The aristocratic landholders who were unwilling to share the vote in Rhode Island were among those who made their fortunes in the slave trade of Providence and Bristol, exchanging New England rum for African slaves on the Ivory Coast. They saw their ill-gotten fortunes and all public monies become the target of the newly-enfranchised democrats, both natives and recent immigrants. Neither wealthy or poor-white Rhode Islanders viewed free black citizens as worthy of voting rights.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
Aristocratic, Undemocratic, Intolerant Rhode Island:
“[April 17, 1842]: I was struck with the lively interest he [William Ellery Channing, Unitarian minister, of Boston] took in the political affairs of Rhode Island, — a neighboring State, containing about 110,00 inhabitants, and now convulsed by a revolutionary movement [the Dorr Rebellion] in favor of an extension of the suffrage. The sympathies of Dr. Channing appeared to lean strongly to the popular party, which, in his opinion, had grievances to complain of, however much, by their violent proceedings they had put themselves in the wrong.
Although the State has been flourishing, it is entirely free from debt, a large majority of the people have, for the last forty years, called loudly on the privileged landholders to give up their exclusive right to voting, and to extend the suffrage to all adult males, in accordance with the system established in all the neighboring States. Their demands did not differ very materially from those which the legislature was willing to concede, except that the democrats claimed the suffrage, not only for every American-born citizen, but also for the new-comers, or the settlers of a few years standing. Both parties agreed to exclude the free blacks.”
(Sir Charles Lyell, Travels in North America in the Years 1841-1842, (New York, 1845), I, pp. 83-84)