Joined: 30 Oct 2008
|Posted: Fri 5 Dec - 00:04 (2008) Post subject: Rhode Island History
Indians And Explorers
Primitive people of Asiatic origin, mistakenly named "Indians" by Columbus, were the first inhabitants of present-day Rhode Island. Archaeological evidence indicates their presence in this area more than eight thousand years ago.
European contacts with Rhode Island and its coastline have been claimed for several explorers, including medieval Irish adventurers sailing in skin-boats called currachs, Norsemen or Vikings (who were once thought to be builders of the Newport Tower), and the daring Portuguese navigator Miguel Corte-Real, who allegedly carved his name and a series of symbols into Dighton Rock in the nearby Taunton River. None of these visitations has been substantiated beyond reasonable doubt, though each has its scholarly supporters. Therefore, the 1524 voyage of Italian navigator Giovanni Verrazzano stands as the first verifiable visit to Rhode Island by a European adventurer.
Verrazzano made his famous trip, searching for an all-water route through North America to China, in the employ of the French king Francis and several Italian promoters. After landfall at Cape Fear, North Carolina, about March 1, 1524, he proceeded up the coast to the present site of New York City to anchor in the Narrows, now spanned by the giant bridge, which bears his name. From there, according to his own account, he sailed in an easterly direction until he "discovered an island in the form of a triangle, distant from the mainland ten leagues, about the bigness of the Island of Rhodes," which he named Luisa after the Queen Mother of France. This was Block Island, but Roger Williams and other early settlers mistakenly thought that Verrazzano had been referring to Aquidneck Island. Thus they changed that Indian name to Rhode Island, and Verrazzano inadvertently and indirectly gave the state its name.
Natives who paddled out to his ship off Point Judith were so friendly that Verrazzano sailed with their guidance into Narragansett Bay to a second anchorage in what is now Newport harbor. He remained for two weeks while his crew surveyed the bay and the surrounding mainland, noting the fertile soil, the woods of oak and walnut, and such game as lynx and deer. Their observations on the dress and customs of their hosts, the Wampanoags, were also most revealing. In early May 1524 Verrazzano departed to press on in vain search for a Northwest Passage to the Orient.
For ninety years following Verrazzano's visit, most European voyagers to North America unsuccessfully sought that elusive Northwest Passage or productively fished the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. In either case, their travels kept them far to the north of the Rhode Island coast. Not until 1614 were other significant visitations to Rhode Island made and recorded. In that year John Smith of Virginia fame explored and charted the New England coast and bestowed upon this region its name, while Dutch mariner Adriaen Block, en route to the Hudson River, visited Block Island and immodestly named it for himself.
From 1620 onward, settlers from nearby Plymouth Colony and the colony of Massachusetts Bay (established 1628) ventured into the Narragansett region to trade with indian tribes. Finally, in 1635, Rhode Island got its first white settler -- William Blackstone, an eccentric Anglican clergyman who built a home near Lonsdale on the banks of the river, which came to bear his name.
Blackstone and others who followed him found the area inhabited by several Indian tribes. The largest of these was the Narragansetts. These natives were part of the Algonquin family of Indian nations, a loose network of related peoples whose habitat stretched from what is now southern Canada to present-day North Carolina. Before the establishment of the permanent white settlements in New England, the Narragansetts occupied the area of Rhode Island from Warwick southward along Narragansett Bay to the present towns of South Kingstown and Exeter. The rest of Rhode Island was populated by other Algonquins, and some friendly, some bitter enemies of the Narragansetts.
The Wampanoags were undoubtedly the Narragansetts' principal rivals. Their sphere of influence extended throughout much of the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay and included Bristol Neck, portions of southeastern Massachusetts, Pawtucket, and parts of Lincoln and Cumberland.
The Nipmucks, a weak tribe by comparison with the Narragansetts and the Wampanoags, maintained a tenuous foothold in the northwesterly corner of the state. Initially tributaries of the Wampanoags, the Nipmucks by 1630 came under the yoke of the expanding Narragansetts, a fate that also befell two subtribes in the Warwick area, the Cowesetts and the Shawomets.
On the southern coast the Niantics populated much of what is now the towns of Charlestown and Westerly. II appears that they were driven out of Connecticut by the warlike Pequots sometime late in the sixteenth century. The Pequots -- who took their name from an Algonquin word meaning destroyer -- continued their expansion eastward, and in 1632 they engaged in a bitter war with the Narragansetts for control of the area just east of the Pawcatuck River in Westerly and Hopkinton.
Anthropologists have estimated the Narragansett Population at about seven thousand persons when the first white settlers arrived. This estimate also includes the Niantics, who were related to the Narragansetts by marriage and shared the same customs and language. These Indians subsisted on farming, fishing, and hunting. Roles were strictly defined in Algonquin society, and the women decidedly had the worst of it. Besides childbearing, females were responsible for planting, harvesting, toting of material possessions when the village moved on a seasonal basis, preparation of food, shellfishing, utensil manufacture, and the erection of wigwams (the bark huts of the Indians). Men, on the other hand, performed the far less strenuous duties of fishing and hunting, and they spent a good deal of time in recreational activities.
The Narragansetts and Niantics lived in compact villages that were composed of families who shared a kin relationship. Village leaders, sometimes called subsachems or petty sachems, answered to a higher authority. For the Narragansetts, the ultimate governmental leadership rested in the hands of two men, called chief sachems, who claimed an exalted status by virtue of royal blood. When Roger Williams founded the town of Providence, Canonicus and his young nephew Miantonomi reigned as the two chief sachems of the Narragansetts.
The Colonial Era
Rhode Island's first permanent settlement was established at Providence in 1636 by English clergyman Roger Williams and a small band of followers who had left the repressive atmosphere of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to seek freedom of worship. Canenicus and Miantonomi granted Williams a sizable tract of land for his new village. Other nonconformists followed Williams to the bay region, including Anne and William Hutchinson and William Coddington, all of whom founded Portsmouth in 1638 as a haven for Antinomians, a religious sect whose beliefs resembled those of Quakerism. A short-lived dispute sent Coddington to the southern tip of Aquidneck Island (also purchased from the Narragansetts), where he established Newport in 1639. The fourth original town, Warwick, was settled in 1642 by Samuel Gorton, another dissident from Portsmouth. During this initial decade two other outposts were established: Wickford (1637), by Richard Smith, and Pawtuxet (1638), by William Harris and the Arnold family.
Because titles to these lands rested only on Indian deeds, neighboring colonies began to covet them. To meet this threat, Roger Williams journeyed to England and secured a parliamentary patent in March 1643-44 uniting the four towns into a single colony and confirming his fellow settlers' land claims. This legislative document served adequately as the basic law until the Stuart Restoration of 1660 made it wise to seek a royal charter.
Dr. John Clarke was commissioned to secure a document from the new king, Charles II, that would both be consistent with the religious principles upon which the tiny colony was founded and also safeguard Rhode Island lands from encroachment by speculators and greedy neighbors. He succeeded admirably. The royal charter of 1663 guaranteed complete religious liberty, established a self-governing colony with local autonomy, and strengthened Rhode Island's territorial claims. It was the most liberal charter to be issued by the mother country during the entire colonial era, a fact that enabled it to serve as Rhode Island's basic law until May 1843.
The religious freedom, which prevailed in early Rhode Island, made it a refuge for several persecuted sects. America's first Baptist church was formed in Providence in 1639; Quakers, who arrived in Aquidneck in 1657 and soon became a powerful force in the colony's political and economic life; a Jewish congregation came to Newport in 1658; and French Huguenots (Calvinists) settled in East Greenwich in 1686.
The most important and traumatic event in seventeenth- century Rhode Island was King Philip's War (1675-76), the culmination of a four-decade decline in Indian-white relations. Roger Williams had won the grudging respect of his colonial neighbors for his diplomatic skill in keeping the powerful Narragansetts on friendly terms with local white settlers. The Narragansetts in 1637 were even persuaded to form an alliance with the English in carrying out a punitive expedition that nearly extinguished the warlike Pequots. But by 1670 even the friendly tribes who had greeted Williams and the Pilgrims became estranged from the white colonists, and the storm clouds of war began to darken the New England countryside.
Clashes in culture, the appropriation by whites of Indian land for their exclusive ownership, and a series of hostile incidents between the Wampanoag chief King Philip (Metacom) and the aggressive government of Plymouth Colony resulted in the terrible colonial conflict called King Philip's War. This futile struggle to rid New England of the white man consumed the lives of several thousand Indians and more than six hundred whites and resulted in enormous property damage.
The Narragansetts, at first neutral, joined forces with the Wampanoags after a Plymouth force staged a sneak attack on the Narragansetts' principal village in the Great Swamp (South Kingstown) in December 1675. The Great Swamp Fight cost the lives of three hundred braves and almost four hundred women and children. The Narragansetts regrouped and launched a vengeful offensive the following spring. On March 26 a large war party led by chief sachem Canonchet massacred a company of approximately sixty-five Englishmen and twenty friendly Indians led by Captain Michael Pierce on the banks of the Blackstone in present-day Central Falls. Three days later the victorious Narragansetts descended upon defenseless Providence, burning most of the buildings in the town. For Williams, who witnessed the event, it represented the destruction or four decades of hard- earned progress.
But famine, disease, and wartime casualties soon decimated the ranks of the Narragansetts and their Wampanoag allies. The killing of King Philip in August 1676 by an Indian allied with the whites effectively ended the war. Remnants of the Narragansetts, Wampanoags, and Pequots sought refuge with the peaceful Niantics, who had remained neutral. This aggregate of remnant groups became the foundation of a new Indian community in Rhode Island that ultimately assumed the name Narragansett.
Other important seventeenth-century developments included the interruption in government caused by James II's abortive Dominion for New England (1686-89), which was a vain effort to consolidate the northern colonies under royal governor Edmond Andros, and the beginning of the intermittent colonial wars between England and France (1689-1763), a seventy-five year struggle for empire that frequently involved Rhode Island men, money, and ships. By the end of the seventeenth century, Newport -- unscathed by King Philip's War -- had emerged as a prosperous port and the colony's dominant community, nine towns had been incorporated, and the population exceeded six thousand inhabitants.
The first quarter of the eighteenth century was marked by the long and able governorship of Samuel Cranston (1698-1727), who established internal unity and brought his colony into a better working relationship with the imperial government in London.
The middle decades of this century were characterized by significant growth. Newport continued to prosper commercially, but Providence now began to challenge for supremacy. This rivalry assumed political dimensions, and by the 1740s a system of two-party politics developed. Opposing groups, one headed by Samuel Ward and the other by Stephen Hopkins, were organized with sectional overtones. Generally speaking (though there were notable exceptions), the merchants and farmers of Newport and South County (Ward's Faction) battled with their counterparts from Providence and its environs (led by Hopkins) to secure control of the powerful legislature for the vast patronage at the disposal of that body.
A major boundary dispute with Connecticut was resolved in 1726-27, and a very favorable settlement with Massachusetts in 1746-47 resulted in the annexation of Cumberland and several East Bay towns, including Tiverton, Little Compton, Warren (which then embraced Barrington), and the port of Bristol. The spread of agriculture on the mainland resulted in the subdivision of Providence and other early towns. By 1774 the colony had 59,707 residents, who lived in twenty-nine incorporated municipalities.
By mid-eighteenth century the spacious farm plantations of South County, utilizing the labor of black and Indian slaves, reached the peak of their prosperity. Here and in the rolling fields of the island towns, colonial farmers raised livestock (especially sheep and a renowned carriage horse aptly named the Narragansett pacer) and cultivated such commodities as apples, onions, flax and dairy products. The virgin forests yielded lumber for boards, planks, timber, and barrels, and the sea provided whales and an abundance of fish for food and fertilizer Most of these items soon became valuable exports for Rhode Island's ever- expanding trade network.
By the end of the colonial era, Rhode Island had developed a brisk commerce with the entire Atlantic community, including England, the Portuguese islands, Africa, South America, the West Indies, and other British mainland colonies. Though agriculture was far and away the dominant occupation, commercial activities flourished in Newport, Providence, and Bristol and in lesser ports like Pawtuxet, Wickford, East Greenwich, Warren, and Westerly. The most lucrative and nefarious aspect of this commerce was the slave trade. in which Rhode Island merchants outdid those of any other mainland colony. This traffic formed one leg of a triangular route, which brought molasses from the West Indies to Rhode Island, whose distilleries transformed it to rum. This liquor was bartered along the African coast for slaves, who were carried in crowded, pest-ridden vessels to the West Indies, the Southern colonies, or back home for domestic service in the mansions of the merchants or on the plantations of South County.
In the 1760s, when the tightening of the navigation system and the imposition of new administrative controls by the mother country threatened the colony's prosperity and autonomy, Rhode Island became a leader in resisting these governmental innovations and took the first halting steps towards revolution and independence
The Revolutionary Era, 1763-1790
Rhode Island was a leader in the American Revolutionary movement. Having the greatest degree of self-rule, it had the most to lose from the efforts of England after 1763 to increase her supervision and control over her American colonies. In addition, Rhode Island had a long tradition of evading the poorly enforced navigation acts, and smuggling was commonplace.
Beginning with strong opposition in Newport to the Sugar Act (1764), with its restrictions on the molasses trade, the colony engaged in repeated measures of open defiance, such as the scuttling and torching of the British customs sloop Liberty in Newport harbor in July 1769, the burning of British revenue schooner Gaspee on Warwick's Namquit Point in 1772, and Providence's own "Tea Party" in March 1775. Gradually the factions of Ward and Hopkins put aside their local differences and united by endorsing a series of political responses to alleged British injustices. On May 17, 1774, after parliamentary passage of the Coercive Acts (Americans called them "Intolerable"), the Providence Town Meeting became the first governmental assemblage to issue a call for a general congress of colonies to resist British policy. On June 15 the General Assembly made the colony the first to appoint delegates (Ward and Hopkins) to the anticipated Continental Congress.
