Constitution of Rhode Island

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The Constitution of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is a document describing the structure and function of the government of the U.S. State of Rhode Island.


The constitution was ratified in November 1842 after the Dorr Rebellion, and the constitution became effective in May 1843. Prior to this time, the state was governed by the original royal charter granted in 1663 even after American independence in 1776.[1] Much of the text of the 1663 charter language was adopted in the 1843 version.

Article II, Section 1 of the 1842 constitution continued the requirement of the royal charter which held that only landowners with $134 in property could vote. (This provision would be overturned by a subsequent amendment.) The new constitution extended universal suffrage to all native adult males, including black males, for the first time in Rhode Island history, provided they met property holding and residency requirements. The constitution specifically prohibited members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe from voting. (Article II, Section 4.) [2]

Another progressive feature of the new constitution was that it outlawed slavery in Rhode Island. (Article 1, Section 4.) This provision, however, was largely symbolic as the 1840 census listed only five enslaved persons in Rhode Island.

In 1984, Rhode Island voters approved a referendum proposal to call a new Constitutional Convention, which was elected in November 1985 and convened in January 1986.[3] The new constitution was ratified by the voters in the general election of November 1986. On January 20, 1987, "the state's first new constitution in 144 years was officially entered into the state Archives".[4]


  1. ^ Rhode Island 1663 charter (accessed August 20, 2010)
  2. ^ Horton, Caleb T. The Tide Taken at the Flood: The Black Suffrage Movement during the Dorr Rebellion in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1841 - 1842). Providence, RI: Providence City Archives. pp. 2–5. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  3. ^ 1986 Providence Journal-Bulletin Rhode Island Almanac, pages 142–143
  4. ^ 1997 Providence Journal-Bulletin Rhode Island Almanac, page 24

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