John Tyler photo

Special Message

April 09, 1844

To the House of Representatives:

In compliance with a resolution of the House of Representatives of the 23d of March last, requesting the President to lay before the House "the authority and the true copies of all requests and applications upon which he deemed it his duty to interfere with the naval and military forces of the United States on the occasion of the recent attempt of the people of Rhode Island to establish a free constitution in the place of the old charter government of that State; also copies of the instructions to and statements of the charter commissioners sent to him by the then existing authorities of the State of Rhode Island; also copies of the correspondence between the Executive of the United States and the charter government of the State of Rhode Island, and all the papers and documents connected with the same; also copies of the correspondence, if any, between the heads of Departments and said charter government or any person or persons connected with the said government, and of any accompanying papers and documents; also copies of all orders issued by the Executive of the United States, or any of the Departments, to military officers for the movement or employment of troops to or in Rhode Island; also copies of all orders to naval officers to prepare steam or other vessels of the United States for service in the waters of Rhode Island; also copies of all orders to the officers of revenue cutters for the same service; also copies of any instructions borne by the Secretary of War to Rhode Island on his visit in 1842 to review the troops of the charter government; also copies of any order or orders to any officer or officers of the Army or Navy to report themselves to the charter government; and that he be requested to lay before this House copies of any other papers or documents in the possession of the Executive connected with this subject not above specifically enumerated," I have to inform the House that the Executive did not deem it his "duty to interfere with the naval and military forces of the United States" in the late disturbances in Rhode Island; that no orders were issued by the Executive or any of the Departments to military officers for the movement or employment of troops to or in Rhode Island other than those which accompany this message and which contemplated the strengthening of the garrison at Fort Adams, which, considering the extent of the agitation in Rhode Island, was esteemed necessary and judicious; that no orders were issued to naval officers to prepare steam or other vessels of the United States for service in the waters of Rhode Island; that no orders were issued "to the officers of the revenue cutters for said service;" that no instructions were borne by "the Secretary of War to Rhode Island on his visit in 1842 to review the troops of the charter government ;" that no orders were given to any officer or officers of the Army or Navy to report themselves to the charter government; that "requests and applications" were made to the Executive to fulfill the guaranties of the Constitution which impose on the Federal Government the obligation to protect and defend each State of the Union against "domestic violence and foreign invasion," but the Executive was at no time convinced that the casus faederis had arisen which required the interposition of the military or naval power in the controversy which unhappily existed between the people of Rhode Island. I was in no manner prevented from so interfering by the inquiry whether Rhode Island existed as an independent State of the Union under a charter granted at an early period by the Crown of Great Britain or not. It was enough for the Executive to know that she was recognized as a sovereign State by Great Britain by the treaty of 1783; that at a later day she had in common with her sister States poured out her blood and freely expended her treasure in the War of the Revolution; that she was a party to the Articles of Confederation; that at an after period she adopted the Constitution of the United States as a free, independent, and republican State; and that in this character she has always possessed her full quota of representation in the Senate and House of Representatives; and that up to a recent day she has conducted all her domestic affairs and fulfilled all her obligations as a member of the Union, in peace and war, under her charter government , as it is denominated by the resolution of the House of the 23d March. I must be permitted to disclaim entirely and unqualifiedly the right on the part of the Executive to make any real or supposed defects existing in any State constitution or form of government the pretext for a failure to enforce the laws or the guaranties of the Constitution of the United States in reference to any such State. I utterly repudiate the idea, in terms as emphatic as I can employ, that those laws are not to be enforced or those guaranties complied with because the President may believe that the right of suffrage or any other great popular right is either too restricted or too broadly enlarged. I also with equal strength resist the idea that it fails within the Executive competency to decide in controversies of the nature of that which existed in Rhode Island on which side is the majority of the people or as to the extent of the rights of a mere numerical majority. For the Executive to assume such a power would be to assume a power of the most dangerous character. Under such assumptions the States of this Union would have no security for peace or tranquillity, but might be converted into the mere instruments of Executive will. Actuated by selfish purposes, he might become the great agitator, fomenting assaults upon the State constitutions and declaring the majority of to-day to be the minority of to-morrow, and the minority, in its turn, the majority, before whose decrees the established order of things in the State should be subverted. Revolution, civil commotion, and bloodshed would be the inevitable consequences. The provision in the Constitution intended for the security of the States would thus be turned into the instrument of their destruction. The President would become, in fact, the great constitution maker for the States, and all power would be vested in his hands.