In April 1775, a week after the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, the colonial legislature authorized raising a 1,500-man ''army of observation'' with Nathanael Greene as its commander. Finally, on May 4, 1776, Rhode Island became the first colony to renounce allegiance to King George III. Ten weeks later, on July 18, the Assembly ratified the Declaration of Independence.
During the Revolutionary War itself, Rhode Island furnished its share of men, ships, and money to the cause of independence. Volunteers included a significant number of Negro and Indian slaves, who gained distinction as the "Black Regiment," a detachment of the First Rhode Island Regiment. Esek Hopkins (brother of Stephen, the signer of the Declaration of Independence) became the first commander in chief of the Continental navy -- a force which Rhode Island helped create -- and the able Nathanael Greene of the Kentish Guards became Washington's second-in-command and chief of the Continental army in the South.
The British occupied Newport in December 1776, and a long siege to evict them culminated in August 1778 in the large but inconclusive Battle of Rhode Island, a contest which was the first combined effort of the Americans and their French allies. The British voluntarily evacuated Newport in October 1779, but in July 1780 the French army under Rochambeau landed there and made the port town its base of operations. It was from Newport, Providence, and other Rhode Island encampments that the French began their march to Yorktown in 1781.
The Revolution did not alter Rhode Island's governmental structure (even the royal charter remained intact), but it did prompt some legal and political changes. For instance, the Revolution and sentiments it generated influenced legislation affecting Catholics and Negro slaves.
Whatever anti-Catholicism existed in Rhode Island was mollified by assistance rendered to the struggling colonials by Catholic France and by the benevolent presence of large numbers of French troops in Newport under General Rochambeau, some of whom remained when the struggle was over. Thus the General Assembly in February 1783 removed the arbitrarily-imposed disability against Roman Catholics (dating from 1719) by giving members of that religion "all the rights and privileges of the Protestant citizens of this state."
Most significant of several statutes relating to Negroes was the emancipation act of 1784. With a preface invoking sentiments of Locke, that "all men are entitled to life. liberty, and property," the manumission measure gave freedom to all children born to slave mothers after March 1, 1784. Though an encouraging gesture, it was not a complete abolition of slavery, for it failed to require the emancipation of those who were slaves at the time of its passage.
The emancipation act was followed by a concerted effort of Rhode Island reformers -- particularly the influential Quaker community -- to ban the slave trade. This agitation had a salutary result when the General Assembly enacted a measure in October 1787, which prohibited any Rhode Island citizen from engaging in this barbarous traffic. The legislature termed the trade inconsistent with "that more enlightened and civilized state of freedom which has of late prevailed."
A side effect of the Revolution to have important consequences for Rhode Island's political and constitutional development was the decline of Newport. its exposed location, the incidence of Toryism among its townspeople, and its temporary occupation by the British combined to produce both a voluntary and at limes a forced exodus of its inhabitants. In 1774 its population was 9,209; by 1782 that figure had dwindled to 5,532. The population of Providence -- more sheltered at the head of the bay and a center of Revolutionary activity -- remained stationary during these turbulent times.
The Revolution was a blow from which Newport never fully recovered. British occupation adversely affected both its population and its prosperity. From this period onward, numerical and economic ascendancy inexorably moved northward to Providence and the surrounding mainland communities.
In 1778 the state had quickly ratified the Articles of Confederation, with its weak central government, but when the movement to strengthen that government developed in the mid-1780's, Rhode Island balked. The state's individualism, its democratic localism, and its tradition of autonomy caused it to resist thecentralizing tendencies of the federal Constitution. This opposition was intensified when an agrarian-debtor revolt in support of the issuance of paper money placed the parochial Country party in power from 1786 through 1790. This political faction, led by South Kingstown's Jonathan Hazard, was suspicious of the power and the cost of a government too far removed from the grass-roots level, and so it declined to dispatch delegates to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which drafted the United States Constitution. Then, when that document was presented to the states for ratification, Hazard's faction delayed (and nearly prevented) Rhode Island's approval.
In the period between September 1787 and January 1790, the rural-dominated General Assembly rejected no fewer than eleven attempts by the representatives from the mercantile communities to convene a state ratifying convention. Instead, the Assembly defied the instructions of the Founding Fathers and conducted a popular referendum on the Constitution. That election, which was boycotted by the supporters of stronger union (called Federalists), rejected the Constitution by a vote of 2,708 to 237.
Finally, in mid-January 1790, more than eight months after George Washington's inauguration as first president of the United States, the Country party reluctantly called the required convention, but it took two separate sessions -- one in South Kingstown (March 1-6) and the second in Newport (May 24-29)-- before approval was obtained. The ratification tally -- thirty-four in favor and thirty-two opposed -- was the narrowest of any state, and a favorable result was obtained only because four Antifederalists either absented themselves or abstained from voting.
Rhode Island's course during this turbulent era -- first in war and last in peace -- is attributable in part to its tradition of individualism, self-reliance, and dissent. Most of its residents feared the encroachment on local autonomy by any central government, whether located in London, Philadelphia, or Washington. This ideology, coupled with the economic concerns of the agrarian community, explain Rhode Island's wariness of the work of the "Grand Convention.'' Those economic worries consisted principally of a fear that the new central government would be financed by exorbitant taxes on land and that the new constitution's ban on state emissions of paper money would terminate the inflationary financial scheme formulated by Hazard and the Country party to discharge public and private debts.
Because the Constitution three times gave implied assent to slavery, the influential Quaker community also denounced it. These factors explain the strength of Antifederalism. Small wonder that Rhode Island withheld ratification until May 29, 1790, making it the last of the original thirteen states to join the new federal union.
Fortunately, a number of equally influential factors turned the tide in favor of ratification. These included the desire of the holders of national securities and continental loan office certificates to be paid by a strong, fiscally sound central government. Coastal towns desiring federal reparation for wartime losses had a similar desire. The local press -- Peter Edes's Newport Herald, John Carter's Providence Gasette, and Bennett Wheeler's U.S. Chronicle (Providence) -- all urged ratification. Such a plea was aided by the prestige and integrity of the new national leaders, especially Washington, and by congressional passage of a Bill of Rights to safeguard individual liberties from federal invasion. The proposed federal assumption of state debts was a carrot, and the economic coercion exerted upon alien Rhode Island by the new central government (a tariff and a demand for debt payment) was a stick. Most bizarre was Providence's threatened secession from the state on the eve of the May convention if that body rejected or deferred ratification once more. In the end, a nearly immovable object yielded to an irresistible force; Rhode Island joined the union, which had left it behind and embarked upon a new era of economic and political development.
Before examining that new age, however, it is worthwhile to note that the Revolutionary era was marked by more than battles, whether military or constitutional. Like any age, it had diversity and significant developments in many fields. Most notable was the founding of Brown University (first situated in Warren and called Rhode Island College) by local Baptists in 1764. This institution, destined to emerge as one of America's foremost citadels of higher learning, was ably directed by the Reverend James Manning (1738-91), its founder and first president.
In the economic realm, the famous Brown family of Providence rose to new financial, commercial, and industrial heights, surpassing in stature even the celebrated merchants Aaron Lopez, Joseph Wanton, and Christopher Champlin in Newport and James D'Wolf of Bristol. The resourceful Brown brothers -- Nicholas (1729-91), Joseph(1733-85), John (1736-1803), and Moses (1738-1836)- guided by uncles Obadiah (1712-62) and Elisha (1717-1802), laid the groundwork in this turbulent age for the remarkable commercial and industrial advances of the early national period.
Rhode Island in the New Republic, 1790-1845
During the early years of the republic, the always romantic and sometimes lucrative China trade with the ports of the Orient flourished, then declined, and finally expired in 1841. In this age Rhode Island weathered a major hurricane (the Great Gale of 1815) and a locally unpopular confrontation with England (the War of 1812). Its major municipality, Providence, evolved from town to city (1832) and its political party system experienced two phases of opposition: Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans (1794-1817) and National Republican-Whigs vs. Democrats (1828-1854). Its transportation system progressed from turnpikes utilizing horse-drawn wagons, carriages, and stages to railroads with steam-powered locomotives. From 1824 to 1828 a canal was constructed through the Blackstone Valley from Worcester to Providence in a vain attempt to capture the central Massachusetts market for Rhode Island entrepreneurs -- an attempt which the Boston and Albany Railroad soon trumped and which the Providence and Worcester Railroad rendered obsolete in 1847.
With Providence civic leader John Howland in the vanguard, a system of free public education was established by the School Act of 1828 after a false start twenty-five years earlier. During the 1830s and 1840s that system grew and prospered, especially in Providence, owing to the exertions of Samuel Bridgham. Nathan Bishop, and Thomas Wilson Dorr. Henry Barnard was imported from 1843 to 1849 as the first state commissioner of education, with the aim of bringing the other towns to the high educational level achieved by Providence.
The large-scale immigration of foreigners of non-English stock also had its origins in this era. From the mid-1820's onward, Irish Catholics came to Rhode Island in ever-increasing numbers to labor on such public works projects as Fort Adams in Newport (begun 1824), the Blackstone Canal (begun 1824), and the railroads (begun 1833), or they found employment in the textile mills and metals factories that had begun to dot and to darken the local landscape.
The most momentous developments in this formative era, however, were a transformation of the state's economy from an agrarian-commercial to an industrial base and a governmental transformation from colonial charter to written state constitution, accomplished after a long period of reform agitation and a serious political upheaval known as the Dorr Rebellion. The economic metamorphosis occurred first and contributed to the constitutional crisis.
The impact of the American Revolution and the state's consequent release from the industrial restrictions of the British mercantile system were the first factors to affect a gradual shift in Rhode Island's economy. Newport, under military occupation during most of the war, declined and yielded its economic ascendancy to Providence, whose merchants and entrepreneurs (most notably the famous Brown family) began to experiment with manufacturing.
The year 1790 was marked by an event that served as the catalyst for the state's economic transition. That occurrence was the reconstruction of a cotton-spinning frame similar to those used in England and its employment in a mill at Pawtucket Falls on the Blackstone River. It was the first time cotton yam was spun by water power in America. The men chiefly responsible for this promising venture were Providence merchant Moses Brown and Samuel Slater, a young English immigrant with technical knowledge and managerial experience acquired in the cotton mills of his native land.
The Rhode Island cotton industry developed slowly, with Providence businessmen supplying most of its funds, managers, and expertise. The significant shift of commercial capital into cotton manufacturing began in 1804, prior to the Jeffersonian embargo and even before the peaking of the state's maritime operations (which now included the China trade). By the late 1820s the processing of cotton displaced commerce as the backbone of the Rhode Island economy, and the river valleys in the northeastern quadrant of the state hummed with activity.
In this era, woolen production also flourished, especially in South County, and the need for textile machinery gave rise to a base-metals industry centered in Providence. Another early and important area of industrial endeavor was the manufacture of precious metals, especially gold and silver jewelry. For a century these four industries -- cottons, woolens, base and precious metals -- steadily expanded and dominated the state's economic life. But while these developments were transpiring, agriculture declined, many farms reverted to forest, and many rural towns experienced a substantial out-migration.
Industrialization and its corollary, urbanization, combined by the 1840s to produce an episode known as the Dorr Rebellion -- Rhode Island's crisis in constitutional government. The state's royal charter, then still in effect, gave disproportionate influence to the declining rural towns; it conferred almost unlimited power on the General Assembly; and it contained no procedure for its own amendment. State legislators, regardless of party, insisted upon retaining the old real estate requirement for voting and office holding, even though it had been abandoned in all other states. As Rhode Island grew more urbanized, this freehold qualification became more restrictive. By 1840 about 60 percent of the free adult males were disenfranchised.
Because earlier moderate efforts at change (beginning as early as 1817) had been virtually ignored by the General Assembly, the reformers of 1840-1843 decided to bypass the legislature and convene a People's Convention, equitably apportioned and chosen by an enlarged electorate. Thomas Wilson Dorr, a patrician attorney, assumed the leadership of the movement in late 1841 and became the principal draftsman of the progressive People's Constitution, which was ratified in a popular referendum in December 1841. Dorr was elected governor under this document in April 1842. The reformers were resisted by a "Law and Order'' coalition of Whigs and rural Democrats, who returned incumbent Governor Samuel Ward King to office in a separate election and then used force and intimidation to prevent the implementation of the People's Constitution. When Dorr responded in kind by unsuccessfully attempting to seize the state arsenal in Providence on May 18, 1842, most of his followers deserted the cause, and Dorr fled into exile. When he returned in late June to reconvene his so-called People's Legislature in Chepachet, a Law and Order army of twenty-five hundred marched to Glocester and sent the People's Governor into exile a second time.
The turmoil and popular agitation against the charter, which produced the Dorr Rebellion, forced the victors to consent to the drafting of a written state constitution. Authur May Mowry, the first major historian of the Dorr War, calls this instrument "liberal and well adapted to the needs of the state." but his appraisal neglects one important item: the 1842 constitution established a $134 freehold suffrage qualification for naturalized citizens, and this anti-Irish Catholic restriction, not removed until 1888, was the most blatant instance of political nativism found in any state constitution in the land. The stranglehold on the senate which the 1842 document gave to rural towns (there was one senator from each town regardless of its population) is also a fact of paramount importance and remained so at least until the "bloodless revolution" in 1935. Cumbersome amendment procedures made reform of the document a very difficult task.
This constitution, overwhelmingly ratified in November 1842 by a margin of 7,024 to 51, became effective in May 1843. Despite the margin of victory, the turnout was meager, for there were more than 23,000 adult male citizens in the state. That the opposition, in mute protest, refrained from voting explains in part the Constitution's apathetic reception and the lopsided vote.
A disillusioned Dorr returned from his New Hampshire refuge in October 1843 to surrender to local authorities. Immediately arrested and jailed until February 1844, Dorr was prosecuted for treason against the state. In a trial of less than two weeks, he was found guilty by a jury composed entirely of political opponents and sentenced to hard labor in solitary confinement for life. He served one year before Governor Charles Jackson -- elected on a "liberation" platform -- authorized his release. A Democratic General Assembly restored Dorr's civil and political rights in 1851 and in 1854 reversed the treason conviction. These gestures did little to cheer the vanquished reformer, whose spirit and health were broken. Disillusioned, he died in December 1854 in the midst of a local Know-Nothing campaign directed against immigrant Irish attempts to secure the vote.
Change, Controversy, and War, 1846-1865
The twenty-year period from 1846 to 1865 was characterized by modernization, political and social friction, and conflict. The Mexican War, which a majority of Rhode Islanders opposed as an act of aggression, began the era, and the Civil War, which a majority of Rhode islanders tried vigorously to avert, brought this turbulent age to a close.
The theme of modernization is apparent in the extent of technological and institutional change. Several major public works projects were instituted to meet the demands of rapid demographic and economic growth. The most important of these was railroad construction. In 1847 the first train ran over the Providence and Worcester line. This railroad (which is still a major factor in the state's economy) built a massive Providence terminal in 1848, the Union Passenger Depot, to service its operations.
In the 1850s other railroads traversed the state. The Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill line was completed in 1854, connecting Rhode Island with the Hudson River. In the following year the Providence, Warren, and Bristol line provided transportation for the East Bay region, an area whose dimensions were altered in 1862 when the Massachusetts towns of Pawtucket (east of the Blackstone) and East Providence were acquired in exchange for the Rhode Island town of Fall River (north of Tiverton).
Internal routes of travel were also improved. In 1847 the Providence Gas Company was incorporated. Its initial project was the lighting of streets. Mains were laid first in the principal downtown thoroughfares, and gradually gas superceded whale oil for highway illumination throughout Providence and in other urban areas of Rhode Island.
Waterborne transport also improved when the United States Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the Providence River in 1853 prior to dredging a channel south of Fox Point to a depth of ten and a width of one hundred feet. This improvement allowed the Port of Providence to accommodate most of the new and larger vessels used in the coastal trade.
Apart from transportation and public works, another development that loomed large in this era was the establishment of institutions for the care or treatment of the unfortunate. For the mentally ill, the innovative Butler Hospital was opened in a pastoral setting overlooking the Seekonk River in 1847, and the General Assembly in 1851 offered a blueprint for reform by promulgating a report by Thomas Hazard on the status and treatment of the poor and insane.
For wayward children, the Providence Reform School was organized in 1850, housed in spacious Tockwotton Mansion near India Point. It became the forerunner of the state reform school for juvenile offenders. Orphaned and neglected children also became an important social concern. To supplement the work of the Children's Friend Society (established in 1835), the Association for the Benefit of Colored Children (organized in 1838) constructed a Providence facility, called The Shelter, in 1849. Two years later the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy established St. Aloysius Home in their convent on Claverick Street near the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. By 1862 this orphanage -- the oldest continuous social welfare agency in the diocese -- occupied a spacious, modern building on Prairie Avenue. Providence Catholics also established a local branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a lay organization dedicated to aiding the destitute. The cathedral unit (founded in 1853) was the first of many parish chapters throughout the state.
To care for the elderly, the Providence Home for Aged Women was organized in 1856. Its present building at Front and East streets, overlooking the harbor, was opened in 1864. Elderly men waited ten years longer for a comparable facility.
These activities were humanitarian responses to the increasingly impersonal nature of an emerging urban-industrial society. They were commendable attempts by civic-minded reformers to deal with victims of the rapid change, growth, and modernization that affected what had become the nation's most urbanized, industrial state.
One notable departure from contemporary humanitarian sentiment (other than the weakness of local abolitionism) was the incidence of nativism in the 1850s. Prejudice towards Irish Catholic immigrants, fanned by the Providence Journal, used as its vehicle the American, or "Know-Nothing" party, a secret organization that swept town, city, and state elections in the mid-fifties. Its candidate, William W. Hoppin, captured the governorship in 1855. Some of the party's more zealous adherents even planned a raid on St. Xavier's Convent, home of the "female Jesuits" (the Sisters of Mercy), but the angry mob dispersed when confronted by Bishop Bernard O'Reilly and an equally militant crowd of armed Irishmen.
Fortunately, this virulent strain of nativism subsided as quickly as it had reared its evil head. By 1860 bigotry again became subtle rather than overt as Rhode Island and the nation braced to face yet another challenge -- the specter of disunion. By the time that challenge came, the state had experienced a significant political realignment, one which might be called the development of the third (and present) party system. By 1854 the Whig Party -- split nationally over the issue of slavery into Cotton and Conscience Whigs -- disintegrated locally. Those who considered the spread of slavery the country's greatest evil embraced the newly formed Republican party, while those who saw Catholic immigration as the main menace joined the American (Know-Nothing) party.
Rhode Island Democrats also divided. Reform-oriented followers of Thomas Dorr and his uncle and ally Governor Philip Alien (1851-1854) maintained their party allegiance, but many rural Democrats who had supported the cause of Law and Order during the Dorr Rebellion affiliated with the Know-Nothings. When that one-issue party also declined after 1856, both these rural Democrats and nativist Whigs gravitated toward the rapidly growing Republican party, bringing with them their anti-Irish Catholic attitudes. From this decade until the 193Os, the Democrats were Rhode Island's minority party.
Rhode Island, like every state in America, keenly felt the impact of the Civil War. This conflict many Rhode Islanders hoped to avoid. Yankee businessmen, especially those producing cotton textiles, had economic ties with the South, ties which war would (and did) disrupt. As some critics remarked, there seemed to be an unholy alliance between the "lords of the loom" (the cotton textile manufacturers) and the "lords of the lash," as the slaveholders were called. In addition, many foreign-born Irishmen, resentful that they needed land to vote while blacks were subjected to no such discrimination, had little sympathy for freeing those who could become their rivals for jobs on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
Consequently, when the Rhode Island Republican party nominated Seth Padelford for governor in 1860 -- a man whose antislavery views were extreme -- a split occurred in the party ranks. Supporters of other Republican aspirants and Republican moderates of the Lincoln variety joined with Democrats (who were softer on slavery) to nominate and elect a fusion candidate on the "Conservative" ticket. Their choice was twenty-nine-year- old William Sprague of Cranston, the heir to a vast cotton textile empire and a martial man who had attained the rank of colonel in the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery. Sprague outpolled Padelford 12,278 to 10,740 -- a victory celebrated as a rebuke to abolitionism by the citizens of faraway Savannah, Georgia, who fired a one-hundred-gun salute in Sprague's honor.
But if Rhode Island and Sprague were soft on slavery, they were still strong on Union. After the Confederate attack of April 12, 1861,on Fort Sumter, the local citizenry rallied behind their once conciliatory governor and rushed to the defense of Washington. President Lincoln issued his call for volunteers on April 15. Just three days later the "Flying Artillery" left Providence for the front, and on April 20 Colonel Ambrose Burnside and Sprague himself led 530 men of the First Regiment, Rhode Island Detached Militia, from Exchange Place to their fateful encounter with the rebels at Bull Run.
During the war there were eight calls for troops, with Rhode Island exceeding its requisition in all but one. Though the state's total quota was only 18,898, it furnished 25,236 fighting men, of whom 1,685 died of wounds or disease and 16 earned the Medal of Honor. During the conflict Melville in Portsmouth became the site of a military hospital while nearby Newport became the home of the United States Naval Academy, relocated from Annapolis for security reasons. The academy occupied a hotel known as Atlantic House, which stood at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Pelham Street, and it also had training ships and instructional facilities on Goat Island.
The state's contribution to the Union victory went beyond mere military and naval manpower. Some historians have claimed that the productive capacity of Northern industry was the decisive element in the outcome of the Civil War. Here again Rhode Island was prominent. Its woolen mills, especially Atlantic and Wanskuck, supplied federal troops with thousands of uniforms, overcoats, and blankets, fashioned on sewing machines made by Brown and Sharpe, while metals factories such as Providence Tool, Nicholson and Brownell, and the Burnside Rifle Company provided guns, sabers, and musket parts. Builders Iron Foundry (established in 1822 and still operating in West Warwick) manufactured large numbers of cannons; the Providence Steam Engine Company built the engines for two Union sloops of war; and Congdon and Carpenter (established in 1792) supplied the military with such hardware as iron bars, bands, hoops, and horseshoes.
On the home front, the Civil War decade was a lime of continued growth and modernization, especially for Providence. The city's most important and dynamic mayor Thomas A. Dovle began a nineteen-year reign in 1864. He promptly reorganized the police department into an efficient, modern force and converted the historic Market House into a municipal office building. City health and sanitation programs, under the capable direction of Dr. Edwin M. Snow, were models for other municipalities to emulate. Elsewhere in the field of medicine, the urgings of Dr. Usher Parsons combined with the philanthropy or Thomas Poynton Ives to establish Rhode Island Hospital, giving the state a first-class medical facility at last.
In education, business and commercial schools such as Scholfield's and Bryant and Stratton flourished as they provided a growing white-collar work force with the office skills needed to administer the affairs of Rhode Island's burgeoning industries. And in the public schools a momentous event, inspired by the outcome of the war, occurred in 1866: racial segregation was abolished throughout the state.
It was during the Civil War decade that urban mass transit came to Providence. Its vehicle was the horse car, a mode of travel over the streets of the city that combined the old (actual horsepower) and the new (iron rails). The horse car lines, extending from the Union Depot in Market Square over the surface of every major thoroughfare, where essential factors in the growth and settlement of the city's "streetcar suburbs'' -- the outlying neighborhoods of Providence. With the war a partial stimulus, industrial Rhode Island began to scale its greatest heights, pulled from above by its wealthy Yankee entrepreneurs and investors, pushed from below by a growing immigrant work force that now began to include migrants from Germany, Sweden, England, and especially, French Canada. As the war clouds lifted, the state's Golden Age of economic and social prominence was about to begin.
Joined: 30 Oct 2008
|Posted: Fri 5 Dec - 00:07 (2008) Post subject: Rhode Island History
The Gilded Age, 1866-1899
Industrialization, urbanization, and cultural pluralism are among twentieth-century America's most salient characteristics. Rhode Island, during the last three decades of the nineteenth century (the so called Gilded Age), came to exhibit these traits more markedly than any other state.
Rhode Island's four big industries continued to boom. Cotton textiles evidenced a trend towards consolidation -- bigger mills, more employees, and more spindles. This enterprise dominated the economy of the Blackstone Valley, and the Providence-based cotton textile empire formed by Benjamin B. and Robert Knight was allegedly the largest in the world. By 1900 this industry had ninety establishments and an average yearly work force of 24,192.
Woolen production experienced a wartime expansion in the 1860s and continued to flourish at century's end. With entrepreneurs like Charles Fletcher leading the way, Providence ranked first among the cities of the nation by 1900 in the production of woolen and worsted goods, and Rhode Island, with fifty-four establishments employing 16,738, ranked third among the states in this area of manufacture.
In the base-metals trade the state was also prominent. Brown and Sharpe (located in Providence until its relocation to North Kingstown in 1964) was the largest producer of machine tools in the nation, and its managers Joseph Brown and Lucien Sharpe became renowned for such inventions as the micrometer and the vernier caliper.
The state also boasted the country's largest steam-engine factory, founded and run by George Corliss of Providence. The crowning achievement of this noted inventor and his firm was the construction of the gigantic steam engine used to power the machinery displayed at the mammoth Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.
0ther giants of the base-metals industry included the file company of William T. Nicholson, the world's largest producer of metal files and rasps, and William G. Angell's American Screw Company, whose three large Providence plants turned out more wood and machine screws during this era than any other company in the world. By 1900 Rhode Island had 144 machine shops and foundries that employed 8,799 workers.
The precious-metals industry also enjoyed phenomenal growth. The Gorham Manufacturing Company in Providence was the country's largest producer of silverware, and its statues, memorials, and architectural bronze work were famous nationwide. Among the best known of Gorham's creations is its statue of the Independent Man, which has stood atop the State House since 1899. While Gorham was the giant, many smaller jewelry and silverware firms also flourished -- enough of them to make Providence and its environs the world's leading costume jewelry manufacturing center. By 1900 this industry claimed 249 establishments employing 8,767 people throughout the state.
During the Gilded Age these "big four" industries were joined by a fifth major area of manufacturing endeavor -- rubber goods, especially footware. Woonsocket, Providence, Bristol, and Warten contained this industry's principal plants, while entrepreneurs Joseph Banigan, Joseph Davol, Samuel P. Colt, and Governor Augustus O. Bourn provided this fledgling industry with either inventive genius or managerial expertise. Most interesting of these rubber tycoons was Banigan, an Irish Catholic immigrant who became a founder and president of United States Rubber Company. In addition to his diverse business venture’s, Banigan devoted much of his time and fortune to humanitarian causes and became the greatest single benefactor of the social programs of the Diocese of Providence.
