Rhode Island Colonial Charter: 1663-2013

350th anniversary of Rhode Island's "lively experiment" in religious freedom

History & Significance

Rhode Island’s Colonial Charter holds a unique place in the evolution of human rights in the modern world. When King Charles II approved the Charter in July 1663, it marked the first time in modern history that a monarch signed a charter guaranteeing that individuals within a society were free to practice the religion of their choice without any interference from the government. This freedom was extremely radical in an age marked by wars of religion and persecution of people for religious beliefs.

Like the Declaration of Independence, Rhode Island’s Charter was a product of an amazing confluence of stubborn resolve, diplomatic skill, and ability to capitalize on a moment of opportunity. Roger Williams had secured a charter from Parliament in 1644 when the monarchy was overthrown, but this charter was voided by King Charles II when the monarchy was restored in 1660. John Clarke, who had been in England since 1651 serving as an agent to protect Rhode Island’s interests against the attempts of the neighboring colonies to dismember and subvert the colony, was able to obtain a new charter for Rhode Island despite great obstacles and opposition. His charter was unique in its grant of “freedom of religious concernments” and its language soon echoed in the charters of other colonies. It’s principles were subsequently written into the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Charter arrived in Newport, in November 1663, where it remained until removed to the new State House in Providence when it was occupied in 1900.

-Dr. Stanley Lemons

Professor Emeritus, Rhode Island College

6 comments on “History & Significance

  1. Pingback: RI’s Colonail Charter First To Codify Religious Freedom

  2. Lee Shreve
    May 4, 2013

    What the author fails to address is how the freedom of religion came about by William Dyer’s wife, Mary Dyer, becoming a martyr in Boston for the cause and William and others going to England to protest her death by hanging. King Charles 2 was outraged that a governor would pass corporal punishment without England’s approval.
    Thank Mary Dyer for the inclusion of religious freedom in the charter. Visit her statue at the Capitol building in Boston and a statue in her memory in Philadelphia.
    Yes, a woman showed the guts. Show her the respect she is owed in this 350th anniversary of the Royal Charter of Rhode Island.

  3. Pingback: The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RI | WPRI.com Blogs

  4. Christina Fox
    September 25, 2013

    This is an awesome page. it has everything you need to know. I used the information to write a paper and present it in front of my class.

  5. Carolyn Bull
    September 29, 2013

    Very interesting. I am a descendant of John Clarke and proud that he fought for religious freedom.

  6. Louis Clarke
    October 12, 2013

    Dr. John Clarke is a forgotten patriot. He witnessed the inhumanity that man is capable of when government gives support to a given religion. The evidence to support that people of that era trusted in his belief of full liberty when it came to ‘religious concernments’, lies in the fact that Quakers, Jews, and others established institutions in Newport and not Providence. I would also suggest looking at a web site devoted to the memory of Dr. John Clarke; that is johnclarkesociety.org. To provide complete disclosure, I am related to Dr. John Clarke and am very proud to be so.

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