Recalcitrant Rhode Island

As we head toward Constitution Day on September 17th, I’m doing a series of posts, sharing little known but interesting (at least to me) facts. You can amaze your friends with these. Well, maybe not all your friends, but those who stick around.

I love history, but perhaps that’s because I always turn it into more than a series of dates, places and names on a timeline. When I read about a historical event, I’m constantly thinking about what’s going on behind the scenes. Frankly, that’s where some of my best story lines and plot twists come from.

One of those stories behind the story has to do with Rhode Island. This little state holds a special place in my heart right now as I’m considering it as the setting for my next novel. The plot has to do with pre-Revolutionary smuggling, and as I understand it, Rhode Island was rife with enterprising merchants.

But on to Rhode Island’s part in the Constitution…

Sigantures on the original Constitution of the United States
source: Wikimedia Commons
In the late 18th century, states were more akin to countries. After working so hard to throw off one powerful government, state sovereignty was prized above all else. Originally, the states were loosely connected under a document called the Articles of Confederation. However, as the country grew, it became obvious that there were some things that could be better accomplished if the states joined forces under a more powerful (but not all-powerful) central government. For example, each state had its own currency. This hampered trade between states and lessened the power of the states to work together to trade with foreign nations.

Constitutional factoid: The original intent of the Constitutional Convention was not to write a new constitution, but to simply revise the Articles of Confederation.

The one state that did not send anyone to the Convention was Rhode Island. The smaller state was fiercely independent (it was the first to declare independence from Great Britain) and feared that it would be dominated by the larger states under such an arrangement.

Flag of Rhoide Island
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Eventually, in 1790, Rhode Island signed the Constitution, but by that time it was a moot point. The Constitution only needed nine of thirteen states to ratify it and New Hampshire had become the ninth on June 21st, 1788.

To me, the sad part of the story is that Rhode Island joined out of financial necessity. Their economy had slumped and Alexander Hamilton promised them assistance. But lest anyone picture the poor state coming hat in hand to the newly minted federal government, pleading for a handout, be assured that Rhode Island retained her independent spirit, insisting on the right to secede if things didn’t work out.

I think the Rhode Island flag sums it up, nicely. The thirteen stars around the anchor represent the thirteen colonies, showing their allegience. However, there's also that little word Hope which, to me anyway, represents their willingness to go along with the scheme despite lingering doubts.

Rhode Islanders, I’m glad you’re still with us!


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