious followers of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson removed from Massachusetts to the Island of Rhode Island, in consequence of the proceedings had against them for their religious opinions. Samuel Gorton and his company commenced a third settlement at Warwick, in 1642. Neither of these companies had any charter from the English government. They were voluntary associations. Each company purchased its location of the Narragansett Indians inhabiting there. Neither of them had any patent from the English company, which claimed them by grant from the crown of England. They were separate, distinct colonies, independent of each other, and having no common bond of union, except what arose from their common origin, design, and dangers. In 1643, the Parliament of England granted a charter of civil government, under the name of "Providence Plantations, in New England, in America." This, with a slight interruption, constituted the fundamental law of the plantations until 1663, when Charles II., upon the petition of the inhabitants, granted them another charter, under the name of "the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, in America." This conferred on the colonists the right to elect all their officers, and to pass laws for their government, without the intervention, positive or negative, of either king or Parliament. It also guaranteed to them liberty of conscience, in the most unlimited meaning of the term. This charter continued in force, with the exception of the few years when Sir Edmund Andros was the general governor of New England, until the American revolution. The people of this colony entered that struggle with great zeal. In May, 1776, the colony repealed the law, before that time in force, securing to his majesty the allegiance of his subjects. They abolished the oath of allegiance to the king, struck his name from all legal process, and directed all proceedings to be in the name of the colony, thus anticipating the Congress of the United Colonies on the question of independence.
The colony united with her sister colonies in holding the old Continental Congress, and was among the first to direct her delegates to sign the Articles of Confederation. To those articles this state adhered with great pertinacity, until after all the others had deserted them refusing to adopt the constitution of the United States until May 29, 1790. It has been said of Rhode Island with truth, that though "she was first at the fight, she was last to the feast."
As the charter of 1663 vested the right to elect all officers in the people of the colony, the Declaration of Independence required no change in the form of government. Elections were held after as well as before that event by force of laws passed pursuant to its provisions. It lost its binding force as an instrument emanating from the King of England, at the passage of the act of May, 1776, but it continued to be referred to as written evidence of the unwritten constitution of the state until very recently. With this explanation, it may be said, with truth, that this charter, with the usages which grew up under it, modified from time to time by the action of the legislature, continued to be the constitution of the state until the present written constitution went into operation, on the 2d day of May, 1843.
Under the charter, the right of suffrage was regulated by the General Assembly of the state, the charter being silent on the subject. In 1665, the General Assembly, in reply to a query on the subject proposed to them by the king's commissioners, declared, "that all men of competent estate, civil conversation, and obedient to the civil magistrate," were admitted freemen of the colony, on asking to be so admitted. There was no law declaring what should be considered as a "competent estate" until 1723, when the General Assembly by law enacted that no man should be admitted a freeman of any town, unless he owned lands in such town of the value of £100, or of the yearly value of 40s., or were the eldest son of such a freeholder. In 1729, the freehold qualification was raised to £200, or £10 yearly value; and in 1746, to £400, or £20 yearly value. Subsequently it was reduced to £40, or 40 s. yearly value, and thus it stood in 1776. Some of these changes undoubtedly arose out of changes in the value of the pound. In 1798, the freehold qualification was fixed at $134, or yearly value of $7. Thus it continued until the constitution of 1843.
By that instrument, the right of suffrage is conferred on every male citizen of the United States of the age of 21 years, who has his home and residence in this state for one year, and in the town where he claims to vote six months preceding his claim; who owns a freehold estate in lands or real estate of the value of $134 above all encumbrances, or which rents for $7 per annum. Every native citizen of the United States, of the above age and residence, who is assessed and has paid a tax of $1, or who has been enrolled and done military duty for one day at least, has the right to vote in the election of all civil officers, and on all questions, excepting only that unless he has been assessed and has paid a tax on property, valued at least at $134, he is not allowed to vote for the election of city council of Providence, or on any proposition to impose a tax, or for the expenditure of money in any town.
The legislative power, under that constitution, is vested in the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate consists of the lieutenant governor and one senator from each town.The governor presides over the deliberations of the Senate, and has the casting vote. The House of Representatives can never exceed 72 in number. Each town is entitled at least to one, and no town can have more than one sixth of the whole number. The ratio of representation, with these exceptions, is based on population. The present ratio is one representative for every 1875 inhabitants.
The Senate and House of Representatives are styled the General Assembly. They hold two stated sessions annually, one at Newport on the first Tuesday in May, and the other on the last Monday in October at South Kingston, once in two years, and in the intermediate years alternately at Bristol and East Greenwich. In addition to these, there are generally two adjourned sessions in each year, one of which is held in the summer at Newport, and the other at Providence in January.
The governor, lieutenant governor, senators, representatives, secretary of state, attorneygeneral, and general treasurer are elected annually on the first Wednesday in April, their official term commencing on the first Tuesday in May. All the other state officers, except judges of the Supreme Court, are elected annually by the General Assembly in joint ballot of both houses, the governor presiding.