When, therefore, the governor of Rhode Island, by his letter of the 4th of April, 1842, made a requisition upon the Executive for aid to put down the late disturbances, I had no hesitation in recognizing the obligations of the Executive to furnish such aid upon the occurrence of the contingency provided for by the Constitution and laws. My letter of the 11th of April, in reply to the governor's letter of the 4th, is herewith communicated, together with all correspondence which passed at a subsequent day and the letters and documents mentioned in the schedule hereunto annexed. From the correspondence between the Executive of the United States and that of Rhode Island, it will not escape observation that while I regarded it as my duty to announce the principles by which I should govern myself in the contingency of an armed interposition on the part of this Government being necessary to uphold the rights of the State of Rhode Island and to preserve its domestic peace, yet that the strong hope was indulged and expressed that all the difficulties would disappear before an enlightened policy of conciliation and compromise. In that spirit I addressed to Governor King the letter of the 9th of May, 1842, marked "private and confidential," and received his reply of the 12th of May of the same year. The desire of the Executive was from the beginning to bring the dispute to a termination without the interposition of the military power of the United States, and it will continue to be a subject of self-congratulation that this leading object of policy was finally accomplished. The Executive resisted all entreaties, however urgent, to depart from this line of conduct. Information from private sources had led the Executive to conclude that little else was designed by Mr. Dorr and his adherents than mere menace with a view to intimidation; nor was this opinion in any degree shaken until the 22d of June, 1842, when it was strongly represented from reliable sources, as will be seen by reference to the documents herewith communicated, that preparations were making by Mr. Dorr, with a large force in arms, to invade the State, which force had been recruited in the neighboring States and had been already preceded by the collection of military stores in considerable quantities at one or two points. This was a state of things to which the Executive could not be indifferent. Mr. Dorr speedily afterwards took up his headquarters at Chepachet and assumed the command of what was reported to be a large force, drawn chiefly from voluntary enlistments made in neighboring States. The Executive could with difficulty bring itself to realize the fact that the citizens of other States should have forgotten their duty to themselves and the Constitution of the United States and have entered into the highly reprehensible and indefensible course of interfering so far in the concerns of a sister State as to have entered into plans of invasion, conquest, and revolution; but the Executive felt it to be its duty to look minutely into the matter, and therefore the Secretary of War was dispatched to Rhode Island with instructions (a copy of which is herewith transmitted), and was authorized, should a requisition be made upon the Executive by the government of Rhode Island in pursuance of law, and the invaders should not abandon their purposes, to call upon the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut for a sufficient number of militia at once to arrest the invasion and to interpose such of the regular troops as could be spared from Fort Adams for the defense of the city of Providence in the event of its being attacked, as was strongly represented to be in contemplation. Happily there was no necessity for either issuing the proclamation or the requisition or for removing the troops from Fort Adams, where they had been properly stationed. Chepachet was evacuated and Mr. Dorr's troops dispersed without the necessity of the interposition of any military force by this Government, thus confirming me in my early impressions that nothing more had been designed from the first by those associated with Mr. Dorr than to excite fear and apprehension and thereby to obtain concessions from the constituted authorities which might be claimed as a triumph over the existing government.

With the dispersion of Mr. Dorr's troops ended all difficulties. A convention was shortly afterwards called, by due course of law, to amend the fundamental law, and a new constitution, based on more liberal principles than that abrogated, was proposed, and adopted by the people. Thus the great American experiment of a change in government under the influence of opinion and not of force has been again crowned with success, and the State and people of Rhode Island repose in safety under institutions of their own adoption, unterrified by any future prospect of necessary change and secure against domestic violence and invasion from abroad. I congratulate the country upon so happy a termination of a condition of things which seemed at one time seriously to threaten the public peace. It may justly be regarded as worthy of the age and of the country in which we live.


PROVIDENCE, April 4, 1842 .


SIR: The State of Rhode Island is threatened with domestic violence. Apprehending that the legislature can not be convened in sufficient season to apply to the Government of the United States for effectual protection in this case, I hereby apply to you, as the executive of the State of Rhode Island, for the protection which is required by the Constitution of the United States. To communicate more fully with you on this subject, I have appointed John Whipple, John Brown Francis, and Elisha R. Potter, esqs., three of our most distinguished citizens, to proceed to Washington and to make known to you in behalf of this State the circumstances which call for the interposition of the Government of the United States for our protection.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Governor of Rhode Island.

