The name of one of the original states of the
United States of America. This state was settled by emigrants from
Massachusetts, who assumed the government of themselves by a voluntarry
association, which was soon discovered to be insufficient for their protection.
In 1643, a charter of incorporation of Providence Plantations was obtained; and
in 1644, the two houses of parliament, during the forced absence of Charles the
First, granted a char-ter for the incorporation of the towns of Providence,
Newport and Portsmouth, for the absolute government of themselves, according to
the laws of England. Soon after the restoration of Charles the Second, in July,
1663, the inhabi-tants obtained a new charter from the crown. Upon the
accession of James, the inhabitants were accused of a violation of their
charter; and a quo warranto was filed against them, when they resolved to
surrender it. In 1686, their government was dissolved, and Sir Edward Andros
assumed, by royal authority, the administration of the colony. The revolution
of 1688 put an end to his power and the colony immediately resumed its charter,
the powers of which, with some interruptions, it continued to maintain and
exercise down to the period of the American Revolution.
2. This charter remained as the fundamental law of the state until the
first Tuesday of May, one thousand eight hundred and forty-three. A convention
of the people assembled in November, 1842, and adopted a constitution which
went into operation in May, 1843, as above mentioned.
3. By the third article of the constitution the powers of the government
are distributed into three departments; the legislative, the executive, and the
4. - §1. The fourth article regulates the legislative power as
follows, to wit: Sect. 1. This constitution shall be the supreme law of the
state, and any law inconsistent therewith shall be void. The general assembly
shall pass all laws necessary to carry this constitution into effect.
5. - Sect. 2. The legislative power, under this constitution, shall be
vested in two houses, the one to be called the senate, the other the house of
representatives; and both together the, general assembly. The concurrence of
the two houses shall be necessary to the enactment of laws. The style of their
laws shall be, It is enacted by the general assembly as follows.
6. - Sect. 3. There shall be two sessions of the general assembly holden
annually; one at Newport, on the first Tuesday of May, for the purposes of
election and other business; the other on the last Monday of October, which
last session shall be holden at South Kingstown once in two years, and the
intermediate years alternately at Bristol and East Greenwich; and an
adjournment for the October session shall be holden annually at Providence.
7. - Sect. 4. No member of the general assembly shall take any fee, or
be of counsel in any case pending before either house of the general assembly,
under penalty of forfeiting his seat, upon proof thereof to the satisfaction of
the house of which he is a member.
8. - Sect. 5. The person of every member of the general assembly shall
be exempt from arrest and his estate from attachment, in any civil action,
during the session of the general assembly, and two days before the
commencement, and two days after the termination thereof; and all process
served contrary hereto shall be void. For any speech in debate in either house,
no member shall be questioned in any other place.
9. - Sect. 6. Each house shall be the judge of the elections and
qualifications of its members; and a majority shall constitute a quorum to do
business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may compel the
atten-dance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties, as may
be prescribed by such house or by law. The organization of the two houses may
be regulated by law, subject to the limitations contained in this
10. - Sect. 7. Each house may determine its rules of proceeding, punish
contempts, punish its members for disorderly behaviour, and, with the
concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member; but not a second time for the same
11. - Sect. 8. Each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings. The
yeas and nays of the members of either house, shall, at the desire of one-fifth
of those present, be entered on the journal.
12. - Sect. 9. Neither house shall, during a session, without the
consent of the other, adjourn for more than two days, nor to any other place
than that in which they may be sitting.
13. - Sect. 10. The general assembly shall continue to exercise the
powers they have heretofore exercised, unless prohibited in this
14. - Sect. 11. The senators and representatives shall receive the sum
of one dollar for every day of attendance, and eight cents per mile for
travelling expenses in going to and returning, from the general assembly. The
general assembly shall regulate the compensation of the governor and all other
officers, subject to the limitations contained in this constitution.
15. - Sect. 12. All lotteries shall hereafter be prohibited in this
state, except those already authorized by the general assembly.
16. - Sect. 13. The general assembly shall have no power hereafter,
without the express consent of the people, to incur state debts to an amount
exceeding fifty thousand dollars, except in time of war, or in case of
insurrection or invasion, nor shall they in any case, without such consent,
pledge the faith of the state for the payment of the obligations of others.
This section shall not be construed to refer to any money that may be deposited
with this state by the government of the United States.
17. - Sect. 14. The assent of two-thirds of the members elected to each
house of the general assembly shall be required to every bill appropriating the
public money or property for local or private purposes.
18. - Sect. 15. The general assembly shall, from time to time, provide
for making new valuations of property for the assessment of taxes, in such
manner as they may deem best. A new estimate of such property shall be taken
before the first direct state tax, after the adoption of this constitution,
shall be assessed.
19. - Sect. 16. The general assembly may provide by law for the
continuance in office of any officers of annual election or appointment, until
other persons are qualified to take their places.
20. - Sect. 17. Hereafter when any bill shall be presented to either
house of the general assembly, to create a corporation for any other than for
religious, literary or charitable purposes, or for a military or fire company,
it shall be continued until another election of members of the general assembly
shall have taken place, and such public notice of the pendency thereof shall be
given as may be required by law.
21. - Sect 18. It shall be the duty of the two houses upon the request
of either, to join in grand committee for the purpose of electing senators in
congress, at such times and in such manner as may be prescribed by law for said
22. Having disposed of the rules which regulate both houses, a detailed
statement of the powers of the house of representatives will here be given.
