|1663 RI charter|
|King Charles II|
The charter affirmed Rhode Island’s elections of governor and assistants, their right to defend themselves and their borders, and their right to fish, ship, plant, and build as they pleased. Rhode Island also could “ship and transport all and all manner of goods, chattels, merchandises … yielding and paying unto Us, our heirs and successors, such the duties, customs and subsidies, as are or ought to be paid or payable for the same.” All Rhode Islanders were assured free passage and trade with the other colonies. No longer would New England’s Puritans be able to bar Quakers.
The 1777 U.S. Articles of Confederation was quickly signed by Rhode Island. It bound the colonies together, but weakly. Rhode Island, wary of dominance by more powerful states, must have liked the provision that “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence."
|George Washington at Trenton|
With the Revolutionary War concluded, the United States Constitution was presented to the new country in 1787. This document authorized a far stronger central government, and Rhode Island was not pleased. The state hadn’t even sent representatives to the Constitutional Convention, because it wanted no part of a strong central government.
|Enslaved Africans boarding ship|
Taxes and duties were owed on these goods. Great Britain wanted her share, but enforcement was lax, and much of it could be dodged by shady reporting. After the Revolution, the United States’ government stepped up to demand import duties.
The new Constitution required that: “All Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Control of the Congress.”
Rhode Island presented a long list of proposed amendments and a bill of rights, including a provision that Congress shall not “lay direct taxes within this state,” but it finally ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790.
My sources include:
A list of Rhode Island’s modifications to the Constitution: