Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

For Participating Institutions

Thomas Wilson Dorr Papers (Ms.Dorr)

Brown University Library

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: Manuscripts: 401-863-3723; University Archives: 401-863-2148
Email: Manuscripts: hay@brown.edu; University Archives: archives@brown.edu

Biographical note

Thomas Wilson Dorr was born at Providence, Rhode Island in 1805. A lawyer by training and inclination, he attended Harvard University and graduated in 1823. He subsequently read for the law under Chancellor James Kent in New York. Dorr was admitted to the bar in 1827, and became a member of the Rhode Island Legislature in 1834.

That same year, Dorr played an active role as member of a committee appointed to write an address advocating enlargement of voting rights in Rhode Island. The old colonial Charter of Rhode Island did not allow for calling a constitutional convention. Accordingly, the self-proclaimed " People's Party" assembled a convention and drew up a new constitution that was approved by a majority of Rhode Island citizens. In 1842, Dorr was elected governor under this new Constitution. However, a second governor was simultaneously elected under the old Charter. While Dorr unsuccessfully pled his claim to be the rightful governor of the state in Washington, D.C., the Charter governor declared martial law and issued a warrant for Dorr's arrest. Dorr voluntarily surrendered, and was tried and convicted of treason. He was sentenced to hard labor for life in 1844. Although released under an Amnesty Act in 1845, he was not able to regain his political rights until 1851 - just three years prior to his death. He died on December 26, 1854.