PROVIDENCE, April 4, 1842 .


SIR: For nearly a year last past the State of Rhode Island has been agitated by revolutionary movements, and is now threatened with domestic violence.

The report* of a joint committee of both branches of the legislature of this State, with an act* and resolutions* accompanying the same, herewith communicated, were passed unanimously by the senate, and by a vote of 60 to 6 in the house ot representatives. The legislature adjourned to the first Tuesday of May next.

* Omitted

It has become my duty by one of these resolutions to adopt such measures as in my opinion may be necessary in the recess of the legislature to execute the laws and preserve the State from domestic violence.

The provisions of the said act "in relation to offenses against the sovereign power of this State" have created much excitement among that portion of the people who have unequivocally declared their intention to set up another government in this State and to put down the existing government, and they threaten, individually and collectively, to resist the execution of this act. The numbers of this party are sufficiently formidable to threaten seriously our peace, and in some portions of the State, and in this city particularly, may constitute a majority of the physical force, though they are a minority of the people of the State.

Under the dangers which now threaten us, I have appointed John Whipple, John Brown Francis, and Elisha R. Potter, esqs., three of our most distinguished citizens, to proceed to Washington and consult with you in behalf of this State, with a view that such precautionary measures may be taken by the Government of the United States as may afford us that protection which the Constitution of the United States requires. There is but little doubt that a proclamation from the President of the United States and the presence here of a military officer to act under the authority of the United States would destroy the delusion which is now so prevalent, and convince the deluded that in a contest with the government of this State they would be involved in a contest with the Government of the United States, which could only eventuate in their destruction.

As no State can keep troops in time of peace without the consent of Congress, there is the more necessity that we should be protected by those who have the means of protection. We shall do all we can for ourselves. The Government of the United States has the power to prevent as well as to defend us from violence. The protection provided by the Constitution of the United States will not be effectual unless such precautionary measures may be taken as are necessary to prevent lawless men from breaking out into violence, as well as to protect the State from further violence after it has broken out. Preventive measures are the most prudent and safe, and also the most merciful.

The protective power would be lamentably deficient if "the beginning of strife," which "is like the letting out of waters," can not be prevented, and no protection can be afforded the State until to many it would be too late.

The above-named gentlemen are fully authorized to act in behalf of the State of Rhode Island in this emergency, and carry with them such documents and proof as will, no doubt, satisfy you that the interposition of the authority of the Government of the United States will be salutary and effectual.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Governor of Rhode Island.

APRIL 9, 1842.

MY DEAR SIR: *Will you do me the favor to see the committee from Rhode Island as soon after the meeting of the Cabinet as may suit your convenience?

*Addressed to the President of the United States.

I regret to learn from Mr. Francis that the leaning of your mind was decidedly against any expression of opinion upon the subject, upon the ground that free suffrage must prevail . Undoubtedly it will. That is not the question. The freeholders of Rhode Island have yielded that point, and the only question is between their constitution, providing for an extension of suffrage, and ours, containing substantially the same provision--whether their constitution shall be carried out by force of arms without a majority, or the present government be supported until a constitution can be agreed upon that will command a majority. Neither their constitution nor ours has as yet received a majority of the free white males over 21 years of age. There is no doubt upon that subject , and I very much regret that your mind should have been influenced (if it has) by the paper called the Express. Nearly all the leaders who are professional men have abandoned them, on the ground that a majority is not in favor of their constitution. I know this to be true. I do hope that you will reconsider this vital question and give us a full hearing before you decide.

With great respect, very truly and sincerely, yours,


His Excellency JOHN TYLER, President of the United States:

The undersigned, having been deputed by Samuel W. King, the governor of the State of Rhode Island, to lay before you the present alarming condition in which the people of that State are placed, and to request from you the adoption of such prudential measures as in your opinion may tend to prevent domestic violence, beg leave most respectfully to state the following among the leading facts, to which your attention is more particularly invited:

That the people of Rhode Island have no fundamental law except the charter of King Charles II, granted in 1663, and the usage of the legislature under it. Legislative usage under their charters has been decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to be the fundamental law both in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

That from the date of the Rhode Island charter down to the year 1841, a period of nearly two hundred years, no person has been allowed to vote for town or State offices unless possessed of competent estates and admitted free in the several towns in which they resided.

