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Rhode Island. General Assembly (1643-)



  • Existence: 1643-

Historical Note

The first governments established in Rhode Island began as written agreements between the original settlers of Providence (1636), Portsmouth (1638) Newport (1639). While such agreements were suitable early on a more organized, centralized form of government became necessary as the colony expanded. The origins of current General Assembly date from 1643, when the first Parliamentary Charter or Patent confirming uniting the three original towns under the title “the Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay in New England” was obtained from England. On or about that year a fourth settlement at Warwick was established. Convening for the first time as a single body at Portsmouth in May 1647, representatives of the several towns formulated a set rules orders for the colony including an annual meeting of a “Courte of Election”, the establishment of the office of President of the Province and the adoption of a code of laws. However this early iteration of a centralized colonial government functioned more like a town meeting than a cohesive legislative body as most of the power was still vested with the towns. Soon other factors including territorial disputes by internal external forces as well as the restoration of the Stuart dynasty in England in 1660 brought into doubt the validity of the 1643 Patent. By 1663, a second Royal Charter was obtained from King Charles II, which firmly established the "English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, in America." Under the Charter the title of “General Assembly” came into being which initially was organized as a unicameral body. The document provided for the election of Deputies and Assistants (former titles of current Representatives and Senators) who were chosen from among the Freeman of the colony with each having one vote to act as direct representatives of their towns. The Charter also provided for a more central governmental hierarchy with the establishment of offices of Governor, Deputy Governor and ten Assistants to manage and lead the colony. Elections were held of the first Wednesday in May and last Wednesday in October annually. In 1696 the legislature became a bicameral body with the creation of the House of Deputies or Lower House House of Magistrates or Upper House. The position of Speaker of the House of Deputies was also established at that time.

Currently, the Rhode Island legislature is still a bicameral body constituting a seventy – five (75) member House of Representatives and a thirty – eight (38) member Senate which convenes on the first Tuesday in January annually. Leadership consists of a Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate who are chosen from among their membership. The General Assembly is responsible for all proposed legislation as well as the enactment of laws both of a public and private nature. The assembly also confirms judicial nominations and the appointment of heads of various State departments boards and has general subpoena power in civil cases. Other responsibilities include the office of the Auditor General which provides independent evaluations of government programs, Legislative Council which is charged with obtaining information on the operation of state government and of making studies concerning legislative issue and the office of Law Revision which is responsible for consolidating, compiling, editing, printing binding the public laws, acts resolutions. There are currently twelve (12) permanent committees established within the House of Representatives including: Constituent Services, Corporations, Environment Natural Resources, Finance, Health, Education Welfare, Judiciary, Labor, Municipal Government, Rules, Separation of Powers Veteran Affairs. Senate committees number seven (7) and include Constitutional Regulatory Issues, Commerce, Education, Environment Agriculture, Finance, Government Oversight Health Human Services. Permanent joint committees number eleven (11) and include Accounts Claims, Water Resources, Highway Safety, Environment Energy, Naming New Buildings, Bridges, Edifices Other State Constructions, Retirement, Small Business, Strategic Development, Veterans’ Affairs, Economic Development Legislative Services.

Related Resources:

The State of Rhode Island General Assembly website

General Assembly Meetings Agendas

Found in 340 Collections and/or Records:

First Newport printing by Solomon Southwick facsimile, 1776

 Item — Declaration of Independence, first RI printing, town of West Greenwich, July 1776
Scope and Contents American independence was far from inevitable in the summer of 1776. On June 7, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution for independence to the Second Continental Congress. The resolution was composed as a reaction to the years of British imposition on the American colonies; in recent years, numerous laws had limited colonists' ability to influence their own government. Resistance to many of these acts led King George III to declare his North American subjects to be in a state...
Dates: 1776

First Report to the General Assembly of the Rhode Island Task Force on Teenage Suicide Prevention, 1986

 Item — Folder 37 First Report ...of the ..Task Force on Teenage Suicide prevention 1986
Identifier: 1636-558

Floor Amendments Approved June 6,7,8, and 9, 1994 by the House of Representatives in Acting Upon 94-H9326 Substitute A

 Item — Folder 57. Floor Amendments Approved June 6,7,8, and 9, 1994 by the House of Representatives in Acting Upon 94-H9326 Substitute A, 1995
Identifier: 1636-240
Scope and Contents

Floor Amendments Approved June 6, 7, 8 and 9, 1994 by the House of Representatives in Acting Upon 94-H-9326 Substitute A An Act Making Appropriations for the Support of the State for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1995.

Dates: 1994

General Assembly attendance records

 Sub-Series — Box General Assembly attendance records, 1902-1934
Identifier: C#00119

Function: To record attendance of members of the House and Senate. Contents: Names of legislators, dates of sessions, legislators attendance.
Senate, 1902-1934
House, 1909-1918
Senate volume also contains a stack of milage affidavits for the Senators.

Dates: 1902-1934

General Assembly correspondence

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C#01304
Scope and Contents

Communications received from various colonial, state, federal or military officials, municipalities, individual citizens, religious groups or organizations as relating constitutional issues, boundaries, pending legislation, revenue & tarrifs, resignations or commission acceptences, lotteries or other matters of national or local importance.