Banigan was certainly not the average nineteenth century Rhode Island entrepreneur. Horatio Alger stories like his were far from common. A collective portrait of the state's business elite would look like this: Neither an immigrant nor the son of one, the typical Rhode Island businessman was born in the northeastern United States, usually Rhode Island, and could trace his ancestry back to English forebears who settled there in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He was raised in an urban environment, in a middle-or-upper-class household, completed at least a secondary school education, and sometimes attended college. He was a Protestant, probably Episcopal or Congregational. He did not start to work until he was past nineteen years of age, and then it was usually in a business that was operated by a member of his family. By middle age he had reached a position of prominence within the state. He was usually connected with more than one business; a Republican, he participated in the running of his community through elected and appointed positions; he belonged to several clubs and took an active part in community affairs; he lived in the East Side-College Hill section of Providence and sometimes owned a summer house at the shore.
The industrial venturers of such men accelerated the urbanization of Rhode Island. Providence, which annexed nearly thirteen square miles of territory from adjacent parts of Cranston, Johnston, and North Providence, grew from a population of 54,595 in 1865 to a thriving metropolis of 175,597 in 1900, ranking twentieth in size among the cities of the United States.
During this era the city of Woonsocket was created, first by consolidating the Cumberland mill villages of Woonsocket, Clinton, and Social on the northeast bank of the Blackstone in 1867 and then by adding to them the Smithfield villages of Globe, Bernon, and Hamlet on the southwest bank in 1871. The densely populated mill town became a city in 1888.
Pawtucket also experienced a metamorphosis from a cluster of villages to a city. The Massachusetts Town of Pawtucket was annexed in 1862, and in 1874 it wys joined to the North Providence village of the same name. This 8.68-square-mile municipality became the state's second most populous city in 1885.
Other political cell division took place in the Blackstone Valley when "old" Smithfield was divided in 1871. In addition to the mill villages annexed by Woonsocket, the towns of Lincoln and North Smithfield were also set off. Eventually the densely populated manufacturing area of Central Falls was detached from Lincoln in 1895 and made the state's fifth city, its small size -- an area of 1.32 square miles -- its most unusual feature.
Closely related to industrialization and urbanization was immigration; jobs were the magnet that drew foreigners to Gilded Age Rhode Island. In this period the state began to acquire its remarkable ethnic diversity.
From the 1860s through the 1880s, French-Americans from Quebec migrated in impressive numbers. During the Civil War, textile manufacturers recruited the Quebec habitant to relieve the manpower shortage in Rhode Island's mills. That move opened the floodgates, and by 1890 more French Canadians were migrating to Rhode Island annually than any other ethnic group. Most settled in the Blackstone Valley towns, especially Woonsocket, but large numbers went to the Pawtuxet Valley, especially to the village of Arctic. Providence and Warren also attracted a significant number of France-American residents. By the state census of 1895, there were 40,231 Rhode Islanders who had both parents born in French Canada.
The early Gilded Age also witnessed migrations from Germany and Sweden. In 1865 there were 1,626 Rhode Islanders of German parentage; by 1895 that figure had increased to 7,027. Most of these immigrants were Protestant, especially Lutheran, but one in five professed Roman Catholicism. Germans settled mainly in Pawtucket and Providence, particularly in the capital city's West End -- Olneyville, Manton, Broadway, Elmwood, and West Elmwood. Many were skilled workmen who rained employment in the jewelry industry and such other trades as shoe manufacturing, cabinetmaking, baking, and brewing.
Sweden, which suffered a famine in 1868 and a decline in the agricultural sector of its economy, sent many migrants to the United States in the late nineteenth century. Most went to the Midwest, but some made Rhode Island their New World destination. Those of Swedish parentage went from fewer than 100 in 1865 to 6,915 in 1895. Providence accounted for approximately 40 percent of that total, most of them on the city's South Side. The Auburn, Eden Park, and Pontiac sections of Cranston also attracted large numbers of these migrants from Scandinavia. They sought work in textiles, base metals, and jewelry, but some engaged in gardening and other agricultural pursuits. The Swedes were devout Lutherans and became staunch Republicans.
A much overlooked element in early Gilded Age immigration was the British Americans. As late as 1885, migrants to Rhode Island from England and British Canada ranked third and fourth, respectively, behind Irish and France-Americans, in the annual number of new arrivals. These British immigrants, many of whom brought industrial skills, settled mainly in Pawtucket. North Providence, and Providence. Most were Protestant in religion and Republican in politics, and they readily and rapidly assimilated. By 1895 there were 30,380 Rhode Islanders with both parents born in England, plus another 7,671 with parents born in either Scotland or Wales.
The European arrivals discussed thus far -- Irish, English, Swedes, and Germans -- were from the northern and western sectors of the continent. Towards the end of the Gilded Age, a movement called by historians the "New Immigration" brought a great wave of refugees from southern and eastern Europe. Rhode Island received a generous share of this outpouring. From the south and the Mediterranean came significant numbers of Portuguese, Greeks, Armenians, Syrian-Lebanese, and, especially, Italians. From the east, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, and Ukrainians began their exodus.
At century's end the streets of Rhode Island's major cities sounded with the babel of new tongues; inner-city neighborhoods and blocks took on old-world characteristics; parishes, ethnic congregations, and synagogues sprang up; and factories flourished with the cheap and abundant labor which these newcomers provided.
Worlds apart from industrial, urban, and ethnic Rhode Island were the life-styles of South County and Newport. The former area was still basically rural and agrarian, but farming was in a steady state of decline. Most South County towns continued to lose population as their inhabitants were lured by the city or the new, cheap lands in the West. Two bright spots in an otherwise bleak economy were the nationally renowned granite industry of Westerly, which supplied more than one third of the memorials on the Gettysburg battlefield, and the equally famous and flourishing coastal resort of Narragansett Pier, whose oceanfront hotels and fabulous Casino attracted wealthy summer residents from throughout the country.
Even more posh and prestigious as a summer resort was Newport, and the late nineteenth century was Newport's Golden Age. "The City by the Sea" had been a mecca for well-to-do vacationers since colonial times, and from the 1840s its popularity as a rich man's resort steadily grew. Several large hotels had been built in the three decades before the Civil War, but by the 1870s more and more summer colonists were choosing to build cottages with ocean vistas closer to the beaches. Favored sites for the very wealthy -- the Astors, Vanderbilts, Wetmores -- were along Cliff Walk and the newly extended Bellevue Avenue. From their exclusive haunts at the Casino (1880), the Newport Country Club (1894), and Bailey's Beach Club (1897), the magnates of late nineteenth-century America engaged in such leisure activities as yachting, fox hunting, polo, golf, and tennis. With such an auspicious debut, Newport later became the site of the America's Cup races and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
During this splendid and extravagant era, the city of Newport (incorporated 1853) also strengthened its ties with the United States Navy. In 1884 the prestigious U.S. Naval War College opened its doors. Alfred Thayer Mahan arrived soon thereafter to begin his distinguished career as a professor and the nation's foremost exponent and historian of seapower.
While the Newport "Four Hundred" engaged in luxurious leisure, other Rhode Islanders took their recreation in more popular and common ways. For the participant, cycling was the current rage, while rowing or canoeing on the Seekonk, the Pawtuxet, or the artificial lakes of the newly created Roger Williams Park was also a relaxing exercise. The more sedate could attend a concert by David Wallis Reeve's American Band, have a traditional clambake along the shore, or take a steamboat excursion on the bay to such popular amusement centers as Rocky Point and Crescent Park.
A new form of entertainment was baseball, and Providence boasted its own major league team, the Grays. In 1879 and again in 1884 this talented squad won the National League title, equivalent to the championship of professional baseball.
In higher education Rhode Island made notable advances. In addition to the establishment of the Naval War College, this period witnessed the founding of the Rhode Island School of Design (1877), a nationally renowned industrial design institute. RISD was the centennial project of a group of Rhode Island women. Two decades later many of these same feminists broke the sex barrier at Brown and established Pembroke College (1897) as a department of that prestigious university.
In the area of public education, the defunct state normal school -- the forerunner of Rhode Island College -- was reopened in Providence (1871) and furnished with an impressive modern building in 1898. Also, a land-grant state college for instruction in agriculture and the mechanic arts -- the forerunner of the University of Rhode Island -- was opened at Kingston in 1892.
Other important public service institutions had their origins during the Gilded Age, most notably Rhode Island Hospital (1868); Providence Public Library (1878); Roger Williams General Hospital (1878); Lying-In Hospital, now Women and Infants (1884); and St. Joseph's Hospital (1892).
In politics the last four decades of the century marked an era of Republican dominance. On national issues the GOP championed a high tariff and sound money. When native-born Irish grew numerous enough to challenge Republican ascendancy, the majority party (led after the death of U.S. Senator Henry Anthony in 1884 by U.S. Senator Nelson Aldrich and Charles R. "Boss" Brayton) removed the real estate requirement for voting in order to recruit and enfranchise certain sociocultural foes of the Irish -- of immigrants from French Canada, England, British Canada, and Sweden. By the end of the century the political battle lines between WASP Republican and Irish Catholic Democrat were sharply drawn, with the newer immigrants holding the balance of power. This balance temporarily rested with the Republican party.
In one aspect the era closed as it began -- with Rhode Islanders returning home from war. In April 1898 the Spanish-American War began. The state raised several military units for this bout with Spain, but only the crewmen of the U.S.S. Vulcnn, a repair ship, saw combat in this brief conflict. All of the state's 1,780 volunteers were mustered out of service by April 1899 as Rhode Island prepared to greet the new century.
Boom, Bust, and War, 1900-1945
Industrial Rhode Island moved into the twentieth century with a full head of steam, and its booming economy attracted a seemingly endless stream of immigrants, most of whom came from southern and eastern Europe. But the state was not a melting pot despite its many ethnics, for each group (at least for a generation or two) retained its own cultural identity. Perhaps it could be said that Rhode Island (especially its northeastern quadrant) was more like a mosaic of diverse peoples -- or even a stew, with everybody in one pot contributing to the whole, but with each ingredient maintaining its own flavor and identity.
The earliest arrivals among these so-called "new immigrants" were the Portuguese. Islanders -- whites from the Azores and blacks from Cape Verde -- were initially recruited by the whaling industry during the 1850s and 1860s. At voyage's end they settled in such port towns as Providence, Warren, Bristol, and Newport. They became the pioneers and the beacons who inspired a more massive Portuguese migration to southeastern New England in the period from the 1890s onward. Then, as one historian has phrased it, "the loom replaced the harpoon" as the tool of the typical Portuguese immigrant.
The Federal Bureau of Immigration kept detailed statistics from 1898 to 1932 on the ethnicity and destination of all aliens arriving in the ports of the United States. During this thirty-four- year span, Portuguese designating Rhode Island as their destination numbered approximately 20,000. Included in this figure, especially after 1911,were immigrants from the mainland ("continentals"), many of whom settled in and around the Cumberland village of Valley Falls.
The most numerically significant element in the new immigration were the Italians. From 1898 to 1932 federal tabulations listed 54,975 Italians migrating to Rhode Island. Of these, 51,919 were from the south of Italy (mostly rural peasants called conladini). and 3,054 from the more urbanized and culturally distinct north.
An international steamship company, the Fabre Line out of Marseilles, France, chose Providence as its American terminus in 1911. Because the Fabre steamships made calls in Italy, Portugal, and the Azores en route to Providence, the migration of Italians and Portuguese to Rhode Island was facilitated. The line's local presence also accounted for the great number of returnees among both groups. From 1908 to 1932, the period for which return statistics have been compiled, over 13,000 Italians and 7,000 Portuguese were listed as "emigrant aliens departing" from the port of Providence. No other local ethnics had such high rates of return.
Notwithstanding this loss, however, those of Italian ancestry exhibit a strong presence in contemporary Rhode Island, especially in Providence (Federal Hill. Silver Lake, and the North End) and the adjacent communities of Cranston, Johnston, and North Providence. Other important Italian-American settlements were made in Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Barrington, Warren. Bristol, Westerly, and the Natick section of West Warwick. The 1980 census listed over 185,000 Rhode Islanders of Italian descent.
The Portuguese-Americans have also remained prominent in the state's cultural life. Most of the 90,000 Rhode Islanders of Portuguese ancestry (1980 census figures) reside in the state's eastern sector -- the Blackstone Valley, the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence, East Providence, Bristol County, Tiverton, Little Compton, and the three Aquidneck Island towns of Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport. In the West Bay, Portuguese colonies developed in the South Elmwood section of Cranston, West Warwick, and, most recently, in the Washington Park neighborhood of Providence.
Third in size among the new immigrant groups (42,715 in 1980) were the Poles, who settled mainly in Central Falls, Pawtucket, Warren, West Warwick, and the Olneyville, Manton, Valley, and West River sections of Providence. In 1902 these deeply religious people established St. Adalbert's Roman Catholic Church on Ridge Street, Providence, the mother church of Rhode Island's Polish community. The cousins of the Poles, though for a time culturally estranged from them, were the Lithuanians. From 1898 to 1932, 893 members of this ethnic group arrived in Rhode Island, most of these taking up first residence on Smith Hill, where they established St. Casimir's national parish in 1919. A third Slavic-language group to settle in Rhode Island (2,050 from 1898 to 1932) were the Ukrainians. A sizable colony of these eastern Europeans -- some Orthodox in religion and others affiliated with the Church of Rome -- made its home in Woonsocket during the decade prior to World War I.
