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place, or city," who were to constitute the “General Assembly," whose duty it was to meet the Governor and assistants, and “then and there to consult, advise, and determine in and about the affairs and business of said company and plantations.” The Governor and assistants, with the persons chosen by the towns, when met in “ general assembly," constituted the legislature of the colony.
Such was the character of the charter of Charles Il'; such the privileges it bestowed upon the grantees; and such the form of government it established for the colony. It invested all power in the grantees, and clothed them with exclusive political as well as corporate privileges and authority ; in short, it abrogated the democratic government established by the charter of 1643, and created an OLIGARCHY in ils stead as pure in its oligarchic characteristics as any which have existed in the States of Greece, or the misnamed Italian republics of later times. And such has been the government of Rhode Island in substance, whatever may have been its ostensible form, from the acceptance of the charter of Charles II 1o its final death and burial in the popular movements of 1842, having been superseded, in the opinion of the committee, first, by the adoption of the people's constitution" (so called) in December, 1841, and, finally, by the present constitution of the State. Whether or not the latter exists by right, and with the consent of the people, will hereafter be considered.
It will have been seen by the foregoing that the charter of Charles II conferred upon the grantees the power to admit such persons as they deemed proper to be “ free of said company;" in other words, to share in the powers and privileges of the corporation, which embraced the administration of the civil government of the colony. The committee will now pro. ceed to show how this power was exercised, and how liberally the privi. leges of the company, or rather government, (for it will be considered in that view,) were dealt out to the people who were its subjects.
Provisions of the charter government in relation to suff age.
After the acceptance of the charter by the grantees, and the organization of the government under it, the General Assenibly proceeded to prescribe the rule which was to govern the admission of persons to the rights of corporators; or, in other words, to the privileges of freemen. , At a meeting of that body at Newport, on the 4th day of May, 1664, the following rule for the admission of freemen, or rather for the erclusion of the citizens of the colony from all participation in its government, was adopted, viz:
" It is also the pleasure and appointnient of this General Assembly, that none presume to vote, in the matters aforesaid, but such whom this Gen. eral Assembly expressly by their writing shull admit as freemen."
This was the first rule adopted by the charter government for the exclusion of the cilizens of Rhode Island from all participation in ihe government to which they were subject; and the ground of admission to the privileges of the government was the arbitrary will of the General Assembly, to be expressed in writing.
The next rule prescribed for the admission of freemen was adopted by the General Assembly, at a meeting in May, 1665, at the instigation of “the king's commissioners." It is in the following words :
The assembly “enact and declare, that so many of them that take the
aforesaid engagement, and are of competent estales, civil conversation, and obedient to the civil magistrate, shall be admitted freemen of this colony, upon their express desire therein declared to the General Assembly, either by themselves, with sufficient testimony of their fitness and qualifications as shall by the Assembly be deemed salisfactory, or if by the chief offi. cer of the town or towns where they live they be proposed and declared as aforesaid; and that none shall have admission to vote for public officers or deputies, or enjoy any privilege of freemen till admiited by the Assembly as aforesaid, and their naines recorded in the general records of this colony."
By this rule, the candidate for freemanship was required to possess a "competent estate," to be of civil conversation, and obedient to the civil magistrate.
Here will be discovered the first glimpse of the property qualification > upon which the right of suffrage was subsequently based in Rhode Island, and which has resulted in so much difficulty and calamity to the people of that Stale. It did not, however, meet with the approbation of the majority of those who then enjoyed the privileges of the charter, as indubitably ap. pears from the subsequent action of the General Assenibly; for, during the very next year it was altered, and a liberal and enlightened rule for adınis. sion to freemanship (in other words, basis of suffrage) was adopted. Al a meeting of the General Assembly in May, 1666, that body passed an act relating to elections, which contains the following provision in relation to suffrage, which is the third section of the act, viz:
"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the freemen of each respective town, on their respective town meeting days, as shall be by them appointed, shall, and they hereby have full power granted them to admit so many persons, inbabitants of their respective towns, freemen of their towns, as shall be by them adjudged deserving thereof; and that the town clerk of each town shall once every year send a roll or list of all freemen so admitted in their respective towns to the general assembly, to be held for this colony at Newport, the day before the general election, and also such persons that shall be so relurned and admitted freemen of the colony, shall be enrolled in the colony's book by the general recorder.”— Digest 1730, p. 16.
Alibough confining the admission of citizens to freemanship, or the right of suffrage, to the freemen of the respective towns, the act of the assembly now under consideration prescribed no other rule as the basis of suffrage. than the will of the freemen themselves. The property qualification was entirely repudiated.