That since the statute of 1728 no person could be admitted a freeman of any town unless he owned a freehold estate of the value fixed by law (now $134) or was the eldest son of such a freeholder.

That until the past year no attempt has been made, to our knowledge, to establish any other fundamental law, by force, than the one under which the people have lived for so long a period.

That at the January session of the legislature in 1841 a petition signed by five or six hundred male inhabitants, praying for such an extension of suffrage as the legislature might in their wisdom deem expedient to propose, was presented.

That, influenced by that petition, as well as by other considerations, the legislature at that session requested the qualified voters, or freemen, as they are called with us, to choose delegates at their regular town meetings to be holden in August, 1841, for a convention to be holden in November, 1841, to frame a written constitution.

That the result of the last meeting of this legal convention in February, 1842, was the constitution* accompanying this statement, marked, which, in ease of its adoption by the people, would have been the supreme law of the State.

* Omitted.

Most of the above facts are contained in the printed report of a numerous committee of the legislature at their session in March, 1842, which report was adopted by the legislature.

That in May, 1841, after said legal convention had been provided for by the legislature, and before the time appointed for the choice of delegates by the qualified voters (August, 1841), a mass meeting was held by the friends of an extension of suffrage at Newport, at which meeting a committee was appointed, called the State committee, who were authorized by said mass meeting to take measures for calling a convention to frame a constitution.

That this committee, thus authorized, issued a request for a meeting of the male citizens in the several towns to appoint delegates to the proposed convention.

That meetings (of unqualified voters principally, as we believe) were accordingly holden in the several towns, unauthorized by law, and contrary to the invariable custom and usage of the State from 1663 down to that period; that the aggregate votes appointing the delegates to that convention were, according to their own estimate, about 7,200, whereas the whole number of male citizens over 21 years of age, after making a deduction for foreigners, paupers, etc., was, according to their own estimate, over 22,000.

That this convention, thus constituted, convened in Providence in October, 1841, and the constitution called the "people's constitution" was the result of their deliberations.

That at subsequent meetings of portions of the people in December, 1841, by the authority of this convention alone (elected, as its delegates had been, by about one-third of the voters, according to their own standard of qualification), all males over 21 years of age were admitted to vote for the adoption of the people's constitution; that these meetings were not under any presiding officer whose legal right or duty it was to interpose any check or restraint as to age, residence, property, or color.

By the fourteenth article of this constitution it was provided that "this constitution shall be submitted to the people for their adoption or rejection on Monday, the 27th of December next, and on the two succeeding days;" "and every person entitled to vote as aforesaid who from sickness or other causes may be unable to attend and vote in the town or ward meetings assembled for voting upon said constitution on the days aforesaid is requested to write his name on a ticket, and to obtain the signature upon the back of the same of a person who has given in his vote, as a witness thereto, and the moderator or clerk of any town or ward meeting convened for the purpose aforesaid shall receive such vote on either of the three days next succeeding the three days before named for voting for said constitution."

During the first three days about 9,000 votes were received from the hands of the voters in the open meetings. By the privilege granted to any and all friends of the constitution of bringing into their meetings the names of voters during the three following days 5,000 votes more were obtained, making an aggregate of about 14,000 votes.

This constitution, thus originating and thus formed, was subsequently declared by this convention to be the supreme law of the land. By its provisions a government is to be organized under it, by the choice of a governor, lieutenant-governor, senators and representatives, on the Monday preceding the third Wednesday in April, 1842.

By the provisions of the "landholder's constitution," as the legal constitution is called, every white native citizen possessing the freehold qualification, and over 21 years of age, may vote upon a residence of one year, and without any freehold may vote upon a residence of two years, except in the case of votes for town taxes, in which case the voter must possess the freehold qualification or be taxed for other property of the value of $150.

By the "people's constitution" "every white male citizen of the United States of the age of 21 years who has resided in this State for one year and in the town where he votes for six months" shall be permitted to vote, with the same exception as to voting for town taxes as is contained in the other constitution.

The provision, therefore, in relation to the great subject in dispute--the elective franchise--is substantially the same in the two constitutions.

