The Dorr Rebellion
The Dorr Rebellion role-play explores the battle to rewrite Rhode Island's Constitution. It asks: How do you reform the government? How do you balance power between rural and urban areas? Who should have the right to vote?
In 1841, Rhode Island was still operating under its colonial charter, which gave more power to rural areas than growing urban areas like Providence. A group of reformers in Rhode Island, led by Thomas Dorr, tried to rewrite the state's constitution to broaden representation to include more urban, immigrant laborers. While the struggle eventually led to armed rebellion, it also led to sweeping constitutional reforms.
In this VOXPOP, students take on the roles of Aristocrats, Farmers, African-Americans, Reformers and Laborers, all struggling to define how power should be distributed in Rhode Island. After being introduced to the situation, students work with other members of their group to define their values.
Students then debate and vote on three key issues:
Suffrage - Who should have the right to vote in Rhode Island?
Legislature - How should we distribute power across the state?
Constitution - Who gets to write a state's constitution?
At the end of the VOXPOP, an epilogue video lays out what actually happened.
This VOXPOP was developed in partnership with the Rhode Island State House.
Students: 6 to 50
Running Time: 90 minutes (the role-play can be broken into multiple sessions)
Teacher Guide: Dorr Rebellion Teacher Walkthrough PDF
Rhode Island State House, Lane Sparkman
Testing & Evaluation
Marvin E. Gettleman, The Dorr Rebellion: A Study in American Radicalism, 1833-1849, Random House, 1973.
Erik J. Chaput, The People's Martyr: Thomas Wilson Dorr and his 1842 Rhode Island Rebellion, University Press of Kansas, 2013.
Rhode Island State House
Library of Congress
Providence College & Phillips Memorial Library
Brown University Portrait Collection