Also from eastern Europe, especially Russia and Russian Poland, came the Jews. Intermittent campaigns of persecution called "pogroms" started their exodus in the early 1880's, but Jewish migration peaked in the years from 1900 to the outbreak of World War I. Most of these refugees settled in the South Providence, Smith Hill, and North End neighborhoods of the capital city, but congregations were also formed in Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Cranston, and Newport, where the famed Touro Synagogue was reopened for worship in 1883. An in-depth 1963 survey of the Greater Providence Jewish community counted 19,695 people of Jewish ancestry in the city and its adjacent municipalities, a figure that has remained fairly constant for the past two decades. Statewide, 27,000 Rhode Islanders claimed Jewish ancestry in the 1980 census.
Other locally important and identifiable new immigrant groups are the Armenians. the Greeks, and the Syrian-Lebanese, From 1898 to 1932, 6,375 Armenian refugees from Turkish persecution came to Rhode Island. Most settled in Providence, in such areas as the North End, Federal Hill, Olneyville and, especially, Smith Hill. During the same period 4,201 Greeks arrived, implanting their rich heritage and Orthodox religion primarily in three communities -- Providence, Pawtucket, and Newport.
Finally came Christian Arabs (Orthodox, Protestants, and Melkites and Maronites affiliated with Rome) fleeing Moslem persecution and Turkish misrule. The 2,434 Arabs who arrived during the first three decades of the century settled in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket.
The new immigration altered Rhode Island's religious profile. By 1905 the state census revealed that 50.81 percent of all Rhode Islanders claimed allegiance to the Roman Catholic faith. Protestants (at 46.72 percent) had finally lost their numerical ascendancy. In the state elections of 1906, James H. Higgins, an Irish Democrat, was chosen the state's first governor of the Roman Catholic faith.
But the influx of these Catholic newcomers was not an unmixed blessing, for ethnocultural antagonism developed, especially between the dominant Irish Catholics and the large Franco-American and Italian-American Catholic communities. Fortunately, serious conflicts were prevented, in large measure because of the creation of national parishes, the importation of ethnic religious orders, and the sensitive, tolerant, firm, and prudent leadership of Bishop Matthew Harkins (1887-1921), one of the era's most able Catholic prelates, known locally as "the Bishop of the Poor."
Apart from its strenuous industrial endeavors and its increasing ethnic diversity, the most notable aspect of early twentieth-century Rhode Island was its turbulent politics. Until the election of 1932 -- in the depths of the Great Depression -- the Republican party was dominant. It owed its ascendancy to many factors, not the least of which was the state's political system established by the Constitution of 1843. That document, care-fully drafted by the Law and Order coalition of upper-class Whigs and rural Democrats that vanquished Thomas Dorr, was designed to prevent the old-stock industrialist and the Yankee farmer from succumbing to the numerically superior city dwellers, especially those of foreign birth and Catholic faith. When the Republican party formed during the 1850's in response to the slavery issue, it revived the Law and Order coalition of the preceding decade; it adopted that group's nativistic posture; and it determined to use and preserve that party's constitutional checks upon the power of the urban working class.
Those checks included (l) a malapportioned senate which gave a legislative veto to the small rural towns; (2) a cumbersome amendment process to frustrate reform; (3) the absence of procedures for the calling of a constitutional convention; (4) the absence (until 1889) of a secret ballot; (5) a General Assembly that dominated both the legislatively elected supreme court and the weak, vetoless (until 1909) governorship; and (6) a real estate voting requirement for the naturalized citizen. This last- mentioned check was eliminated by the Bourn Amendment (VII) in 1888, but it was replaced by a $134 property-tax-paying qualification for voting in city council elections. This requirement had the practical effect of preventing many, usually immigrants, from exercising control over the affairs of the cities in which they resided. This was true because the mayors, for whom all electors could vote, had very limited powers, while the councils, for whom only property owners could vote, were dominant, controlling both the purse and the patronage.
The famous political reformer James Quale Dealey of Brown University contended in 1909 that "the political effect of this [voting] limitation is to place the control of municipal government in the hands of the Republicans. The general vote which elects the mayor is usually Democratic in the five cities, but the property vote is strongly Republican. As the mayor has small powers in government, control over municipal affairs rests with the Republican organization. This limitation on municipal suffrage is a standing grievance on the part of Democratic, reform, and radical organizations and is pointed at as the only survival in the United States of the old fashioned, colonial property qualifications." Nearly 60 percent of those who could vote for mayor were disenfranchised in council elections.
As if constitutional checks were not sufficient, General Charles Brayton, legendary boss of the Republican party, for good measure engineered the enactment in 1901 of a statute designed to emasculate any Democrat who might back into the governor's chair by virtue of a split in Republican ranks. With a few limited exceptions this "Brayton Act" placed the ultimate appointive power of state government in the hands of the senate. In the aftermath of its passage a governor could effectively appoint only his private secretary and a handful of insignificant state officals.
By 1920 the senate -- the possessor of state appointive and budgetary power -- was more malapportioned than ever. For example, West Greenwich, population 367, had the same voice as Providence, population 237.595; the twenty smallest towns, with an aggregate population of 41,660, outvoted Providence twenty to one, although the capital city had over 39 percent of Rhode Island's total population. The senate, said Democratic Congressman George F. O'Shaunessy (1911-1919), was "a strong power exercised by the abandoned farms of Rhode Island."
The Progressive Era (ca. 1898-1917) was an age of national reform -- political, economic, and social -- but Rhode Island's reactionary constitutional system survived the period relatively intact. Boss Brayton and Nelson Aldrich proved more than a match for Lucius Garvin, James Higgins, Charles E. German, Robert H.I. Goddard, Theodore Francis Green, Amasa Eaten, and other supporters of governmental reform. The Brayton- Aldrich combine even survived a national expose by noted muckraker Lincoln Steffens, who in 1905 described Rhode Island as "A State for Sale."
The Progressive Movement was eclipsed by American involvement in World War I. In Rhode Island pro-Allied sentiment ran high, conditioned in part by the Providence Journal, whose editorials repeatedly urged intervention to halt alleged German aggression. When war finally came in April 1917, the state contributed 28,817 troops, of whom 612 died. Many of these succumbed not to German gas or bullets but to the Spanish influenza, a dread virus that was carried home from the battlefront by returning soldiers. This deadly infection took 941 lives in Providence alone during 1918.
With the return of peace in Europe, Rhode Island's political wars resumed. The stormy decades of the 1920s and 1930s witnessed a major transition from Republican to Democrat control in state government. Economic unrest stemming from such factors as the decline of the textile industry, the crash of 1929, the ensuing Great Depression, and the local rise of organized labor coupled with the development of cultural antagonisms between native and foreign stock to weaken the allegiance of France- American and Italian-Americans to the Republican Party. Simultaneously, vigorous efforts by the Irish-led Democratic party to woo ethnics, key constitutional reforms such as the removal of the property-tax requirement for voting at council elections (by Amendment XX in 1928), the shift in control of the national Democratic party from rural to urban leadership, the 1928 presidential candidacy of Irish-Catholic Democrat Al Smith, and the New gear of Franklin D. Roosevelt combined to pull the newer Immigrant groups towards the Democratic fold by the mid-1930s.
At this juncture Democratic leaders -- especially Governor Theodore Francis Green, Thomas P. McCoy of Pawtucket, and Lieutenant Governor Robert Emmet Quinn -- staged a governmental reorganization known as the Bloodless Revolution of 1935. This bizzare coup, made possible by a controversial scheme that gave the Democrats control of the state senare, resulted in the repeal of the Brayton Act, the reorganization of slate government by replacing the commission system with the present departmental structure, and the replacement of the entire supreme court.
Outside of the state, Green's actions met with mixed reviews: the Chicago Daily Tribune declared them to be unconstitutional and its Editor, Colonel Robert McCormick, ordered one star cut out of the American flag stating that Rhode Island did not deserve to be part of the union; the New York Times, on the other hand, agreed with Green's maneuverings.
Soon after this takeover Democratic factionalism became in tense; promised reforms such as the calling of an open constitutional convention went unfulfilled; and a bitter battle erupted between Governor Quinn and race track owner Walter O'Hara, who was a supporter of Pawtucket Mayor Thomas P. McCoy. which led to Quinn bringing a libel suit against O'Hara and declaring martial law around the Narragansett Race Track, owned by O'Hara (the track, upon orders of Quinn, was surrounded by soldiers to prevent it from opening). These events were the subject of Zachariah Chaffee, Jr.'s, lively analysis State House versus Pent House.
These intense local embarrassments were compounded by a national recession in 1937 so that the state elections of 1938 returned the Republicans briefly to office. The GOP enacted a Civil Service law in 1939 to protect state employees from whole- sale firings, such as Green's. Governor William Vanderbilt soon became ensnared in a wiretap controversy during his attempt to implicate Pawtucket's Mayor McCoy in vote fraud; ironically, it was alleged that he had ordered taps placed on the Republican Attorney General, Louis V. Jackvony.
In 1940 the Democratic tide rolled in once more as U.S. District Attorney J. Howard McGrath, who had made political hay with Vanderbili's wiretap controversy, won the governorship.
Scarcely had the state's political wars simmered down when World War II disrupted Rhode Island life. In the three and a half years following Pearl Harbor, many of Rhode Island's sons and daughters fought and died in the great struggle against the Axis powers. An examination of war casualty lists reveals that this was the state's most costly conflict. More men and women served (92,027) and more died (2,157) than in any other war.
Yet the losses only seemed to spur the citizenry on to greater efforts: spirited parades were held in Providence and other communities at intervals during the war years; war-bond drives were oversubscribed; those ablebodied workers that remained at home turned out many articles of war, including boots, knives, parachutes, gauges, and, especially, the Liberty ships and combat cargo vessels that were constructed at the Walsh-Kaiser Shipyard on Field's Point by a work force that numbered 21,000 in early 1945. The Rhode Island Office of Price Administration, which had the task of enforcing the war-imposed rationing laws, won nationwide praise and became a role model for other states.
During the four and a half decades from the turn of the century to the end of World War II, Rhode Islanders increasingly found escape from work, war, and politics in the worlds of entertain· ment and sport. Vaudeville, the silent screen, and then "talkies" successively developed wide popular appeal, and Providence (birthplace of George M. Cohan) became a center of the performing and visual arts. Its splendid theaters -- Fay's (1912), the Strand (1915), the Majestic (1917), the Albee (1919), Loew's State (1928), and the Metropolitan (1932) -- all date from this era. And theatergoers, before or after the show, could visit such bustling department stores as Diamond's, Cherry and Webb, the Boston Store, Gladding's, Shepard's and the Outlet. Of these big six --all of which were at their peak -- Shepard's and the Outlet were the giants, and their spirited rivalry spilled over from retailing to radio. On June 2, 1922, Shepard's inaugurated Rhode Island's first radio station (WEAN); three months later the Outlet beamed back with WJAR, the embryo of what would become an Outlet broadcasting empire.
In sports, baseball was still king. Minor league teams, usually dubbed the Providence Grays, were formed occasionally and even won championships. Most notable were the International League titlists of 1914, who included a pitcher named Babe Ruth. In the new sport of professional football Providence boasted its Steam Roller eleven, the National Football League kingpins in 1928. In college football Brown fielded several nationally prominent teams, including the famous Iron Men of 1926 and the 1915 squad that played in the very first Rose Bowl game.
In the 1920s a crosstown athletic rivalry developed between venerable Brown and the new Catholic men's college founded in 1919 by Bishop Matthew Harkins. On June 7, 1924, the Bruins and Providence College played the longest collegiate baseball game on record, a twenty inning contest in which future Pawtucket mayor Charlie Reynolds went the route in the Friars' 1 to O victory.
In professional hockey the Rhode Island Reds came to a newly constructed Rhode Island Auditorium in 1926, and from 1930 to 1938, to the delight of local sports fans, the Reds won the Canadian-American Hockey League championship four times. In 1930 the America's Cup first came to Rhode Island waters as Enterprise beat Shamrock V four races to none. Finally, the state got major thoroughbred race track to host "the sport of kings": largely through the exertions of textile magnate Waiter E. O'Hara, Narragansett Park opened on the Pawtucket-East Prov- idence line (site of the old What Cheer Airport) on August 1, 1934.
Other highlights of the 1900-1945 era included the establishment of Providence as the sole state capital (1900); the founding of several colleges -- Barrington (1900), Johnson and Wales (1914), Providence (1919), and Roger Williams (1919, reorganized in 1948); the creation of the town of West Warwick in 1913; the long incumbency of the popular France-American Republican governor Aram Pothier(1909-1915 and 1925-1928); the passage of a state women's suffrage law in 1917; the distinguished tenure of internationally renowned Dr. Charles V. Chapin as Providence's director of public health (1882-1932); the construction of the Scituate Reservoir( 1915-1929); the opening at Hillsgrove of the nation's first state-run airport in 1931; the construction of the Providence skyline, especially the Industrial (now Fleet) Bank Building (1928); the completion of the Mount Hope and Jamestown bridges (1929 and 1940); and the opening of Quonset Naval Base (1941). On the debit side one must note the sinking of the steamer Larchmont (out of Providence)in Block Island Sound on February 11, 1907, with a loss of 111 lives, and the 1938 hurricane -- the state's worst natural disaster -- whose 120-mile-an-hour winds and tidal waves caused over a hundred million dollars in damage and took the lives of 311 Rhode Islanders, most in the Westerly-Charlestown area.
In August, 1945 war ended. By year's end the work force at the Walsh-Kaiser Shipyard had been nearly disbanded, veterans were home seeking jobs, and the state's declining textile industry. granted a temporary reprieve by the necessities of war, looked towards a bleak future.
An eventful era had passed.
