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The breaker in Rhode Island
The breaker in Rhode Island

After the war there was considerable opposition in Rhode Island to the formation of a strong federal union of the states. Farmers wanted to retain local autonomy and preserve states’ rights, and they favored cheap paper currency to pay their debts. They feared a strong federal government would be controlled by Federalists, who would insist on debts being paid in hard money—that is, currency backed by gold reserves. In addition, the state’s large and influential Quaker community opposed compromises on slavery contained in the Constitution of the United States when it was drafted. Rhode Island did not send delegates to the constitutional convention in 1787, and there was widespread opposition in the state to ratifying the Constitution. Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 states to ratify the Constitution and did so with the narrowest margin, a vote of 34 to 32 on May 29, 1790.

Beginning in the late 18th century, an industrial revolution occurred in Rhode Island. In 1790 Samuel Slater, a recent immigrant from Britain, reproduced machinery in Pawtucket for spinning cotton. With the financial backing of Moses Brown, a Providence businessman, Slater set up the first cotton-spinning plant in the United States. This began what was to become Rhode Island’s most important industry, textiles.

In the decades that followed, the textile industry grew rapidly, spurred by new inventions and by national political and economic developments. After 1799 wars in Europe made it difficult for Americans to obtain manufactured goods from abroad, increasing demand for goods manufactured in the United States.

Demand also grew with restrictions on foreign trade under the Embargo Act of 1807 and during the War of 1812 (1812-1815). Merchants were encouraged to transfer their capital from commerce to industry. Several decades later the great expansion of railroad transportation in the eastern United States broadened Rhode Island’s domestic market and gave the state’s manufacturers access to distant coalfields, ending their almost total reliance on waterpower.

Encouraged by these developments, the number of cotton mills in the state increased from about 20 in 1809 to about 135 mills in 1860. Rhode Island’s population more than doubled, from about 75,000 to 175,000, and shifted from rural areas to small villages. Less than one-fourth of Rhode Islanders lived in urban areas in 1809; by 1860, two-thirds were urban dwellers. Drawn by jobs in the cotton mills and other industries, Rhode Island farmers and thousands of foreign immigrants, particularly British and Irish, flocked to the industrial centers.

The growth of the cotton-spinning and weaving industry was the most important economic development in Rhode Island before the Civil War (1861-1865). Other notable industries included cotton printing and dyeing and the manufacture of woolens, jewelry, silverware, and textile machinery. "Rhode Island" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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