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Rhode Island. Governor | State Archives Catalog

Name: Rhode Island. Governor


Historical Note: Upon the founding of the colony the original settlements formed political compacts and establish rules of governance and conduct. While such agreements were suitable early on a more organized, centralized form of government became necessary as the colony expanded.  In 1644, the first colonial charter uniting the several communities of Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, & Warwick was acquired from England.  In 1647, colonial government was established and a General Assembly met to produce a code of laws and adopt a colonial seal.  Within the acts and orders established was the appointment of a President of the colony, the predecessor to the office of the Governor along with assistants representing each of the towns.  There continued to be a President of the colony until receipt of the second Royal Charter from King Charles II in 1663. The charter called for the leadership of the state to consist of a Governor, Deputy-Governor, and ten (10) assistants. Although this charter created the position of Governor the duties and powers of the office granted under the charter were limited. During the early years of the colony, the towns had much more power than the centralized government, and therefore the position of Governor was largely symbolic. The Governor held certain powers because of his position as commander in chief, but did not have the ability to control the direction of the colony as did the General Assembly.  The General Assembly’s current website explains that under the charter there existed “a nearly powerless, elected governor”.  The first iteration of the Rhode Island Constitution, ratified in 1842, continued to limit the power of the Governor and give to the General Assembly many of the powers designated to the executive branch in the federal government. The Governor, although the symbolic figurehead of the state, did not exercise any legislative powers under the concept of separation of powers until 2004.   In 2004, voters approved a referendum calling for an amendment of the state Constitution, finally establishing a separation of powers within the state government. This amendment took some of the immense power of the General Assembly by giving the Governor the power to appoint the heads and members of many commissions and boards, and to appoint members of the judiciary.  Other major change in the Office of the Governor occurred in 1994, when the term of General Officers went from two (2) years to four (4) years.


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