Address to the People of Rhode-Island

CONSTITUTION   |   Thomas Wilson DORR

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"THE MOST SIGNIFICANT POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL EVENT BETWEEN THE AGE OF JACKSON AND THE ELECTION OF LINCOLN": VERY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF THOMAS DORR'S 1834 ADDRESS, PIVOTAL IN HIS LEADERSHIP OF THE DORR REBELLION

(DORR, Thomas Wilson). An Address to the People of Rhode-Island, From the Convention Assembled at Providence, on the 22nd Day of February, and Again on the 12th Day of March, 1834, to Promote the Establishment of a State Constitution. Providence: Cranston & Hammond, 1834. Octavo, period-style half diced calf gilt, marbled boards, pp. (i-v), 6-60. $2400.

First edition of Dorr's foundational Address, prompting his role as instigator and leader of the Dorr Rebellion, placing him "in the front rank of the political reformers of Jacksonian America.”

Born into privilege, Rhode Island's Thomas Dorr became "a political insurrectionary… [who] hastened the demise of the royal charter of 1663 and the adoption of a written constitution" (Wiecek, Peculiar Conservatism, 242). Following the American Revolution, by the 1820s Rhode Island remained the only state that clung to its colonial charter, which "restricted suffrage to white men who possessed real estate valued at a minimum of $134" (Chaput, Proslavery and Antislavey Politics, 662-63). It had "evolved from the most to the least democratic state" (Lemons, Rhode Island's Ten Turning Points, 62). "Dorr's political goals—'free suffrage' with no discrimination against the foreign-born, 'one-man, one-vote,' an independent judiciary, a more powerful and dynamic executive, the secret ballot—though not permanently achieved in Rhode Island during his lifetime, placed him in the front rank of the political reformers of Jacksonian America" (ANB).

In 1834 Dorr "asked the General Assembly to call a convention to revise the state constitution in favor of taxpayer-militia suffrage and to adopt… 'equal representation'" (Wiecek, 242). In this major Address, delivered at that convention and "composed primarily by Dorr" (Conley, Democracy in Decline, 255), he states: "No form of a Constitution can be worth much if… in this State the Legislative power is… in the hands of less than one third part of the qualified voters. A few political managers… [rule] the whole State as they please, against the will of two thirds of the freeman and three fourths of the people" (emphasis in original)." To Dorr, the state's "strange adherence to the charter" left Rhode Island with an "inequality of representation… too unjust to be much longer tolerated." In 1841, after Dorr was elected "the People's governor" under the state's "People's Constitution," he became the leader of the 1842 Dorr rebellion, which historian Sean Wilentz calls "'a striking [and] exceptional case in the history of American democratization before the Civil War,' calling it no less than 'a deadly serious test of democracy's meaning and democracy's future.'" The Dorr Rebellion, increasingly viewed as the "most significant political and constitutional event between the Age of Jackson and the election of Lincoln…Dorr's constitutional understanding had roots not only in the Revolution and the post-Revolutionary era; it remained a vibrant part of American constitutionalism" (Chaput, Rhode Island Question, 55-56). Sabin 70537. American Imprints 26527.

Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing.

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