Rhode Island Constitution on Display for 170th Anniversary

May 6, 2013

The state Archives is staging a special exhibition to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the first Rhode Island state constitution.  The exhibit features an array of original documents, including journals from the first constitutional convention in 1824, petitions to expand the right to vote and a copy of the 1841 “People’s Constitution” as ratified by supporters of Thomas Dorr.

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis says it’s an exhibit well worth seeing for people interested in Rhode Island history.

"For us to look forward we have to look back. To know where we’re going we have to know from where we came. And that’s what this does. It teaches us pluses and minuses, what we’ve learned over these last 170 years and use that to do a better job today, to make sure we not only don’t repeat the same mistakes but we also use the accomplishments we have to do great things today."

Among the documents on display is the official record of the State Constitution, which gave men of color the right to vote for the first time. Suffrage was also extended beyond landowners to persons who resided in the state at least two years and who could pay one dollar in lieu of property taxes.

Mollis says the goal of the exhibit is to heighten public awareness of the existence of the State Archives.

"That we have this place where these incredible documents are available for them to see any time. The second is the history of our state and how Rhode Island really is the first among equals that when it comes to getting religious freedom and declaring our independence and putting together the freedoms that we so take for granted today."

The State Archives are located on Westminster Street in downtown Providence. The exhibit is open weekdays from 8:30 to 4:30.

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