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Governor's executive orders

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 1997-14-2015-03

Scope and Contents

Record of orders issued by the governor as head of the executive branch of government having status or rule of law and not requiring action by the state legislature


  • 1937-2014

Conditions Governing Access

No special restrictions unless otherwise specified.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is in the public domain unless otherwise specified. We reserve the right to restrict reproduction of materials due to preservation concerns.

Biographical / Historical

The Governor is the head of the Executive Department of government and is the chief executive and administrator. The Governor retains all of the rights and duties prescribed for him in the original Rhode Island Constitution, and executes newer functions described in more recent iterations of the state’s Constitution. The Governor oversees that all laws are being executed and, today, has the power to appoint certain board executives and members, as well as some members of the judiciary. The Governor has general veto power and the power to grant reprieves. The heads of the departments of government serve at the pleasure of the Governor and the Governor is the symbolic and actual leader of the Rhode Island Government. The Governor is also the captain general and commander-in-chief of the state’s military and naval forces, and submits to the general assembly a legislative and fiscal program for the operation and advancement of the state.
The history and development of the Office of the Governor is fairly straightforward. Upon the founding of the colony, the original settlers formed an agreement amongst themselves consenting to act according to rules agreed upon by all of the colonists. While this agreement was able to act as a form of government when the colony was small, as the colony grew it became clear that a more organized, centralized form of government would be necessary. Although the colony received its first Royal Charter in 1644, it did not formulate a government system until 1647. The general assembly met in 1647 and produced a set of Acts and Orders, which formed the basis of the first formal explanation of Rhode Island’s colonial government. Within these Acts and Orders was the appointment of a President of the colony, the predecessor to the office of the Governor of the colony. The President of the colony headed the colony’s government, along with assistants representing the colony’s various towns. Although the President enjoyed a certain degree of power, he did not have the rights and responsibilities later conferred on the Governor.
There continued to be a President of the colony until the 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 and this position has remained until today, the duties and powers of the Governor under the charter were much fewer than under the current Rhode Island Constitution. 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 had certain powers because of his position, but did not have the ability to control the direction of the state as the General Assembly did. In fact, 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 power in the federal government. The Governor, although the symbolic figurehead of the state, did not exercise the legislative powers that should have been his 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 and gave it to the governor, in order to ensure a separation of powers. The amendment gave to the Governor the power to appoint the heads and members of many commissions and boards, and to appoint members of the judiciary, thus finally giving the Governor the degree of power that the office deserved and required.
The other major change in the Office of the Governor occurred in 1994, when the term of office went from two (2) years to four (4) years. This meant that the Governor had more time in office to focus on governing and working on bettering the state without worrying about campaigning for the next election. One way in which the Governor of Rhode Island continues to be less powerful than the Governors of some other states is that the Governor only has general veto power, as opposed to item veto power. This means that the Governor can either veto an entire bill or sign an entire bill into law. Governors of some other states have the power to veto only certain parts of bills, thereby allowing more legislation to be signed into law and giving a more razor thin control over legislation to the Governor.


3.50 Cubic Feet (79 folders)

Language of Materials



Chronological and by assigned order number

Rhode Island Digital Archives


There are regular accruals to this series. There have been the following accruals to this series: 1997-109; 2003-09; 2010-36; 2015-03

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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Rhode Island State Archives Repository

33 Broad Street
Providence RI 02903 USA