Rhode Island Goes Rogue

April 29, 2012

The year 1776 is known for many things, the most important being American Independence. July 4, 1776 is, of course, famous for the penning of the Declaration of Independence. However, there had been some rebelliousness previous to that day. On May 4, Rhode Island became the first colony to throw off the oppressive bond in which England had attempted to clutch America. Rhode Island, or Rogues Island as it was colloquially called, was the first to renounce its allegiance to King George. Ironically, it would also be the last of the original 13 states to adopt the new Constitution over 14 years later.

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations had a corner on a market they were very interested in keeping, namely the rum trade. Rhode Island acted as a hub for the rum trade. Molasses from the West Indies came to Rhode Island to be made into rum. The rum was then shipped to Africa to be traded for slaves, who where then taken to the West Indies to be traded for molasses and the whole process began again. Yet, as most Americans know, the British enacted a series of controlling regulations and tariffs on items, starting with the Sugar Act of 1764. It was these tariffs that caused Rhode Island to renounce their allegiance to King George.

The independent streak that caused Rhode Island to be the first colony to declare independence would be the cause of many other conflicts in the newly formed United States after the victory in the Revolutionary War. Rhode Island had not changed that much and still did not want to lose their wealth to the new federal government. As they were, theoretically, one of the only states that could have survived under the Articles of Confederation, Rhode Island was hesitant to join this new partly federal, partly republican government. Ultimately, as it was self interest that compelled Rhode Island to renounce allegiance to England in the first place, when forced with the option of becoming taxed as a foreign nation, or as a state, they chose state and finally ratified the Constitution.

–Lindsey Richey is a sophomore Ashbrook Scholar majoring in History and Political Science, with minors in Religion and Classical Civilizations.

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