Thursday, January 9, 2014

Separating Church and State in Rhode Island, circa 1844

A political cartoon about Thomas Wilson Dorr from 1844 makes a special point about those being opposed to Dorr also being in favor of mixing church and state. As much as Dorr was all about getting voting rights to white men without property, he was also about getting the vote for Catholics, who at the time were being disenfranchised as much out of religious bigotry as for issues of economics and class.

Note vice presidential candidate Thomas Frelinghuysen (pictured in clerical robes) saying, "Ah my master say not so for then Church and State will never be united!"

The fight for freedom of conscience, separation of church and state and the freedom to exercise our right to vote is as old as the Constitution. That's why we're trying are trying to to establish a "more perfect" union: 

It's a process, not a goal.

Click image to enlarge

A full description of the cartoon from the Library of Congress:
A polemic applauding Democratic support of the Dorrite cause in Rhode Island. (See also "Trouble in the Spartan Ranks," and "The Great Political Car and Last Load of Patriots," nos. 1843-6 and 1845-5).

In the spring of 1842 Thomas Wilson Dorr led an abortive revolt against the Charter government of Rhode Island, attempting to force liberalization of suffrage and reapportionment of legislative representation. The rebellion failed, and Dorr was convicted of treason and imprisoned in June 1844. His imprisonment generated considerable sympathy for him among Democrats even outside his own state.

The rebellion, in fact, became a minor issue in the presidential campaign of 1844. James K. Polk was supportive of the need for reform in Rhode Island while his opponent, Whig candidate Henry Clay, condemned the Dorrites' "wanton defiance of established authority."

"Tyrants Prostrate" is a pro-Dorr statement, praising the support of the movement by Democratic candidates Polk and Dallas while portraying Whigs Henry Clay, Theodore Frelinghuysen, and Daniel Webster as the agents of wealthy or religious interests. The locus of the cartoon is Dorr's prison cell. (He had been sentenced to life at hard labor and solitary confinement at the state prison at Providence.)

Dorr (center, in shirtsleeves) stands and raises his manacled hands, proclaiming, "The process of this Court does not reach the man within, From this sentence of the Court I appeal to the People of our State and our Country!"

Polk (left) and Dallas (far left) stand with joined hands. Dallas vows, "As sure as a God of Justice rules on high he will be free." Polk holds a hammer and pliers, apparently for use on Dorr's chains, and says, "The people will speak in tones of thunder yet, they brook no old King's charter, to enchain true patriots!"

On the right stand Henry Clay, his running-mate Theodore Frelinghuysen (in clerical robes), and Daniel Webster. Clay raises his arm and declares, "Alas! alas! when Dorr is free King Charles charter will be destroyed, and with it the last British form of Government in these States, and the last hope of our Aristocracy for the people will have triumphed!" In his right hand is a document "Tariff," a token of his support of protection for American manufactures during the 1844 campaign.

Frelinghuysen protests to Clay, "Ah my master say not so for then Church and State will never be united!"

Daniel Webster responds with, "Yes they will If we join the American Party, and raise a Protestant succession on the ruins of Popery." The party to which he refers was nativist and anti-Catholic in ideology.

Overhead flies the genius of Fame, carrying a crown for Dorr and trumpeting: Speed the sound O'er all your plains / The Martyr's freed from shameful chains! / Around his brow will freemen twine / A glorious wreath of myrtle vine! / Our Polk obey the people's call; / The Tyrant sees his shackles fall! / And every son of Liberty / Shout long live Dorr the great the Free!

"Tyrants Prostrate" must have appeared during the 1844 election campaign. Dorr was in fact released from prison in June of the following year.

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