Dates: 1720-1868

General Assembly correspondence received, 1720-1868

Identifier: C#01304
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Communications received from various colonial, state, federal or military officials, municipalities, individual citizens, religious groups or organizations as relating constitutional issues, boundaries, pending legislation, revenue & tarrifs, resignations or commission acceptences, lotteries or other matters of national or local importance.

Dates: 1720-1868

General Assembly Dockets and Lists, 1820-1884

 File — Folder Senate Docket (1884) and Senate List of Members (1860), folder 9
Identifier: 1636-255
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: Records received or reviewed during legislative sessions as submitted by members of the general assembly, federal, state or local officials, agencies & departments, civil, business or religious groups, private citizens or foreign governments. Includes proposed acts & resolutions, petition requests, memorials, annual reports of boards and commissions, official correspondence and communications received, committee appointments, transcripts of testimony, accounts & expenditures,...
Dates: Majority of material found in 1820-1884

General Assembly Legislation as Introduced

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 1995-186-2021-15
Scope and Contents

Annual numerical sequence of bills submitted by both houses of the Rhode Island legislature (text only). No supporting documentation, annotations or committee stamps.

Dates: 1899-2002

General Assembly Masonry and Anti-Masonry records

 Series — Volume General Assembly Masonry and Anti-Masonry records, 1833-1834
Identifier: C#00195

General Assembly newspaper clippings scrapbooks

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C#00312-C#00313

The General Assembly Proceedings scrapbooks include volumes containing clippings from local newspapers pasted in chronological order in scrapbooks. Articles describe proceedings of the General Assembly as well as other news relative to the General Assembly, or its members.

Dates: 1878-1893, 1895-1932

General Assembly publications

Identifier: 1636-1125

General Assembly Reapportionment (and Redistricting) Commission records

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 2002-54-C#01858

The Rhode Island General Assembly Reapportionment and Redistricting records consist of the records of the General Assembly’s Reapportionment Commission (2001) including official maps, transcripts, videocassettes of Commission proceedings and the records of Elmer E. Cornwall (House Parliamentarian (1977-2002) and was the House of Representatives' chief expert on Constitutional Conventions; Reapportionment and Municipal Home Rule Charters.

Dates: 1883-2002; Majority of material found within 1990-2002

General Assembly Records at the Rhode Island State Archives list

 Digital Work
Identifier: d4464bd2-ca8c-4b63-9c3d-4ff7b37a39dd

General Assembly reports

Identifier: 1636-610

General Assembly Session Records 1856-1990

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C#00078-C#00264-1998-95-2018-20

Records received or reviewed by the General Assembly during sessions engaged. Includes reports, petitons and published reports.

Dates: 1856-1989

General Assembly tax lists

 Series — Box General Assembly tax lists, 1762, 1769
Identifier: C#00218-C#00219
Abstract New Shoreham tax list: Function: To record the tax valuation of real and personal property of the residents of New Shoreham. Contents: Tax list includes following info: names of men whose property is rateable, poles not ratable, dwelling house, work houses and other buildings, grist mills, servants for life between ages of 14 and 45,tons of vessels upwards of ten tons, amount of all persons trading stock, money at interest, horses and mares from 2 to 4 years, horses and mares 4 years and up,...
Dates: March 23, 1762, February 28, 1769

General Laws and Public Statutes Annotated, 1857-1956

 Sub-Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C#00579
Scope and Contents From the Series: Public law & general statute codifications (1719 - 1956) & contemporary publications of General Assembly session proceedings (1764+) detailing enactments of the legislature as found in manuscript series Rhode Island Colony Records; Acts & Resolutions & Private Acts / Charters. Latter initially bound as “schedules." with subsequent volumes containing reports submitted by various boards, commissions & government agencies as mandated. Commencing in the late 19th century...
Dates: 1857-1956

Governor and Council

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C#00558

"Book of Records Containing the Acts and Orders made By the Governor and Councill Both General & Perticular Since the First of May 1667"

Dates: 1652-1813

Grand Committee Accounts and Receipts, 1755-1803

 Sub-Series — Box Grand Committee Accounts and Receipts, C#01223
Identifier: C#01223

Grand Committee Bonds - Thomas Rumreill in Account with George R. Burrill, 1787-1803

 Sub-Series — Box Grand Committee Bonds - Thomas Rumreill in Account with George R. Burrill - 1787-1803, C#01222
Identifier: C#01222

Grand Committee records

Identifier: C#01222-C#01223

Gyles transcription (Colonial Record transcripts)

 Series — Volume Gyles transcription (Colonial Record transcripts)
Identifier: C#00207

The 1824 Gyles copy of the Rhode Island Colony Records consists of one volume of records that were copied by Charles Gyles and others from original colonial records.

Dates: 1824-1835

House and Senate Committee records

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 2013-05-2015-16-2021-05-2021-07

Committee records and failed legislation as transferred from established committees (Judiciary, Corporations, Labor, Health Education and Welfare, etc.) for the prior two (2) year legislative session.

Dates: 1826-2020

House and Senate journals

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C#00244-C#00245-2017-17-2019-16

Journals of the Rhode Island Legislature

Dates: 1728-2021

House Bay Trust Study Commission report

 Item — Folder 35. House Bay Trust Study Commission report
Identifier: 2013-05h

This series consists of the final report of the House Bay Trust Study Commission.

Dates: 2004