The rule of freemanship, or basis of suffrage, remained unchanged from the date of ihe act last cited, until 1723. At the session of the General Assembly held in February of that year, the following act was passed, viz:
"AN ACT for directing the admitting freemen in the several towns of this colony. " Be it enacted by the General Assembly of this colony, and by the authority of the same it is enacted, That from and after the publication of this act, no person whatsoever shall be admitted a freeman of any town in this colony, unless the person admitted be a freeholder of lands, tenements, or heredilaments in such town where he shall be admitted free, of the value of one hundred pounds, or to the value of forty shillings per annum, or the
eldest son of such a freeholder : any act, custom, or usage, to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.”—Digest of 1730, p. 131.
By this act a distinct freehold property qualification in the voter was first adopted. It required that, before the citizen could be admitted to freeman ship, he should be a "freeholder," or owner of lands, tenements, and he reditaments, to the value of one hundred pounds, or to the value of forly shillings per annum, or be the eldest son of such freeholder. It not only established a freehold property qualification, but the justly odious right of primogeniture in voting; a principle which has, it is believed, been exploded and repudiated from the statute-books of every State in the Union, so far as the distribution of property is concerned.
Such continued to be the qualification prescribed for the voter until 1742, when he was required to own a freehold estate of two hundred pounds, or ten pounds yearly value, or be the eldest son of such freeholder. -See Digest of 1744-5, p. 252.
At the August session of the General Assembly in 1746, an act was passed requiring the voter to be possessed of a freehold estate worth four hundred pounds, or the yearly rent of twenty pounds, or be the eldest son of such freeholder.-See Digest of 1752, p. 12.
In the years 1760, 1761, 1762, the qualification was again changed, and the voter was required to possess a freehold worih forty pounds, or the yearly rent of forty shillings, or be the eldest son of a freeholder.—Digest of 1767, p. 58. This qualification remained until 1798, when the voter was required to own a freehold of the value of one hundred and thirty four dollars, or the yearly rent of seven dollars, or be the eldest son of such freeholder; and such has been the qualification of the voter, substantially, from the last mentioned date until the final abrogation of the charter of Charles II, by the adoption of the constitution of Decenber, 1841.
At this point it should be remarked, that the fact of owning a freehold of the value prescribed, did not, ipso facto, entitle its possessor to the right of suffrage. He then had to pass the ordeal of admission by the freemen of the town in which he "resided, who might reject him if they pleased, notwiihstanding his qualification so far as respected the ownership of an adequate freehold. And it is proper further to remark, that it appeared in the course of this investigation by the committee, that there were persons in Rhode Island at the time of the adoption of the “ people's constitution," who were never admitted to the privileges of a freeman, although possessed of the requisite qualification, so far as respected a sufficiency of freehold property. Thus, until the final abrogation of the charter, and the adoption of a written constitution, suffrage was never conceded to be the absolute right of the citizen of Rhode Island; but depended, notwithstanding his possession of the requisite amount of freehold property, upon the will of those who had been admitted “free of the company and society" of Rhode Island. (See the charter of 1663.)
It appears to the committee, from testimony, and from contemporaneous history, that the basis of suffrage prescribed at different times by the gove ernment of Rhode Island, however objectionable it was in principle, did not at first operate so much to the injury of the citizen as to induce any very serious dissatisfaction until comparatively a recent period. Like all her sister colonies, Rhode Island was, during a long period, an agricultural community. Her population was sparse, and it was easy to obtain the requisite amount of land to qualify the citizen for freemanship. Few,
therefore, were excluded from the enjoyment of the right of suffrage, until the State became a manufacturing and mercantile community, and the circumstances of its people had become substantially changed. This change in the condition, occupations, and circumstances of the people of Rhode Island, demonstrated clearly the injustice of the regulations of the govern. ment of the State in relation to suffrage, which operated so as to exclude a large majority of its citizens from the exercise of that invaluable right. By the operation of the laws regulating the basis of suffrage, the political power of the State had passed into the hands of a minority-if, at any period before, a majority of the adult citizens of the State had possessed it. In 1840, it appears by an estimate (admitted by both parties in Rhode Island! to approximate as near to the truth as any estimate probably can) that there were 22,674 adult male citizens in that State of the age of 21 years and upwards, exclusive of aliens, insane persons, pampers, and convicts, of whom 9,590 only were freemen entitled to the right of suffrage. (See testimony of John S. Harris, table of population, &c., appendix No. 1.) Thus were nearly three-fifths of the adult male citizens of that State deprived of the right of suffrage (which is accounied the most valuable right which an American citizen can possess,) by the regulations of the government claim. llig its authority from the charter of a King of Great Britain.
