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

Scope & content

The Dorr papers comprise approximately 600 items, and constitute an important collection for the study of the early political history of the State of Rhode Island. As a lawyer and legislator, Thomas Wilson Dorr was privy to the inner workings of state governance. Indeed, the papers display his deep concern with constitutional law in general, and the application of the same to governance in Rhode Island. His active interest in suffrage reform and equal rights propelled him to the forefront of the movement for a state constitution. By means of a popular convention which met from May 1841 to January 1842, a constitution was adopted under which Dorr was elected Governor. Since the prior state Charter had not been rescinded, this brought the reformers into conflict with the existing Charter-based government. Traditionalists elected their own governor under the older system, and declared Dorr a usurper. The collection documents this tumultuous affair, and highlights Dorr's important role as a proponent of constitutional principles.