1663 to 1843 the people of Rhode Island were governed under a Royal Charter
granted by King Charles II of England. This was a remarkable document for
its era since it created an amazingly liberal and democratic frame of
government, far more so than the prevailing government of the mother
No doubt its framers and the first office holders under it would be
astonished if anyone suggested to them that this parchment with its archaic
language would be the basis of the government of the colony for over a
hundred years, and then remain in force in the colony-turned-state for
nearly seventy years more. But it did survive and remain useful all those
However, as the middle of the 19th Century approached it became obvious
that economic and demographic changes demanded a new governing constitution
for the State of Rhode Island. The new Rhode Island Constitution, much of
it modeled on the Royal Charter, was adopted in 1843.
This 1843 Constitution was changed over the years by amendments proposed by
the General Assembly. In the 1930s, after the Rhode Island Supreme Court
reversed an earlier decision prohibiting Constitutional Conventions,
several brief one-day or two-day Constitutional Conventions were held for
limited revision purposes.
Then in 1986, the state's third major Constitutional Convention was held.
Not only did this 1986 Convention propose a number of amendments to be
placed before the voters, but it also prepared an updated version of the
1843 Constitution, which incorporated previous amendments and eliminated
all language that had been superseded. It is this 1986 Rhode Island
Constitution which appears on the General Assembly website.