On the 21st, 22d, and 23d March last the legal constitution, by an act of the legislature, was submitted to all the persons who by its provisions would be entitled to vote under it after its adoption, for their ratification. It was rejected by a majority of 676 votes, the number of votes polled being over 16,000. It is believed that many freeholders voted against it because they were attached to the old form of government and were against any new constitution whatever. Both parties used uncommon exertions to bring all their voters to the polls, and the result of the vote was, under the scrutiny of opposing interests in legal town meetings, that the friends of the people's constitution brought to the polls probably not over 7,000 to 7,500 votes. The whole vote against the legal constitution was about 8,600. If we allow 1,000 as the number of freeholders who voted against the legal constitution because they are opposed to any constitution, it would leave the number of the friends of the people's constitution 7,600, or about one-third of the voters of the State under the new qualification proposed by either constitution.

It seems incredible that there can be 14,000 friends of the people's constitution in the State, animated as they are by a most extraordinary and enthusiastic feeling; and yet upon this trial, in the usual open and fair way of voting, they should have obtained not over 7,600 votes.

The unanimity of the subsequent action of the legislature, comprehending as it did both the great political parties--the house of representatives giving a vote of 60 in favor of maintaining the existing government of the State and only 6 on the other side, with a unanimous vote in the senate--the unanimous and decided opinion of the supreme court declaring this extraordinary movement to be illegal in all its stages (see ______*), a majority of that court being of the Democratic party, with other facts of a similar character, have freed this question of a mere party character and enabled us to present it as a great constitutional question.


Without presuming to discuss the elementary and fundamental principles of government, we deem it our duty to remind you of the fact that the existing government of Rhode Island is the government that adopted the Constitution of the United States, became a member of this Confederacy, and has ever since been represented in the Senate and House of Representatives. It is at this moment the existing government of Rhode Island, both de facto and de jure , and is the only government in that State entitled to the protection of the Constitution of the United States.

It is that government which now calls upon the General Government for its interference; and even if the legal effect of there being an ascertained majority of unqualified voters against the existing government was as is contended for by the opposing party, yet, upon their own principle, ought not that majority in point of fact to be clearly ascertained, not by assertion, but by proof, in order to justify the General Government in withdrawing its legal and moral influence to prevent domestic violence?

That a domestic war of the most furious character will speedily ensue unless prevented by a prompt expression of opinion here can not be doubted. In relation to this, we refer to the numerous resolutions passed at meetings of the friends of the people's constitution, and more especially to the Cumberland resolutions* herewith presented, and the affidavits,* marked ______, and to repeated expressions of similar reliance upon the judgment of the Chief Magistrate of the nation.

All which is respectfully submitted by--





WASHINGTON, April 11, 1842.


SIR: Your letter dated the 4th instant was handed me on Friday by Mr. Whipple, who, in company with Mr. Francis and Mr. Potter, called upon me on Saturday and placed me, both verbally and in writing, in possession of the prominent facts which have led to the present unhappy condition of things in Rhode Island--a state of things which every lover of peace and good order must deplore. I shall not adventure the expression of an opinion upon those questions of domestic policy which seem to have given rise to the unfortunate controversies between a portion of the citizens and the existing government of the State. They are questions of municipal regulation, the adjustment of which belongs exclusively to the people of Rhode Island, and with which this Government can have nothing to do. For the regulation of my conduct in any interposition which I may be called upon to make between the government of a State and any portion of its citizens who may assail it with domestic violence, or may be in actual insurrection against it, I can only look to the Constitution and laws of the United States, which plainly declare the obligations of the executive department and leave it no alternative as to the course it shall pursue.

By the fourth section of the fourth article of the Constitution of the United States it is provided that "the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion, and, on application of the legislature or executive (when the legislature can not be convened), against domestic violence ." And by the act of Congress approved on the 28th February, 1795, it is declared "that in ease of an insurrection in any State against the government thereof it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, upon application of the legislature of such State or by the executive (when the legislature can not be convened ), to call forth such numbers of the militia of any other State or States as may be applied for, as he may judge sufficient to suppress such insurrection." By the third section of the same act it is provided "that whenever it may be necessary, in the judgment of the President, to use the military force hereby directed to be called forth, the President shall forthwith, by proclamation, command such insurgents to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within a reasonable time." By the act of March 3, 1807, it is provided "that in all cases of insurrection or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States or of any individual State or Territory where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ for the same purposes such part of the land or naval force of the United States as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the prerequisites of the law in that respect."

