Roger Williams would be proud
To see his colony,
So donít sell short this precious port:
Rhode Island! It's for Me!
from Rhode Island, It's For Me by Charlie Hall, adopted as the state song in 1996, replacing Rhode Island by T. Clarke Browne
We, the people of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and
religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors
to secure and to transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution of government.
Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.
1764 College of Rhode Island [later Brown] founded in Providence by Baptists. "In God we hope"
Rhode Island College: The first chancellor of Brown University was Stephen Hopkins.
Roger Williams and his followers in 1638 built the First Baptist Church in America.
When the Baptists were
ready to start a college in Rhode Island, they endorsed James Manning's plan for
a "liberal and catholic" institution, grounded in interdenominational
cooperation. Ezra Stiles, Congregationalist clergyman in Newport (and later
president of Yale), and attorney William Ellery, Jr., were asked to draw up a
charter based on Manning's draft, which was presented to the General Assembly.
It divided the Corporation's power among Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists (same thing) who would be
a majority of the Fellows, a few slots for Quakers and Anglicans, and a few
The Baptists disapproved of the charter because they wanted a more powerful say in how the College operated. Subsequent drafts gave the college presidency and a majority of the Fellows permanently to the control of the Baptists. They were given an even larger majority of the Trustees, and the Anglicans were promoted above the Congregationalists in number of allotted seats.
The college's mission was to prepare men with a useful and respectable life through learning. It provided equality for "Youths of all Religious Denominations," and that "into this Liberal & Catholic Institution shall never be admitted any Religious Tests."
The newly formed Rhode Island College started with no funds, building, students, or faculty. At the first meeting in 1764, the Corporation's mission was to raise money, which it did. Benjamin Franklin participated. At its second meeting a year later, the Corporation named as president the Reverend James Manning. He was Brown's first president and first professor simultaneously.
As the college settled, the tyranny of Britain upon America began to mount. The last Commencement until after the Revolution was held in 1776 in the newly completed First Baptist Church. In December 1776, the British seized Newport; and the college was forced to shut down. Within eight days after the American troops vacated the college in April 1780, it was learned that the College Edifice was to be a hospital for French troops.
In 1782, the French troops left the College, leaving it in shambles. The Corporation submitted a $4,400 bill to the new federal government to cover damages. Eighteen years later, the college was reimbursed $2,779.13 for its occupancy by American troops alone.
With funds scarce, the Corporation took hope in a rumor that the king of France had offered aid to Yale for its rebuilding and that Yale declined. The Corporation thought France, America's ally during the Revolution, might want to help their situation. They sent a formal request to Benjamin Franklin, then minister at the French court, from whom they received no reply. Two years later, in 1786, the Corporation renewed its request through Thomas Jefferson, the new minister to France. Jefferson suggested they drop their request as his preliminary inquiries had met with no encouragement.
In September 1782, changes were made to reflect independence from England and the shift from colonial status. In 1783, John Brown offered to pay half the cost of a "compleat Philosophical Apparatus and Library," which the Corporation accepted. "Philosophical apparatus" included telescopes, microscopes, globes, magnets, etc. - used in studying the natural sciences, which in those days went under the heading of "natural philosophy."
The first post-Revolutionary Commencement was held in 1786, when a class of fifteen (including Nicholas Brown, Jr.) was awarded degrees. The Commencement ceremony turned into the first public holiday for the town people whose enthusiasm sometimes turned quite rowdy. In 1790, soon after Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the Constitution, the Corporation recruited the Baptist Society to calm down the crowd and do away with the sale of liquor at the ceremonies. 1790's Commencement awarded an honorary degree to George Washington, who had visited a few weeks earlier to give his blessings to the new state of Rhode Island. That Commencement was also the last at which Manning presided. He died of a stroke the next year at the age of fifty-two.
Nicholas Brown, Jr., a trustee by age twenty-two, had established the firm of Brown & Ives, which became one of New England's largest mercantile houses. He shared his success with others, giving Brown University $160,000 over his lifetime. Francis Wayland said of him, "He was endowed to an unusual degree with that quality, which I know not how better to express than by the term, largeness of mind. A plan or an enterprise was attractive to him, all things being equal, in proportion to its extensiveness." According to Wayland, he had a large heart as well, full of "active sympathy for every form of human suffering. He not infrequently visited the sick in their own dwellings, while his door was frequently thronged, and his steps waylaid by the poor and unfortunate of every age." He served continuously as a trustee and then a fellow of the University until his death in 1841. Taken from Public Affairs and University Relations, Brown University Providence, Rhode Island 02912 USA
"The afflicted and the eccentric from various quarters, Antinomians, Quakers, `Seekers,' and Anabaptists of all stripes, had lived here together in tumultuous amity, attacking one another's heresies but steadily respecting everybody's right to preach heresy without any restraint from the civil power...." From "A History of Brown University," Walter Bronson, 1914.
From early governing documents:
| "That [the inhabitants], pursueing, with peaceable and loyall minces, their sober, serious and
religious intentions, of goalie edifieing themselves, and one another, in
the holy Christian faith and worship, as they were persuaded; together with
the gaining over and conversion of the poor ignorant Indian natives, in
those parts of America, to the sincere profession and obedience of the same
faith and worship...
....true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God...
That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments... and to direct, rule, order and dispose of, all other matters and things, and particularly that which relates to the makinge of purchases of the native Indians, as to them shall seeme meete; wherebv oure sayd people and inhabitants, in the sayd Plantationes, may be soe religiously, peaceably and civilly governed, as that, by theire good life and orderlie conversations, they may win and invite the native Indians of the countrie to the knowledge and obedience of the onlie true God, and Saviour of mankinde..."Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, July 15, 1663
"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; and all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness; and whereas a principal object of our venerable ancestors, in their migration to this country and their settlement of this state, was, as they expressed it, to hold forth a lively experiment that a flourishing civil state may stand and be best maintained with full liberty in religious concernments; we, therefore, declare that no person shall be compelled to frequent or to support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatever, except in fulfillment of such person's voluntary contract; nor enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in body or goods; nor disqualified from holding any office; nor otherwise suffer on account of such person's religious belief; and that every person shall be free to worship God according to the dictates of such person's conscience, and to profess and by argument to maintain such person's opinion in matters of religion; and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect the civil capacity of any person." Rhode Island Constitution, Article I, Section 3, 1842
The early settlers developed colonial charters that were decidedly evangelical in their purpose, often expressing a goal for their colony to advance the Christian religion. As the country progressed up to the revolutionary war period, state constitutions evolved from the charters. Those state constitutions served to maintain the order already established by the original charters, the charters based on Christianity.