The judicial power in the state is vested in a Supreme Court, which holds two terms annuallyin each county, and in Courts of Common Pleas for each county, which also hold two terms in each year. The Supreme Court consists of one chief and three associate justices, any two of whor i make a quorum. Courts of Common Pleas are held by one of the associate justices of the Supreme Court. The judges of these courts are elected, like other state officers, by the General Assembly, but they hold their offices until they are declared vacant by a majority of all the members elected in each house at the May session.
In all the towns except Providence and Newport, the town courts are, ex officio, courts of probate, and the town clerks registrars of probate and of deeds. The Municipal Court of Providence exercises probate jurisdiction. The city clerk is register of deeds.
The industry and capital of the state were formerly devoted to agriculture and commerce. The latter was the favorite pursuit, as it led to greater wealth, and involved less personal labor. The peculiar situation of the state, and the commodiousness of its harbors, naturally turned the attention of its citizens to commercial pursuits. Rhode Island ships then visited all parts of the globe. They were the second, if not the first, to unfurl the stars and stripes in the Celestial Empire. For the last forty years, commerce has been gradually declining, until, at the present time, foreign trade is almost entirely confined to a few square-rigged vessels in the West India business. The number and tonnage of coasting vessels has increased during the same period. But capital and industry are pursuing new sources of wealth in manufactures and the mechanic arts. Calico printing was commenced here as early as 1794, on cotton cloth imported from the East Indies. Samuel Slater, the father of cotton manufactures in this country, set up his first cotton mill in the spring of 1796, in this state. Now, more persons are engaged in the various manufactures of cotton than in any other pursuit. The census of 1850 shows a great increase in the manufacturing interest, requiring vast expenditures.
Public provision was first made by law for the establishment of public schools in this state in the year 1800. It soon became very unpopular, and was repealed in 1803. In 1828, the General Assembly passed a new law on the subject, which, with various amendments, is still in force. At the passage of this act, the legislature made an appropriation of $10,000 per year for the support of public schools, but for several years past the appropriation has been increased to $35,000. The number of scholars registered in the state, during the last year, in the public schools, was 24,733; in the instruction of which 239 male and 270 female teachers were employed. The amount expended for instruction, repairs of school-houses, &c., during the same period, was about $97,000.
Those who are ready to brand this state with infamy for neglecting the cause of public education would do well to recollect that Rhode Island never had any resources for such an object, or even for the support of its government, except by taxation on its citizens. The small tracts of land which belonged to the state were disposed of at almost nominal prices, because the title to and jurisdiction over them were claimed by the adjoining colonies and others. Beyond the present boundaries the state never owned any land.
There is but one university in the state. That is located at Providence. It was incorporated in 1764, under the name of Rhode Island College. The name was changed to Brown University in 1804, in honor of the late Hon. Nicholas Brown, who was its most munificent benefactor.
The Butler Hospital for the Insane was incorporated in January, 1844, under the name of name of the Rhode Island Hospital for the Insane. It received its present name from the late Cyrus Butler, Esq., the generous donor of $40,000 to its funds in his lifetime. The institution is located at Providence, on the banks of the Seekonk River. On the 1st of January, 1851, there were 113 patients within its walls, — 50 males and 63 females.
Owing to the utmost liberty of conscience, which has ever prevailed in this state, there are congregations of almost every denomination of Christians within its limits. Roger Williams became a Baptist soon after the settlement of Providence, and founded a church of that denomination there. The church remained, though he left it in a few months, and became a Seeker. The first church established on the Island of Rhode Island was also a Baptist one. The Friends soon established themselves there. The leader of the settlers at Warwick, Samuel Gorton, was the founder of the sect of Gortonists or Gortoneans, now extinct. In some parts of the state, Sabbatarian principles prevail to a great extent, the consequence of which is a disregard of the Christian Sabbath. This circumstance has contributed to give the state that character for irreligion which some writers attribute to it. Notwithstanding this, and the jeers which have been indulged in by writers who should have known better, it is a fact, that there are as many religious societies, churches, and meeting-houses in this state, in proportion to its population, as in any other state in the Union.
The only railroads erected in whole or in part in this state are the Boston and Providence, leading from Providence to Boston; the New York, Providence, and Boston, leading from Providence to Stonington; the Providence and Worcester, leading from Providence to Worcester. Besides these, several others have been recently incorporated, and will probably soon be built. The Providence and Worcester Canal will long be remembered, having proved a complete failure.
The banking capital of the state has for many years been enormously disproportioned to the population. It exceeds $12,000,000. Being, however, divided among nearly 70 banking institutions, it has generally been managed with safety to the public, and to the advantage of the stockholders.
In January, 1838, the legislature abrogated the use of capital punishment in all cases except for murder and arson. At the same time, they substituted imprisonment and fine for all kinds of corporal punishments before that time in use in the state. During that year, the state prison at Providence was completed. The buildings consist of a keeper's house, and a range of forty cells, two stories high, adapted to the Pennsylvania system of discipline — separate confinement at labor, with instruction. After a few years' experience, this system was abandoned, and the Auburn system substituted in its place. Since its establishment, 127 prisoners have been confined in it, of which number 37 remained its inmates in October, 1850.