Rhode Island Colonial Charter: 1663-2013

350th anniversary of Rhode Island's "lively experiment" in religious freedom

Rhode Island Colonial Charter: 1663-2013


This article was written on 04 May 2016, and is filled under Blog.

The Rhode’s Island Colonial Charter: A layman’s explanation


This is an attempt to explain the Rhode’s Island colonial Charter in as simple terms as possible. First of all, it is important to define what a charter is and what it means to the recipient(s). A Charter is simply a grant of rights or authorities. It therefore explicitly states that the person or authority granting it acknowledges the recipient’s privilege to exercise the stated rights.

When we talk of colonization and about colonies, the picture that forms in the mind of many a people is not one of merry but rather one of despair and want. It is one where most people could only dream of amenities like insoles that are now best termed as basic. The present scenario is of course completely different and dental care, for example goes into such tiny details like having a dental night guard.

Back to the explanation, Rhode Island, one such colony, began as settlements of people who were fleeing from the wicked deeds in other colonies including persecution. With time these scattered settlements turned into villages and later into towns, each of which had an independent government and laws. There was however a challenge posed by ambitious external neighbors and this caused the towns to formulate the patent of 1643/4. This patent recognized the corporate existence of the towns and compelled the external neighbors to do so too. Unfortunately, there were weaknesses in this patent as in produced confederacy rather than a union. Eventually, Dr. John Clarke was sent to England to have this setup revoked.

What resulted is the Royal Charter of 1663 which essentially included all that was given under the aforementioned patent but went a step further by choosing to vest greater powers in the people. It simply recognized the colony as a sovereignty with powers to make laws. It granted religious freedom to the people and removed the requirement to take oaths of allegiances. In other words, this charter made the colony of Rhode Island an independent state of sorts.

One may ask, “How did this charter compare to the rest?” Well, in those days, this would have been a really big task as one would need to manually examine all the Charters but thanks to the internet age, where one can get most information right from the simple, “what is seo”, questions to the most intricate ones, this comparison is simple. Three things stood out from this charter namely; acknowledging Indians’ right to the soil, extending protection to the colonists and ensuring democratic liberalism.

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