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Thomas Wilson Dorr Trial: 1844

Reformers Attempt To Seize State Arsenal

Both Dorr and King appealed to President John Tyler for help. Tyler urged reconciliation, but he later indicated that federal troops would intervene, if necessary, to support the charter government. In the meantime, arrests began under the Algerine Law. To revive the seemingly waning fortunes of the reformers and to assert his authority as governor, Dorr led over 200 men on May 18 in an attempt to seize the state arsenal in Providence.

The attack failed and, within a short time, martial law was declared by Governor King, the state militia was called out, and more arrests were made. (The arrests would continue until July.) The reformers' government quickly collapsed and Dorr fled the state with a bounty on his head. On August 25, 1842, Dorr was indicted in absentia in state court for treason against Rhode Island.

Despite Dorr's exile and the brutal treatment by the police of those accused of breaking the Algerine Law, there was still a lot of sympathy in Rhode Island for the reformers' cause. To placate this dissent, the charter government adopted in April 1843, a new constitution that granted the right to vote to all American-born adult males (including free blacks) who did not own land provided, they had been residents of the state for at least two years. This was good enough for most reformers, but not for Dorr (who was still a wanted man). Believing that his trial and conviction would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and, in the process, gain national support to his cause, Dorr returned to Rhode Island on October 31, 1843, and was immediately arrested.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Thomas Wilson Dorr Trial: 1844 - Reformers Draft A "people's Constitution", Reformers Attempt To Seize State Arsenal, Dorr's Treason Trial