This is the first occasion, so far as the government of a State and its people are concerned, on which it has become necessary to consider of the propriety of exercising those high and most important of constitutional and legal functions.

By a careful consideration of the above-recited acts of Congress your excellency will not fail to see that no power is vested in the Executive of the United States to anticipate insurrectionary movements against the government of Rhode Island so as to sanction the interposition of the military authority, but that there must be an actual insurrection, manifested by lawless assemblages of the people or otherwise, to whom a proclamation may be addressed and who may be required to betake themselves to their respective abodes. I have, however, to assure your excellency that should the time arrive--and my fervent prayer is that it may never come--when an insurrection shall exist against the government of Rhode Island, and a requisition shall be made upon the Executive of the United States to furnish that protection which is guaranteed to each State by the Constitution and laws, I shall not be found to shrink from the performance of a duty which, while it would be the most painful, is at the same time the most imperative. I have also to say that in such a contingency the Executive could not look into real or supposed defects of the existing government in order to ascertain whether some other plan of government proposed for adoption was better suited to the wants and more in accordance with the wishes of any portion of her citizens. To throw the Executive power of this Government into any such controversy would be to make the President the armed arbitrator between the people of the different States and their constituted authorities, and might lead to a usurped power dangerous alike to the stability of the State governments and the liberties of the people. It will be my duty, on the contrary, to respect the requisitions of that government which has been recognized as the existing government of the State through all time past until I shall be advised in regular manner that it has been altered and abolished and another substituted in its place by legal and peaceable proceedings adopted and pursued by the authorities and people of the State. Nor can I readily bring myself to believe that any such contingency will arise as shall render the interference of this Government at all necessary. The people of the State of Rhode Island have been too long distinguished for their love of order and of regular government to rush into revolution in order to obtain a redress of grievances, real or supposed, which a government under which their fathers lived in peace would not in due season redress. No portion of her people will be willing to drench her fair fields with the blood of their own brethren in order to obtain a redress of grievances which their constituted authorities can not for any length of time resist if properly appealed to by the popular voice. None of them will be willing to set an example, in the bosom of this Union, of such frightful disorder, such needless convulsions of society, such danger to life, liberty, and property, and likely to bring so much discredit on the character of popular governments. My reliance on the virtue, intelligence, and patriotism of her citizens is great and abiding, and I will not doubt but that a spirit of conciliation will prevail over rash councils, that all actual grievances will be promptly redressed by the existing government, and that another bright example will be added to the many already prevailing among the North American Republics of change without revolution and a redress of grievances without force or violence.

I tender to your excellency assurances of my high respect and consideration.


NEWPORT, R. I., May 4, 1842.

His Excellency JOHN TYLER, President of the United States.

SIR: I transmit herewith certain resolutions passed by the general assembly of this State at their session holden at Newport on the first Wednesday of May instant.

You are already acquainted with some of the circumstances which have rendered necessary the passage of these resolutions. Any further information that may be desired will be communicated by the bearers, the Hon. Richard K. Randolph, speaker of the house of representatives, and Elisha R. Potter, esq., a member of the senate of this State.

I can not allow myself to doubt but that the assistance to which this State is entitled under the Constitution of the United States, to protect itself against domestic violence, will be promptly rendered by the General Government of the Union.

With great respect, I am, Your Excellency's humble servant,


Governor of Rhode Island.


In General Assembly, May Session, 1842.

Whereas a portion of the people of this State, for the purpose of subverting the laws and existing government thereof, have framed a pretended constitution, and for the same unlawful purposes have met in lawless assemblages and elected officers for the future government of this State; and

Whereas the persons so elected in violation of law, but in conformity to the said pretended constitution, have, on the 3d day of May instant, organized themselves into executive and legislative departments of government, and under oath assumed the duties did exercise of said powers; and

Whereas in order to prevent the due execution of the laws a strong military force was called out and did array themselves to protect the said unlawful organization of government and to set at defiance the due enforcement of law: Therefore,

Resolved by the general assembly , That there now exists in this State an insurrection against the laws and constituted authorities thereof, and that, in pursuance of the Constitution and laws of the United States, a requisition be, and hereby is, made by this legislature upon the President of the United States forthwith to interpose the authority and power of the United States to suppress such insurrectionary and lawless assemblages, to support the existing government and laws, and protect the State from domestic violence.

Resolved , That his excellency the governor be requested immediately to transmit a copy of these resolutions to the President of the United States.