23. - 1. The house of representatives is regulated by the fifth article
as follows; Sect. 1. The house of representatives shall never exceed
seventy-two members, and shall be constituted on the basis ofpopulation, always
allowing one representative for a fraction, exceeding half the ratio; but each
town or city shall always be entitled to at least one member; and no town or
city shall have more than one-sixth of the whole number of members to which the
house is hereby limited. The present ratio shall be one representative to every
fifteen hundred and thirty inhabitants, and the general assembly may, after any
new census taken by the authority of the United States or of this state,
re-apportion the representation by altering the ratio; but no town or city
shall be divided into districts for the choice of representatives.
25. - Sect. 2. The house of representatives shall have authority to
elect its speaker, clerks and other officers. The senior member from the town
of Newport, if any be present, shall preside in the organization of the
26. - 2. The senate is the subject of the sixth article, as follows:
Sect. 1. The senate shall consist of the lieutenant-governor and of one senator
from each town or city in the state.
27. - Sect. 2. The governor, and, in his absence the
lieutenant-governor, shall preside in the senate and in grand committee. The
presiding officer of the senate and grand committee shall have a right to vote
in case of equal division, but not otherwise.
28. Sect. 3. If, by reason of death, resignation, absence, or other
cause, there be no governor or lieutenant governor present, to preside in the
senate, the senate shall elect one of their own members to preside during such
absence or vacancy, and until such election is made by the senate, the
secretary of state shall preside.
29. - Sect. 4. The secretary of state shall, by virtue of his office, be
secretary of the senate, unless otherwise provided by law; and the senate may
elect such other officers as they may deem necessary.
30. - §2. The seventh article regulates the executive power. It
provides: Sect. 1. The chief executive power of this state shall be vested in a
governor, who, together with a lieutenant governor, shall be annually elected
by the people.
31. - Sect. 2. The governor shall take care that the laws be faithfully
32. - Sect. 3. He shall be captain general and commander-in-chief of the
military and naval force of this state, except when they shall be called in
to the service of the United States.
33. - Sect. 4. He shall have power to grant reprieves after conviction,
in all cases except those of impeachment, until the end of the next session of
the general assembly.
34. - Sect. 5. He may fill vacancies in office not otherwise provided
for by this constitution, or by law, until the same shall be filled by the
general assembly, or by the people.
35. - Sect. 6. In case of disagreement between the two houses of the
general assembly, respecting the time or place of adjournment, certified to him
by either, he may adjourn them to such time and place as he shall think proper;
provided that the time of adjournment shall not be extended beyond the day of
the next stated session.
36. - Sect. 7. He may, on extraordinary occasions, convene the general
assembly at any town or city in this state, at any time not provided for by
law; and in case of danger from the prevalence of epidemic or contagious
disease, in the place in which the general assembly are by law to meet, or to
which they may have been adjourned; or for other urgent reasons, he may, by
proc-lamation, convene said assembly, at any other place within this state.
37. - Sec. 8. All commissions shall be in the name and by the authority
of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; shall be sealed with
the state seal, signed by the governor and attested by the secretary.
38. - Sect. 9. In case of vacancy in the office of governor, or of his
inability to serve, impeachment, or absence from the state, the lieutenant
governor shall fill the office of governor and exercise the powers and
authority appertaining thereto, until a governor is qualified to act, or until
the office is filled at the next annual election.
39. - Sect. 10. If the offices of governor and lieutenant governor be
both vacant by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, absence, or
otherwise, the person entitled to preside over the senate for the time being,
shall in like manner fill the office of governor during such absence or
40. - Sec. 11. The compensation of the governor and lieutenant governor
shall be established by law, and shall not be diminished during the term for
which they are elected.
41. - Sect. 12. The duties and powers of the secretary, attorney
general, and general treasurer, shall be the same under this constitution as
are now established, or as from time to time may be prescribed by law.
42. - §3. The judicial power is regulated by the tenth article as
follows: Sect. 1. The judicial power of this state shall be vested in one
supreme court, and in such inferior courts as the general assembly may from
time to time, ordain and establish.
43. - Sect. 2. The several courts shall have such jurisdiction as, may
from time to time be prescribed by law. Chancery powers may be conferred on the
supreme court, but on no other court to any greater extent than is now provided
44. - Sect. 3. The judges of the supreme court shall in all trials,
instruct the jury in the law. They shall also give their written opinion upon
any question of law whenever requested by the governor, or by either house of
the general assembly.
45. - Sect. 4. The judges of the supreme court shall be elected by the
two houses in grand committee. Each judge shall hold his office until his place
be declared vacant by a resolution of the general assembly to that effect;
which resolution shall be voted for by a majority of all the members elected to
the house in which it may originate, and be concurred in by the same majority
of the other house. Such resolution sliall not be entertained at any other than
the annual session for the election of public officers: and in default of the
passage thereof at said session, the judge shall hold his place as herein
provided. But a judge of any court shall be removed from office, if, upon
impeachment, he shall be found guilty of any official misdemeanor.
46. - Sect. 5. In case of vacancy by death, resignation, removal from
the state or from office, refusal or inability to serve, of any judge of the
supreme court, the office may be filled by the grand committee, until the next
annual election, and the judge then elected shall hold his office as before
provided. In cases of impeachment, or temporary absence or inability, the
governor may appoint a person to discharge the duties of the office during the
vacancy caused thereby.
47. - Sect. 6. The judges of the supreme court shall receive a
compensation for their services, which shall not be diminished during their
continuance in office.
48. - Sect. 7. The towns of New Shoreham and Jamestown may continue to
elect their wardens as heretofore. The other towns and the city of Providence,
may elect such number of justices of the peace resident therein, as they may
deem proper. The jurisdiction of said justices and wardens shall be regulated
by law. The justices shall be commissioned by the governor.
Source: Bouviers Law Dictionary 1856 Edition