The Era of Transition. 1946-1983
The lure of suburbia after 1950 produced a massive exodus to the suburbs by city dwellers fed up with deteriorating school systems, rising crime rates, and older housing. Their flight was facilitated by dramatic improvements in the state's highway system, especially with the accelerated pace of Route 95 construction beginning in 1960. In the census of 1950 Providence had a population of 248,674; two decades later that number had dwindled to 179,116, the largest proportionate out-migration of any major city in the United States.
The inner-city's loss of population was suburbia's gain: the population of Warwick doubled between 1950 and 1980 (from 43,028 to 87,123); the city of Cranston experienced a similar though less dramatic gain.
Latest census figures indicate that during the 1970's only two states -- Rhode Island and New York -- suffered a loss in population. During the 1970s the tidal wave of out-migration from the cities ebbed. The growth of Rhode Island's suburban communities slowed almost to a halt.
Rural towns, conversely, experienced rapid growth during the 1970s. Charlestown, Glocester, Narragansett, Scituate, and West Greenwich all recorded increases in population of 40 percent or more. In 1980 Central Falls remained the most densely populated municipality with approximately 14,160 residents per square mile.
Demographically, the relaxation of federal immigration quotas by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 has resulted in a new influx of foreign-born residents. especially Portuguese, Hispanics, and Southeast Asians. Nearly 65 percent of all Rhode Islanders claim Roman Catholicism as their religion -- the highest percentage of any state in the nation. Rhode Island women outnumber men by almost 45,000.
In the post-war years, retail facilities were established in the suburbs to meet the needs of those growing communities. The 233)-acre Garden City development, established in 1947, epitomized the process of suburbanization in Rhode Island: this "city within a city" offered a variety of housing styles, a school, and open space, as well as the state's first suburban shopping center.
The completion of Routes 95 in 1966 and 295 two years later produced profound changes in the shopping habits or Rhode Islanders. The intersection of these superhighways just east of Natick offered an ideal location for commercial development. This area was selected as the location for the Midland Mall, the state's first enclosed, climate-controlled shopping plaza (the Arcade, in Providence, built in 1828, was the nation's first enclosed shopping mall). Completed in 1968, it was joined four years later by the equally impressive Warwick Mall. Convenient access, as well as national chains Iike Sears and J.C. Penney and large Boston-based anchor retailers, such as Filene's and Jordan Marsh, brought shoppers from far beyond the Warwick area. The opening of Lincoln Mall in 1975 at the confluence of Routes 295 and 146 drew shoppers from the region's northern sector. One by one Providence's better known retailers -- W.T. Grant, City Hall Hardware, J.J. Newberry, Shepards, and, finally, the Outlet Company -- closed their doors. By the early 1970s the state's several down town areas were pockmarked with empty storefronts and abandoned theaters. Concern grew among city officials that something must be done to reverse a trend that was afflicting Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and other Northeastern cities.
The response of Rhode Island's urban centers to the challenge of suburbanization was similar in many respects. It combined urban renewal through clearance or substandard housing with the ofttimes conflicting but equally strong commitment to preserve the community's rich architectural heritage. Threatened demolition of Newport's historic William Hunter House in 1945 resulted in the formation of the Preservation Society of Newport County. Three ); Bars later the society assumed care of the lavish Vanderbilt mansion, The Breakers. By 1980 the society operated six Bellevue Avenue mansions that were toured by more than three-quarters of a million visitors. Other preservation efforts included Operation Clapboard, founded in 1963, and the Newport Restoration Foundation, established five years later by multimillionaire tobacco heiress Doris Duke. These efforts were, in most cases, complemented by the work of the Redevelopment Agency of Newport, which in 1962 implemented a multiyear revitalization plan that resulted in the transformation of Thames Street, Long Wharf, and Brick Market. A new thoroughfare -- America's Cup Avenue -- was constructed to connect Connell Highway with Memorial Boulevard. The derelict torpedo station on Goat Island was cleared to make way for a marina, an apartment complex, and a luxury hotel.
In the capital city the efforts of a reorganized City Plan Commission were strengthened by the establishment of the Providence Redevelopment Agency in 1948. The deterioration of housing stock on lower College Hill combined with growing concern over Brown University's encroachment on the area's residential housing stock to provide the impetus for the creation of the Providence Preservation Society in 1956. Working in concert with the City Plan Commission, the PPS in 1959 prepared a pathbreaking report entitled College Hill: Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal that sparked the restoration of Benefit Street and its immediate environs. Success was due in large part to aesthetically-oriented private investors, especially Mrs. Malcom G. Chace, Jr·, who acquired and restored for resale about forty; houses on College Hill. Many of these structures are now visited in the Preservation Society's walking tours.
The Plan Commission itself produced a master blueprint for downtown renewal in 1960. The first of the commission imaginative recommendations to be implemented was the construction of a pedestrian shopping mall on Westminster Street from Dorrance to Aborn. The project was begun in 1964 and completed a year later. The master plan's goal of "strengthening the city's retail core" via a shopping mall, however, has not been realized, and extensive renovations to the area in 1979 have yet to revive the commercial prominence the strip enjoyed earlier in the century.
The pace of renewal and revitalization in the 1960s, however, did begin to quicken. Weybosset Hill, Randall Square, and Lippitt Hill began their remarkable transformation into modern residential and commercial centers. Massive amounts of "Model Cities" money and, later, Community Development funds were funneled into Rhode Island's urban centers in an effort to halt urban blight.
The state did not fare as well in meeting the challenge of nature's unpredictable onslaughts. On August 31, 1954, Hurricane Carol slammed Rhode Island with gusts reaching 115 miles per hour. Southern coastal areas were particularly hard hit. Almost 3,800 homes were destroyed and nineteen lives lost. The downtown area of Providence was inundated, with water reaching thirteen feet above mean high water level -- slightly less than a foot below the 1938 record. In all, property damage was estimated in excess of $90,000,000.
Less than a year later, on August 19, 1955, Hurricane Diane brought the worst flooding in the state's history. More than six inches of rain wreaked havoc in the Blackstone Valley as all the dams on the Blackstone and Mill rivers were breached. Flood waters cut Woonsocket in half, leaving stores and homes under tons of mud. Losses there reached $170,000,000. Fears of recurrent deluges prompted Rhode Island voters to approve funding for the construction of a flood control system in Woonsocket and a hurricane barrier across the Providence River. Completed in 1966, the hurricane barrier has been used on a couple of occasions.
A natural disaster of another sort of occured on February 6, 1978, when the state was visited by the worst snowstorm in its recorded history. The heavy snowfall caught unsuspecting motorists during the afternoon rush hours, resulting in an unprecedented traffic jam on Route 95. Providence streets were in utter chaos as thousands abandoned their cars. Snowfall estimates varied from sixteen inches along the southeastern coast to a reported fifty-five inches in the Manville section of Lincoln. Federal troops were airlifted from southern bases to help local army and air National Guard units dig the state out. On February 13 -- one week after it all began -- commuter traffic was allowed into downtown Providence. The "Blizzard of '78" claimed twenty-one lives and resulted in $110,000,000 lost in gross products and wages.
Though the United States military had helped to restore Rhode Island from nature's devastation in 1978, it caused economic shockwaves five years earlier. Between 1945 and 1973 the United States Navy was the state's largest civilian employer, and the arrival in Newport of the Cruiser-Destroyer Force of the United States Atlantic Fleet in 1952 had produced a major influx of naval personnel. But the military bubble burst in 1973 with the federal government's decision to relocate the destroyer force to southern ports. This was a tremendous shock to Newport especially, though the stimulation it gave to the city's tourist trade ultimately erased the loss and proved to be a boon in the long run.
Though much of the Naval activity in the area was gone, for awhile the state continued to rely on defense related industry. The Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics for a number of years ran a major operation at the former Quomset Point naval air facility. By the mid-1990s this began to wind down as the need for submarines declined with the end of the Cold War. Presently the growing metals and machinery industry dominates manufacturing and employs well over 3O percent of the industrial work force. This sector includes primary metals (iron and steel foundries, forges, and smelting and refining plants), fabricated metals (valves, fittings, screws, pipe, hardware, nails, cutlery, wire, tin cans, tubes, containers, and hand tools), machinery (machine tools and business machines), and electrical equipment (motors, generators, appliances, and wiring devices).
Next in significance is jewelry and silverware (Providence is the costume jewelry capital of the country). followed by textiles (yam, thread, and fabric mills, dyeing and finishing plants, and lace mills) and rubber products. Newer growth industries are electronics, instrumentation, chemicals, plastics, and transportation equipment.
The greatest expansion in the labor force has taken place in government service, wholesale and retail trade, transportation, finance and insurance, private education, health care, business and repair services, and the professions. Health service providers, for example, came to employ more people than the state's entire jewelry industry (33,088 vs. 31.237). The tourist and convention business has a major impact on the economy, with Newport, the South County beaches, and Providence the prime sites -- the Atlantic Tuna Derby was first conducted in Galillee in 1953; in addition toall its other charms, Newport hosted the Tall Ships regatta in 1976.
There were many changes during this period with respect to educational institutions. Newport College-Salve Regina was founded in Newport in 1947 as a women's college and is now co-educational. Johnson & Wales College, founded in 1914, became a degree-granting institution in 1963, and its Culinary Institute, started in the Seventies, has gained a nationwide reputation. Providence-Barrington Bible College left Capitol Hill in the early 1960s, shortening its name to fit its new site. Providence College was able to expand its facilities with its acquisition of the former Chapin Hospital property, and is now part of the nine- college Big East Conference. Roger Williams grew from a two year college based at the Providence YMCA to a four-year institution ( 1967 ) and moved to a waterfront site in Bristol in 1969. Two years later Bryant College (established in 1863) departed from its sprawling East Side campus for a beautiful site in Smithfield. Brown University continued in popularity, merging with Pembroke College in 1971, and is currently the most sought after of the ivy league schools; it expanded its physical plant by acquiring the Providence facilities of Bryant. A state junior college (now CCRI) was opened in September 1964 and took residence in the former Brown and Sharpe complex in Providence, and opened its Knight campus in Warwick in 1972 and its Flanagan campus in Lincoln in 1976. Rhode Island College moved from downtown Providence to a 125-acre campus in the Mount Pleasant section. The University of Rhode Island, founded as a land-grant college in 1892, received its present name in 1951 and was designated as a sea-grant college in 1971; it has undergone a great rate of expansion and presently has in excess of 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Rhode Island School of Design firmly established itself as one of the leading design schools in the country, and during this period, built a dormitory-cafeteria complex on College Hill overlooking the city.
In the political realm, Rhode Island continued the trend established by the New Deal years: of the ten governors to hold office from 1941 to 1983, only two were Republicans, serving for eight of those forty-two years; in the same forty-two-year period there was one Republican lieutenant governor (serving two years), one Republican secretary of state(presently serving), two Republican attorneys general (serving eight years), and the general treasurer's office has been continually occupied by a Democrat for those forty-two years.
In recent times the cities -- with the sole exception of Cranston and the three-term tenure of Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr·, (a Republican for his first two terms, then an Independent) -- have been dominated by the Democratic Party, as has been the General Assembly. A special Senate election in 1983 -- ordered by the Federal Court upon the failure of the General Assembly to properly redistrict the Senate after the 1980 census -- however, resulted in the election of twenty-one Republicans to the upper chamber, the highest number by far since the reapportionment of the mid-1960s.
During the post-World War II era, many Rhode Island politicians attained national prominence. Theodore Francis Green (who went to the U.S. Senate in 1937) became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1957 at the age of eighty nine. John O. Pastore became the first person of Italian ancestry to serve in the U.S. Senate. In the House, John E. Fogarty (1941- 1967) and Aime J. Forand (1937-1939, 1941-1961) developed nationwide reputations in the area of government-sponsored health care.
The most successful and durable Republican of the era has been John H. Chafee, who, after three terms as governor (1963- 1969) served as Secretary of the Navy (1969-1972). Herbert F. DeSimone, after two terms as attorney general ( 1967- 1971), served as Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation (1971- 1972). The highest ranking federal appointee in recent years has been G. William Miller, former board chairman of Textron, Inc., who served first as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board (1978) and then as Secretary of the Treasury (1979-1981).
J. Howard McGrath was undoubtedly the state's most versatile politician: he spent the war years as Rhode Island's governor; he was appointed U.S. Solicitor General by President Truman; in 1946, he was elected to the U.S. Senate; the following year he became Democratic National Chairman; in 1949, McGrath gave up his Senate seat to become U.S. Attorney General.
On the local stage, Democrat Dennis J. Roberts enjoyed many years in office that included a ten-year reign as Mayor of Providence (1941-1951) followed by four terms as governor (1951-1959). Turning Roberts out of office proved to be no mean feat as Republican Christopher Del Sesto had to win the popular vote in two successive elections before taking over. The first of those, the Long Count of 1956, centered nationwide attention upon the Rhode Island political scene.
After the election of 1956, the primary law -- adopted in 1947 (Rhode Island was the next to the last of all the states to allow primary contest) -- became a significant factor in Democratic party politics at the state level. Prior to the 1958 election, the primary was of no consequence in affecting statewide offices as all endorsed candidates had won the primary of 1948 and, in the elections thereafter, there had been only one challenge of a Democratic endorsee up to and including the election of 1956. However, the lingering hostilities brought about after the 1956 election by the invalidating of 4,954 ballots and the cancellation of the Certificate of Election awarded Del Sesto by the Board of Elections created hard-fought Democratic primary battles in the 1958 campaign involving the candidates for governor (Lieutenant Governor Armand H. Cote challenged Roberts and got 44 percent of the vote), lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general; all the endorsed candidates won. In 1960, Claiborne Pell became the first to beat a Democratic endorsee in a statewide primary. Fourteen years later, Edward P. Beard took the primary route to unseat the endorsed incumbent, Democrat Congressman Robert O. Tiernan. In 1976, businessman Richard Lorber, running unendorsed, defeated then-Governor Philip W. Noel in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. In 1972, the presidential-preference primary was introduced in Rhode Island. In the past three presidential elections, it has drawn a small voter turnout.