True copy.



Secretary of State.

WASHINGTON, May 7, 1842.


SIR: Your letter of the 4th instant, transmitting resolutions of the legislature of Rhode Island, informing me that there existed in that State "certain lawless assemblages of a portion of the people" "for the purpose of subverting the laws and overthrowing the existing government," and calling upon the Executive "forthwith to interpose the .authority and power of the United States to suppress such insurrectionary and lawless assemblages and to support the existing government and laws and protect the State from domestic violence," was handed me on yesterday by Messrs. Randolph and Potter.

I have to inform your excellency in reply that my opinions as to the duties of this Government to protect the State of Rhode Island against domestic violence remain unchanged. Yet, from information received by the Executive since your dispatches came to hand I am led to believe that the lawless assemblages to which reference is made have already dispersed and that the danger of domestic violence is hourly diminishing, if it has not wholly disappeared. I have with difficulty brought myself at any time to believe that violence would he resorted to or an exigency arise which the unaided power of the State could not meet, especially as I have from the first felt persuaded that your excellency and others associated with yourself in the administration of the government would exhibit a temper of conciliation as well as of energy and decision. To the insurgents themselves it ought to be obvious, when the excitement of the moment shall have passed away, that changes achieved by regular and, if necessary, repeated appeals to the constituted authorities, in a country so much under the influence of public opinion, and by recourse to argument and remonstrance, are more likely to insure lasting blessings than those accomplished by violence and bloodshed on one day, and liable to overthrow by similar agents on another.

I freely confess that I should experience great reluctance in employing the military power of this Government against any portion of the people; but however painful the duty, I have to assure your excellency that if resistance be made to the execution of the laws of Rhode Island by such force as the civil power shall be unable to overcome, it will be the duty of this Government to enforce the constitutional guaranty--a guaranty given and adopted mutually by all the original States, of which number Rhode Island was one, and which in the same way has been given and adopted by each of the States since admitted into the Union; and if an exigency of lawless violence shall actually arise the executive government of the United States, on the application of your excellency under the authority of the resolutions of the legislature already transmitted, will stand ready to succor the authorities of the State in their efforts to maintain a due respect for the laws. I sincerely hope, however, that no such exigency may occur, and that every citizen of Rhode Island will manifest his love of peace and good order by submitting to the laws and seeking a redress of grievances by other means than intestine commotions.

I tender to your excellency assurances of my distinguished consideration.



President of the United States..

SIR: As requested by the general assembly, I have the honor of transmitting to you, under the seal of the State, the accompanying resolutions.

And I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Governor of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.


General Assembly, May Session, in the City of Providence, A. D. 1842.

Resolved , That the governor be requested to inform the President of the United States that the government of this State has been duly elected and organized under the constitution of the same, and that the general assembly are now in session and proceeding to discharge their duties according to the provisions of said constitution.

Resolved , That the governor be requested to make the same communication to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to be laid before the two Houses of the Congress of the United States.

Resolved , That the governor be requested to make the same communication to the governors of the several States, to be laid before the respective legislatures.

A true copy.



Secretary of State.

MAY 9, 1842.

Governor KING, of Rhode Island.

SIR: Messrs. Randolph and Potter will hand you an official letter, but I think it important that you should be informed of my views and opinions as to the best mode of settling all difficulties. I deprecate the use of force except in the last resort, and I am persuaded that measures of conciliation will at once operate to produce quiet. I am well advised , if the general assembly would authorize you to announce a general amnesty and pardon for the past, without making any exception, upon the condition of a return to allegiance, and follow it up by a call for a new convention upon somewhat liberal principles, that all difficulty would at once cease. And why should not this be done? A government never loses anything by mildness and forbearance to its own citizens, more especially when the consequences of an opposite course may be the shedding of blood. In your case the one-half of your people are involved in the consequences of recent proceedings. Why urge matters to an extremity? If you succeed by the bayonet, you succeed against your own fellow-citizens and by the shedding of kindred blood, whereas by taking the opposite course you will have shown a paternal care for the lives of your people. My own opinion is that the adoption of the above measures will give you peace and insure you harmony. A resort to force, on the contrary, will engender for years to come feelings of animosity.

I have said that I speak advisedly. Try the experiment, and if it fail then your justification in using force becomes complete.

Excuse the freedom I take, and be assured of my respect.


PROVIDENCE, R. I., May 12, 1842.