Injustice of representation under the charter.
But there was still another cause which operated with equal or more force to throw the political power of the Staie into the hands of a small minority of iis citizens. It was the relative change of population which c*-* had taken place in the respective towns since the apportionment of repre. Sentatives to the General Asseinbly, under the charter. As before stated, under the charter the town of Newport was entitled 10 six members, the city of Providence and the towns of Portsmouth and Warwick were en. lilled to four members, and all other towns to two. At the time this ap. portionment was made, it might have been just and equal; but, in the lapse of time, the subsequent relative changes of population in the several towns rendered it very unjust and unequal, as will be distinctly seen by the fol. lowing facts. In 1810, the whole population of the State was 108,837, of whoin 22,694, exclusive of aliens, &c., were adult white male citizens, among whom at that time, according to the estimatę before referred to, 9,590 were freemen, entitled under the laws of the State to the right of suffrage. In thal vear the highest vote was given in that State which had ever been cast from the date of the charter, and which was 8,622. In the same year the Reperal cities, towns, and places were entitled to 72 representatives to the General Assembly of these 72 representatives, 38, or a majority, were apportioned to 19 towns with an aggregate population of 30,918, among whom were 3,538 freemen, who cast 3,149 votes in the election of 1840. Thus had ihe political power of the State become, by the unchanged rules of apportionment and suffrage, vested in 3,538 freemen, and was exercised 05 3,149, who actually cast their votes in 1840. Thus were the political nights of more than 108,000 inhabitants under the control of 3,538 of their Timber—being less than one thirtieth part of the population of Rhode Island, and one-seventh part of those who, by natural right, by reason, justice, and common sense, were entitled to the possession of the political power
of the State.
From this state of things, (which those who had the power obstinately refused to change,) as will hereinafter be seen, originated the discontents, agitations, and movements, wliich finally resulted in the abrogation of the charter of Charles II, the adoption of the people's constitution, and all the difficulties in the State of Rhode Island, which have grown out of that event.
The committee are aware that it is alleged, in behalf of the late charter of Charles II, that it secured perfect religious liberty to the people of the State of Rhode Island; and that, under the operation of the Government established by it, the people of that State enjoyed as great a degree of security in their persons and property, as the people of any other State in the Union, in regard to the religious rights of the people of that State, it is not denied that they were as carefully protected (perhaps inore so) as in any State, or under any other government in the world. This tolerance in religion, however, all history shows, is to be attributed almost entirely to that illustrious friend of free inquiry, Roger WILLIAMS. In relation to the security of life and property, the committee cannot regard ihat as any plea of justification, on the part of the authorities of that Stale, for so long withholding from the great body of the people their invaluable political rights. Besides, the same argument may be urged in favor of the worst despotism in the christian world. There is no doubt but that life and property are as well protected in Russia, or in England, as they ever were in Rhode Island. By that, the committee intend to be understood that murders, robberies, thefts, &c., are as rigorously punished in despotic or aristo. cratic governments, as they are in republican. The few will always consent to protect the many from acts of violence upon their persons and property, if the latter will permit the former to rob them of their political rights. No such argument can avail in a country the corner stone of whose institutions of government is the political equality of the people. But to return.
Such was the state of things in Rhode Island immediately preceding the adoption, by the people of that State, of a free constitution, and their at. tempt to establish a government in accordance with its provisions.
Alleged causes of grievances under the Charter. The committee will now proceed to give the specific causes of grievance alleged by the advocates of a new constitution to exist under the charter. Those causes were the following:)
1. The majority of the people were deprived of all voice in framing the laws by which they were governed, their rights defined, and their persons and property protected; and all voice in the choice of the officers by whom those laws were administered.
2. They were compelled to perform military and firemen's duty, and to pay their share of the taxes imposed by both State and National Govern. ments, whilst they were deprived of all voice in both. To illustrate the striking injustice of this exclusion from all voice in the government, it is only necessary to state a few facts. It appears by a statement annexed to this report, (appendix No. 76,) that, in the city of Providence in 1840, there were 421 persons having no vote under the laws of the State, who were taxed on personal property owned by them in the city, amounting in value to between one and two millions of dollars. By the same statement it also appears that over 6,000 of the white adult male inhabitants of the State