Vincent A. Cianci, Jr·, shocked politicos in 1974 and began a productive yet controversial three-term tenure as mayor of Providence by unseating encumbent Mayor Joseph A. Doorley in a heated campaign.
In recent years women and minorities are exerting and increasingly significant influence in local and state politics. In 1980, Republican Claudine Schneider became the first woman elected to Congress from the state; two years later Republican Susan L, Farmer was elected as secretary of state and became Rhode Island's first female general officer; and Republican Lila Sapinsley presided as minority leader of the state senate. Interestingly, the Republican party was the first in modern times to endorse a woman for statewide office when Ruth M. Briggs ran for the U.S. Senate in 1966.
Blacks have participated more widely in elected offices in recent years. The first black was elected to the House in 1966, while in 1982 South Side voters elected the state's first black senator. Newport councilman Paul Gaines became that city's first black mayor in 1980. Providence's new fifteen member city council included two blacks.
About three quarters of the state's municipalities have adopted a home-rule charter since that option was made available to them by constitutional amendment in 1951 . Under its provisions two cities (Newport and East Providence) and several towns have adopted the manager form of government. In the smaller communities the famous New England town meetings are still in use, whereby the town's eligible voters assemble to directly approve the municipal budget, set the tax levy, and decide other local measures. In 1964 a state constitutional convention was held to revise or replace the state's basic law. The electorate rejected the convention's proposals in 1968 by a four-to-one margin. A limited convention in 1973 proposed seven constitutional amendments, five of which were approved by the state's voters, including one that repealed the longstanding ban on lotteries.
This period has been one of unsettled economic conditions. The state's ever-growing need for revenue saw the sales tax -- introduced in 1947 at a 1 percent rate -- rise to 6 percent. The income tax was first introduced in February, 1971, as a temporary tax by Governor Frank Licht (1969-1973); by July of the same year, it became a permanent tax at a rate of 15 percent of each taxpayer's federal income tax. Stabilized within eleven years, the income-tax rate rose over 78 percent to 26.75 for 1983. In the same eleven year period, state expenditures increased approximately 16.4 percent: from $286 million to $756 million. The corporate tax rate for 1983 is set at 9 percent, scheduled to be reduced to 8 percent for 1984. In 1982, state-tax revenues totalled approximately $665 million. At the municipal level, $531 million was levied in taxes in 1983 by the thirty-nine communities. In 1982, Rhode Island was ranked the ninth highest in per capita property-tax collections in the country; measured according to personal income, Rhode Island's property taxes ranked sixth highest nationally at $50.23 per $1,000 of income.
The continued rise in taxes at all levels, coupled with an epidemic of plant closings, gave rise to mounting apprehension over the economic future of the state. In response to this loss of confidence in the state's economy, Governor J. Joseph Garrahy (1977-85; lieutenant governor 1969-1976) in 1982 announced his creation of a Strategic Development Commission, which he charged with formulating an "economic strategy for the future.'' After studying the economic scene, the Commission concluded that ''Rhode Island's economy has been in a holding pattern'' for the past twenty years, "scraping together enough jobs to stave off disaster, but suffering a steady decline in relative income."
High energy costs and taxes, the perception of state government as anti-business, and the fact that Rhode Island factory workers are among the lowest paid in the country are frequently cited as prime causes for the state's ailing economy. A 1983 national study concluded that of the forty-eight contiguous states, Rhode Island ranked next to last in "attractiveness of business climate."
The product of the Commission appointed by Governor Garrhy was the so-called Greenhouse Compact, which proposes to create sixty thousand new jobs via a grant-and-loan program, stepped-up job-training programs, and the creation of four research "greenhouses" designed to stimulate new industrial growth. The plan would cost almost $250 million, paid for in part by payroll and income taxes, public employee pension funds, and two bond issues. Voters would have an opportunity to voice their opinions regarding this new industrial-policy approach to state economics at the ballot box in 1984.
Rhode Islanders, in approaching the twenty-first century, can point to the positive signs of a rejuvenated capital city boasting revitalized historic districts, nationally recognized educational and cultural institutions, and a building boom that includes the rehabilitation of historic buildings in the financial district as well as the construction of a federal building, a courthouse, and two new office towers. In addition, the Capitol Center Project, begun in 1982, resulted in the relocation of existing railroad tracks to the base of Capitol Hill, the erection of a new railroad terminal, and the construction of buildings for office and residential use. Newport's renaissance, sparked by the erection of the Newport Bridge and fueled by its growing reputation as a tourist mecca, will continue, as will the attractiveness of Rhode Island's rural communities for further residential development.
Present-day Rhode Islanders are striving to preserve the best of their heritage while improving the quality of life for future generations.
The Era of Reform, 1984-2000
In the future, students of Rhode Island history may well look back on the last couple of decades of the twentieth century as a period of reform unequaled in the annals of the state since the 1840s. In the country as a whole, during the last third or more of the century, attitudes toward government and political life seemed steadily to change. Confidence and trust gave way to skepticism, distrust and cynicism. Faith in the good intentions of those in public life waned. Traditional political loyalties unravelled and were replaced by postures of independence, disengagement, frustration and alienation. These trends showed themselves in a number of ways in Rhode Island toward the end of the century.
The impact of these growing attitudes was not all negative. Spurred on by a series of scandals during the 1980s and 1990s, reform efforts gathered momentum at the same time that large numbers of citizens were turning their backs on public affairs with disgust. It is probably true that the spate of highly publicized moral and ethical lapses had the effect of a catalyst. In any event, there were very important legal and constitutional reforms put in place which fostered the gradual development of a new atmosphere in public life with more emphasis on public service. The long prevailing attitude among many in the state - citizens and office holders alike - that government was a kind of "candy store" for the benefit of individuals began to give way to the idea of government disinterestedly serving the public interest. At least ethical lapses were more often met with punishment, than with the characteristic shrug of the past.
The catalytic events, if such they were, included the 1985 scandal centering on the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation, and particularly on its director, Ralph Pari. This agency was established to help low income families finance home purchases. The misdirection of some of its funds and the misuse of funds for his private purposes by Pari shocked the public.
There was a string of scandals involving the state's judiciary. In 1986, the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, Joseph A. Bevilacqua resigned as an investigation of his activities revealed misuse of public funds and employees, together with other behavior unbefitting a judge. Impeachment was in the offing had he not resigned voluntarily. In 1991, a Superior Court judge was arrested for soliciting bribes, ultimately convicted and sent to prison. Two years later a second Chief Justice, Thomas F. Fay, resigned in the face of revelations of unethical conduct and the prospect of impeachment.
Then there was the saga of Mayor Brian Sarault of Pawtucket. He too had been soliciting bribes from city contractors and others. For months the city was in turmoil as the council president took over the executive responsibilities, even though Sarault was still technically the mayor. Eventually he was convicted and sent to federal prison.
The year 1991 also saw perhaps the most shocking and damaging event of its kind in the history of the state: the failure of the organization which insured the state - chartered credit unions, the Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corporation (RISDIC). Governor Bruce Sundlun had hardly finished taking the oath of office, when it became apparent that a banking disaster was imminent. He issued an executive order closing all institutions which RISDIC had insured. The rest of the year was consumed with efforts to craft legislation to deal with the fallout of this crisis. More and more information came out implicating credit union and RISDIC officials in the collapse. Thousands of account holders were demanding their money. Eventually, legislation was framed and signed by the Governor that set up the Depositors Economic Protection Corporation (DEPCO) to take over the assets of the failed credit unions and to use the available proceeds, plus borrowed state money, to make the depositors whole.
During the same general period a series of highly questionable manipulations of the state employees' pension system surfaced. In many cases special deals had been made and embodied in legislation allowing favored individuals and groups to secure enhanced benefits. The unfairness and favoritism that was revealed contributed more fuel to the fires of public anger and disgust with the conduct of public business.
Following his departure from office in 1991 Governor Edward D. DiPrete, who was first elected in 1984, was investigated and indicted for accepting bribes and extortion. His son, Dennis, was also indicted. This was the first time in the history of the state that such action had been taken against a governor or former governor.
In light of all of this and more that hit the press during the 1980s and 1990s, it is small wonder that the public became cynical and disillusioned about the whole governmental/political system. Fortunately, however, many individuals and groups in and out of public office took up the challenge, and action to bring about constitutional and related reforms was undertaken.
Even before this rash of revelations and scandals broke into the headlines, the reform movement had gotten underway. The Watergate affair in Washington and the impact of the Vietnam War triggered a great deal of reform activity at the national level, which impacted and provoked action in the state. In Rhode Island, this took the form in the 1976 session of the General Assembly of the enactment of legislation setting up a Conflict of Interest Commission, together with regulations spelling out the forms of behavior that were to be proscribed as involving conflicts. In the same session, legislation mandated that all meetings of public bodies must be open to the public with a few enumerated exceptions. In both instances enforcement procedures and penalties were provided.
In 1976-77, in conjunction with an insurgent victory in a struggle over the speakership for the 1977-78 session, the Rules of the House were subject to major revisions. These were designed to open up the process in a number of ways, so that both legislators and the public would be able to attend committee and other meetings, and to inform themselves on the status and progress of legislation. In 1979, legislation was passed granting to the public the right to access public records, and again, providing enforcement mechanisms.
The next major event in the march of reform, was the calling of an open constitutional convention to meet in 1986. It had only been since the 1930s that the courts had ruled that calling such a convention was possible and constitutionally valid. The limited constitutional convention of 1973 had proposed, and the voters approved, a revision of the amending process which made it far easier, and which mandated that every ten years the voters must be asked the question as to whether a convention should be convened or not. The question was posed in 1984, and the electors answered in the affirmative. The convention met during the ensuing biennium and its work went before the voters for their action in November, 1986.
The timing of this convention was such that the full impact of local scandals was yet to be felt. The delegates considered and in some cases proposed language upon which the public was not yet ready to act. A few years later, a revised judicial selection system, for example much like that proposed in 1986, was approved. Nonetheless, important reforms were presented in 1986 and affirmed by the voters.
Provision for the setting up of a Constitutional Ethics Commission was adopted, and replaced the Conflict of Interest Commission. The terms of this new pair of amendments were so strong that Rhode Island now has the most powerful such body in the country. The commission, according to the Supreme Court, has the authority to in effect write the ethics legislation that it will then enforce. The convention also successfully proposed amending language that would require the General Assembly to regulate campaign contributions and spending, and allowing it to provide for public funding of campaigns. An amendment was also approved by the voters that would remove convicted felons from office and prevent them from running for office for three years. This language was designed to deal with situations like that of Mayor Vincent Cianci, Jr., of Providence who was convicted while in office and thereafter ran again and won. It would not have dealt with the Sarault situation, while he was under indictment and being tried.
The convention also put before the voters, successfully, a revised version of the constitution which excised language that had been annulled or replaced with new amending provisions, and inserted the latter in their proper places in the body of the document. Besides their rejection of new judicial selection language, the voters turned down the updating of the absurd five dollar-a-day legislative pay, four-year terms, and a recall proposal.
In 1987 a major step in the direction of opening up the legislative process to the public was the start of cable television broadcasting of all sessions of the House and Senate. The state-wide broadcasts were live except in cases when both chambers were meeting at the same time, whereupon one was recorded for later broadcast. All sessions and hearings of the House Finance committee are carried on cable television, as are other important hearings. The most recent step along the same path was taken in 1994 when legislation was passed "to make electronic products and services regarding [the Assembly's] proceedings available to the citizens of this state." These would include the history, text and status of all bills, legislative calendars, and much more. The phase-in of this service began in 1995. Here too, a major innovation occurred to open the legislative process still further and more completely.
In 1992, the General Assembly placed a proposed amendment on the fall ballot which again called for four-year terms, but this time only for the governor and the other four state-wide officers. In 1986, the legislators in both houses would also have had four-year terms. Quite obviously, the people of the state wanted tighter reins on their representatives. The 1992 proposal passed, and also included a recall provision for just those with four year terms. One can see at work here both the public distrust of politicians, but also a willingness to have four-year term governors. This latter was no doubt seen by many as a reform in that it would mean expensive and attention diverting campaigns for the office of governor only half as often, and thus more time that could be devoted to the problems of the state by the chief executive. It was also the case that between 1986 and 1992 there had been, as noted, a series of disquieting events in the state, which no doubt had focused ever increasing attention on the need for government reform.
This growing concern led to the appointment of a Blue Ribbon Study Commission to make a thorough examination of the legislative institutions of the state and make reform recommendations. A number of recommendations emerged in their report, issued in 1993, relating to staff, facilities and structural arrangements. Out of these, an omnibus amendment was prepared for the November, 1994, ballot. It dealt first with the long vexed question of legislative pay by recommending a $10,000-a-year salary. There had been a number of attempts over the years to remove the five dollars from the constitution, none of which succeeded. This time it worked because coupled with the new amount was language denying future legislators pensions for their service. Legislative pensions had long been a sore subject with the public. This, coupled with the recent rash of pension scandals, seems to have persuaded the voters that the salary for pension tradeoff was a good deal.