MY DEAR SIR: I have had the honor to receive your communication of 9th instant by Mr. Randolph, and assure you it has given me much satisfaction to know that your views and opinions as to the course proper to be pursued by the government of this State in the present unhappy condition of our political affairs is so much in conformity with my own.

Our legislature will undoubtedly at their session in June next adopt such measures as will be necessary to organize a convention for the formation of a new constitution of government, by which all the evils now complained of may be removed.

It has already been announced as the opinion of the executive that such of our citizens as are or have been engaged in treasonable and revolutionary designs against the State will be pardoned for the past on the condition only that they withdraw themselves from such enterprise and signify their return to their allegiance to the government.

With high consideration and respect, your obedient and very humble servant,


KINGSTON, R. I., May 15, 1842 .

His Excellency JOHN TYLER,

President of the United States.

DEAR SIR: We arrived at Newport on Wednesday morning in time to attend the meeting of our legislature.

The subject of calling a convention immediately, and upon a liberal basis as to the right of voting for the delegates, was seriously agitated amongst us. The only objection made was that they did not wish to concede while the people's party continued their threats . All allowed that the concession must be made, and the only difference of opinion was as to time.

For my own part, I fear we shall never see the time when concession could have been made with better grace or with better effect than now. If two or three noisy folks among the suffrage party could only have their mouths stopped for a week or two, a reconciliation could be brought about at any time, or if Mr. Dorr would allow himself to be arrested peaceably and give bail no one could then object. But the supporters of the government say it is wrong to give up so long as Mr. Dorr threatens actual resistance to the laws in case he is arrested. If this could be done, they would then consider that they had sufficiently shown their determination to support the laws, and the two measures which you proposed to us in conversation at Washington--a convention and then a general amnesty--would succeed beyond a doubt.

Allow me to suggest that if Mr. Wickliffe, or someone who you might think would have most influence, would address a letter to Governor Fenner on the subject of conciliation it might be of great service. Governor F. is the father-in-law of General Mallet and a member of our senate.

Our assembly adjourned to the third Monday of June, but it is in the power of the governor to call it sooner, which can be done in a day at any time. Unless, however, there is a little more prudence in the leaders on both sides, we shall then be farther from reconciliation than now. The great mass of both parties I believe to be sincerely anxious for a settlement.

I do not know whether a letter addressed to the President upon a subject of this nature would of course be considered as public and liable to inspection. Few would write freely if that were the case. If private, I will cheerfully communicate from time to time any information that may be in my power and which might be of any service.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Mr. Dorr returned to Providence this (Monday) morning with an armed escort.

WASHINGTON, May 20, 1842.


DEAR SIR: You have my thanks for your favor of the 16th (15th) instant, and I have to request that you will write to me without reserve whenever anything of importance shall arise. My chief motives for desiring the adoption of the measures suggested to you, viz, a general amnesty and a call of a convention, were, first, because I felt convinced that peace and harmony would follow in their train, and, secondly, if in this I was disappointed the insurgents would have had no longer a pretense for an appeal to the public sympathies in their behalf. I saw nothing to degrade or to give rise to injurious reflections against the government of the State for resorting to every proper expedient in order to quiet the disaffection of any portion of her own people. Family quarrels are always the most difficult to appease, but everybody will admit that those of the family who do most to reconcile them are entitled to the greatest favor. Mr. Dorr's recent proceedings have been of so extravagant a character as almost to extinguish the last hope of a peaceable result, and yet I can not but believe that much is meant for effect and for purposes of intimidation merely. I certainly hope that such may be the case, though the recent proceedings in New York may have excited new feelings and new desires. This mustering of the clans may place Governor King in a different situation from that which he occupied when I had the pleasure of seeing you. Then he might have yielded with grace; whether he can do so now is certainly a question of much difficulty and one on which I can not venture to express an opinion at this distance from the scene of action.

I shall be always most happy to hear from you, and your letters will never be used to your prejudice.

Accept assurances of my high respect.


PROVIDENCE, May 16, 1842.


SIR: At the request of Governor King, I inclose to you an extra of the Providence Daily Express of this morning, containing the proclamation of Thomas W. Dorr to the people of this State.

It states definitely the position assumed by him and his faction against the government of this State and of the United States.

His excellency tenders to you the highest respect and consideration.

Respectfully, yours,


Private Secretary.

John Tyler, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives