While the rest of the states of the Union in the 1820s and 30s were moving toward universal manhood suffrage, conservative-dominated Rhode Island chose to preserve the state’s once liberal tradition of a suffrage limited to those who possessed $134 of taxable property. When in the 1830s Irish immigrants, particularly the Catholic Irish, began to take up residence in the state in increasingly large numbers, their presence provided an additional reason for denying the right to vote to those without substantial property. Since the right to vote was limited, few of the Irish sought to become citizens. Many of those who did, sought naturalization in order to legally own property. However, in the light of the service of the foreign-born Irish in the Civil War, the injustice of the situation of the Irish became more apparent. It would not be until 1888 that the efforts of the Irish and their fellow Rhode Islanders succeeded in partially ending Rhode Island’s uniqueness.
ROBERT W. HAYMAN is currently the historian of the Diocese of Providence and one of its archivists. Until his retirement in June 2010, he was an Associate Professor of History at Providence College for thirty-six years. He is the author of a two – soon to be three–volume history of the Diocese of Providence, which tells the story of Catholicism in Rhode Island from 1780 to 1971. The first volume served as Fr. Hayman’s dissertation for a doctorate of philosophy degree in history, which he received from Providence College. During his research, he has looked at the experience of the many immigrant groups that have settled in the state. We welcome Fr. Hayman for this talk, his third for the Museum of Newport Irish History.