The same amendment also tackled another long-standing concern of some reformers: the size of the legislature. Commencing in 2003, the House will be cut to seventy-five from the present one hundred seats, and the Senate from fifty to thirty-eight. This reduction in size was no doubt seen by many as saving state money, though actually the savings will be minimal. Others no doubt simply saw the change as shaking things up in an institution which had come under a drumfire of criticism in recent years. The General Assembly was of course blamed for the much-publicized milking of the state pension system generally, as well as their own increases of legislative pensions. More important probably, was the blame laid on the legislature for the RISDIC collapse and the anguish it had caused. The record seemed to show that there had been legislative proposals to improve the credit union insurance system, which had not been given serious consideration. In any event, the 1994 amendment represented a reform landmark that had few equals in the past constitutional history of the General Assembly.
That same 1994 general election also put before the voters a major overhaul of the judicial selection system. The system which had evolved over the centuries involved statutory provision for the governor to appoint judges with the advice and consent of the Senate. Supreme Court Justices were elected by the two chambers of the General Assembly sitting jointly as the Grand Committee. This latter system was blamed for the resignation in disgrace of the last two chief justices. Hence the legislature, yielding to intense reformer pressure, framed a new system for judicial selection. It called for a non-partisan judicial nominating commission which was to evaluate the qualifications of candidates for all judicial appointments and submit a short list to the Governor. The Governor would make his choice which would then be presented for Senate confirmation. In the case of Supreme Court nominees by the Governor, both the House and Senate would have to approve separately. The voters, who had been treated to lower court judicial misbehavior during the last few years as well as the Supreme Court instances, approved this package by well over a two-to-one margin.
There could well be more reforms yet to come. The Ethics Commission is in process of circulating the draft of an exceedingly strong and comprehensive ethics code. There is some feeling that reform efforts, as reflected in some code provisions, are unrealistic and go too far. Nonetheless, the reforms chronicled in the foregoing pages, starting with the legislative enactments of the late 1970s represent, collectively, an impressive and largely unprecedented effort to revise and improve the conduct of government and politics in Rhode Island. They may not bring on the millennium nor restore the badly shaken faith of Rhode Islanders in their political system, but they have dealt with a number of pressing specific problems.
As noted earlier, a major attitudinal trend throughout the country and shared in Rhode Island has been a progressive disenchantment with political parties, as evidenced in the erosion of party loyalty and party voting. The electoral record at the state level and representation in Congress reflects the considerable increase in political independence in a state which since the 1930s has been heavily Democratic. The governorship, for example, was held by Democrats with few exceptions from the early 1930s until the mid-1980s. The three terms served by Republican John H. Chafee from 1962 to 1968 were the one major exception. And yet starting with the election of Republican Edward DiPrete in 1984, the office will have been held by Republicans (DiPrete and Lincoln Almond) for all but the Sundlun four years (1990 to 1994), at least through 1998. In that same period the sprinkling of Republicans in the other state offices has increased.
More striking perhaps has been the shift in control of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation. Until 1976, with the election of John Chafee to the Senate, all four seats allocated to Rhode Island were consistently in Democratic hands since World War II. Then in 1980 the Second Congressional District seat went to Republican Claudine Schneider, who held the seat for ten years. In 1988, Ron Machtley captured the First Congressional District seat for the GOP and held it for six years, which meant that during the period 1980 to 1994, the Rhode Island delegation to Congress was evenly divided between the two parties, a remarkable change from the Democratic dominance in prior decades, and indeed, from the overwhelming Republican control of those seats prior to the New Deal.
For many, changes of this sort, reflecting as they clearly do a far greater willingness of voters to seek out candidates with much less concern for party label, represent a kind of reform to be applauded. Obviously opinions differ on the usefulness of political parties, party loyalty and party voting in the operation of the electoral system and of the government. The prevailing orthodoxy during the second half of the twentieth century in Rhode Island increasingly became political independence and "vote the candidate", not the party label. Though the voters still send overwhelming Democratic majorities to the General Assembly, their independence from party ties has become more and more evident in the state-wide elections, and in local elections as well, for good or ill, with very important consequences for the operation of the state's governmental system. A sign of the times was the 9% of the Gubernatorial vote which was cast for the "Cool Moose Party" candidate in 1994, giving it status as the third official party.
A shift from these political and constitutional developments to economic trends in the state during the last dozen or so years is not as complete a shift of focus as it may seem. In very general terms, the state was quite prosperous and its economy did well during the 1980s. This meant that state revenues rose steadily and made possible the development of new government social and other programs. In 1985, Governor DiPrete signed the first billion-dollar State Budget. As the decade was drawing to a close in 1989, for the first time since 1982 forecasters predicted that job growth would decline in 1990. When Governor Sundlun took office in January, 1991, he not only faced the RISDIC credit union crisis, but major budget problems for 1991-1992. In fact, each year thereafter balancing the budget became one of the state's major challenges, as revenues continued to decline.
There is little doubt that the tightening financial situation for the state and for its citizens had something to do with the rising anger and falling confidence and trust in government and politicians. This was compounded, among other things, by the impact of the necessary cuts in state spending for social welfare programs, for educational aid to the cities and towns, and elsewhere. The education cuts meant tightened local budgets and rising real estate taxes to take up the slack. The 1990s were difficult years. Much of the rest of the country was enjoying prosperity, while the Rhode Island economy seemed to be little more than stagnant.
An underlying structural problem for the Rhode Island economy was the shifting that was taking place in the pattern of employment. Manufacturing had been the mainstay of the state's prosperity since the late 18th century beginnings of the textile industry. That industry by the latter half of the twentieth century had almost totally disappeared. The considerable amount of manufacturing activity that remained also declined, and was replaced by employment in service jobs which pay less and are less stable. Comparing figures for 1972, 1982 and 1993, manufacturing employment dropped successively from 40% of the work force, to 35% and then 24%. At the same time, the percent of employment in service jobs for those three years, rose from 19% to 26% and to 35% by 1993.
The state government grappled with its fundamental economic problems. High energy costs, especially for electricity, have long been of serious concern to manufacturers and other large users. In 1996 Representative George Caruolo introduced legislation that would ultimately deregulate the sale of all electricity, eliminate that role of the PUC, and allow market forces to work. This is the first time this has been attempted by any state. The workers compensation system, which had been very expensive in comparison with other states, was reformed and costs cut. These efforts were strikingly successful. After the system's reforms had been in place for a few years, companies providing insurance for workers' compensation actually went to the state authorities recommending a cut in insurance rates. Little could be done to keep businesses from fleeing the high level of unionization in Rhode Island for non-union states in the South and elsewhere. Legislation was passed, however, to remove the right of strikers to receive unemployment compensation benefits. The state had been one of the last two in the country to allow such payments.
The Greenhouse Compact referred to earlier, an imaginative effort to jump start economic development in new product and industry areas was overwhelmingly defeated by the voters in the referendum that was necessary to authorize the necessary state funds. The voters were not prepared to subsidize the private economy. In the early 1990s other investments of public funds with an eye to boosting the economy were made, usually amid considerable public opposition. Governor Sundlun launched a major project at Green State Airport involving a new modern air terminal, in the hope that Providence could become a major arrival and departure point that would be seen more convenient than Logan Airport in Boston.
The gratifying growth of the tourist industry has been one of the bright spots in the state's economic picture in recent years. To further stimulate this trend the state embarked on another major multi-million dollar project, the construction of a Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. This was a controversial initiative because it would involve a great deal of public investment. It was hoped that the center, when built, would attract large numbers of convention goers who like other tourists would spend money in the city and state while here. It was decided that in order to make the center viable, a new hotel would have to be built adjacent to it to ensure enough available rooms, and this was done, also at state expense. This complex then became one of the incentives for development of Providence Place, a $359-million, 150-store shopping mall between the center and the state house and not far from downtown Providence.
This too the state would have to underwrite to a considerable extent. The argument for this investment was that downtown Providence had largely died as a retail center and this would in effect bring it back. A related argument was that those coming to the conventions at the new center would want to shop in their spare time, and the new mall would provide that opportunity. Extensive negotiations were conducted among the governor, the developers, the City of Providence, and the General Assembly leaders. The ultimate deal granted the developers a portion of the sales tax revenue their tenant stores would earn. This would help pay for the parking garage being built as part of the complex. The city would forgive most of the real estate taxes that would otherwise be due for thirty years. For all parties it seemed to be a promising gamble. It will be quite a while before it is known how much these public investments in new projects and facilities are going to provide the economic stimulus for the state that was hoped for when they were initiated. Providence was fortunate to attract the ESPN Extreme Games in 1995, another draw for both residents and tourists.
Another vexing issue which troubled the state during the early 1990s was gambling. The incredibly successful Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut has had a major impact on the dog racing and Jai Alai facilities in Lincoln and Newport. Rhode Islanders could get to the Connecticut gambling mecca very easily and enjoy more exciting action in more luxurious surroundings. Steps were taken to allow slot machines at the Lincoln dog track and the Newport fronton to boost their attractiveness, and the Rhode Island state lottery brought increasing revenues to the public coffers. The Rhode Island Narragansett tribe decided to build a casino of their own and cash in on this bonanza. Resistance to their plans was widespread, involving both Governor Sundlun and Governor Almond. Those in favor argued that the state should not let all of that money flow across the state line, particularly in light of the financial difficulties in which the state government found itself. This acrimonious debate was further fueled by moves on the part of five Rhode Island communities to become the site either for the Indian casino or for one developed by private interests. Moreover, in Massachusetts the state gave its blessing to a plan to build an Indian casino in New Bedford. In 1994, five referenda questions were placed on the state election ballot, each seeking both local and the requited state approval for a casino facility in those communities. (One of these towns, Coventry, had been chosen by the Indian casino developers as the preferred site for their enterprise). All of them were defeated by the voters, most by very wide margins. The Indians made it clear that they would go ahead and build a casino on their own tribal land, which legally, they seemed quite able to do. But the state generally rejected a move to gambling business as a way to stimulate economic development and support the State Budget.
The returns from the 1990 census for the state showed trends in the shifting population patterns, similar to those which had been revealed by the 1980 enumeration. The smaller rural communities continued to be the gainers. Most of the cities registered either very slight gains or small losses. The towns which gained, many of them substantial gainers during the previously decade as well, nevertheless went up at a considerably lower rate than had been the case between the 1970 and 1980 censuses. The flow of minority population into the state continued, though the sources changed somewhat. The percent of the population of the state composed of African-Americans rose some, from 2.9% to 3.9%. The Hispanic proportion more than doubled from 2.1% to 4.6% making it the largest minority group. The Asian percentage (that is, Hmongs, Cambodians, etc.) tripled from .6% to 1.8%. This influx, largely into south Providence, was in a sense the most noticeable additional to the state's ethnic mix. At mid-decade following the 1990 enumeration, official estimates showed that the population of the state which had been set at just over a million, had dropped below that level. Rhode Island was one of only two states to register a population loss.
There were significant developments in the realm of higher education in the state during the years from the mid 1980s to the 1990s. The College of Continuing Education of the University of Rhode Island moved into new quarters in the former Shepherd building on Westminster Street, vacating the former Rhode Island College buildings near the State House slated for demolition to make room for the new Providence Place Mall discussed earlier. Johnson and Wales, Salve Regina and Roger Williams all achieved university status in the period, adding that designation to their names. Roger Williams took the initiative of starting the first law school in the State on its Bristol Campus, adding that to its recently established school of architecture. Salve Regina has developed strong programs in Nursing and Law Enforcement, and is offering masters and doctoral degrees in a number of fields.
Other landmarks in the state's history and development during the last decades of the century included the completion of a new bridge connecting Jamestown to the South County area. This replaced a narrow structure which had been built in 1946. With the completion of this structure, the various water-separated parts of the territory of the state were finally connected by bridges capable of handling large volumes of traffic. In each instance, over the years ferries had been replaced by bridges. Bristol had been joined by bridge to Aquidneck Island by the Mt. Hope Bridge in 1929. That island was linked to Tiverton and Little Compton by the Sakonnet River Bridge (replacing the historic "Stone Bridge") in 1956. Newport had been connected to Jamestown (on Conanicut Island) by a new Newport Bridge later re-named after Senator Claiborne Pell. The new Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge was the final link.
As it had been throughout its history, the state again suffered various weather and marine disasters. Hurricane Gloria struck in 1985 leaving 300,000 homes without power and disrupting schools, businesses and travel for more than a day. In 1991 there was hurricane Bob which again left thousands without power - 290,000 in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, some for a week or more, and caused more than one hundred million dollars in property damage.
As the "Ocean State" Rhode Island is subject not only to this kind of natural disaster, but also to major marine mishaps such as oil spills. Most of the petroleum products used in the state and in surrounding areas come in by tanker or barge into Narragansett Bay and the port of Providence. In 1989 the World Prodigy, a 560-foot tanker went off course and ran aground on Brenton Reef near Newport spilling a million gallons of fuel oil, causing considerable environmental damage. Then in 1996, a tug towing a barge loaded with millions of gallon of fuel oil ran aground on a sand bar off Moonstone Beach in South Kingstown, when its tug caught fire and lost control of the barge in stormy seas. Some 800,000 gallons escaped into the surrounding sea killing thousands of lobsters and other marine life. Authorities were forced to ban fishing in a very large area in the vicinity of the grounding to prevent contaminated seafood getting to market.
This last marine disaster came at a particularly bad time. The adverse impact that it will almost certainly have on one of the state's important industries will further complicate the problems Rhode Island has in maintaining and enhancing a viable economy which can support her citizens. Only a productive economy can continue to enable government to provide the services they require, and which have been generously provided in the past. Based on their state's history, Rhode Islanders can almost certainly rely on their own resourcefulness and hard work to overcome current difficulties, as their ancestors overcame obstacles in generations past.
Reference : http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/studteaguide/RhodeislandHistory/chapt9.html