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The Dorr Letters Project

Thomas Wilson Dorr to Walter Snow Burges:
Electronic Transcription


In this letter to Providence attorney Walter S. Burges, Thomas Dorr repeats many of the things he mentioned in his letter to Aaron White, Jr. (see previous letter of the same date). However, there are several important points that Dorr brings up in his letter to Burges that he omitted in his letter to White. Most significantly, Dorr outlines the growing controversy and threat his ideology on the people's sovereignty posed to the institution of slavery. Dorr also informs Burges that he has received verbal commitments of military aid if federal troops are sent to Rhode Island.


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New York, May 12th, 1842
WalterS.Burges, Esq.
My Dear Sir,

I wrote to Bradford Allen from Washington
on Tuesday last; but by an unlucky oversight, the letter did not get into the
mail of that day, and is sent by the boat of this afternoon to Providence.
I left Washington on Wednesday morning. I am sure you will not attribute my silence toward yourself to any
other than the true cause. I have traveled to and from Washington at
the speed of the mail; and ‸I spent only two days there, which were fully oc-
cupied within interviews with friends. The democrats in Congress and some
of the Whigs are with us; and, after a full discussion, in which our case could
be fairly brought forward, we should stand a tolerable chance in both
Houses. Some of the Southern members (for instance Cuthbert of the Senate) are
with the People of Rhode Island, but not with all People in asserting a
principle, which might be construed to take in the southern blacks and to
aid the abolitionists. The only fear at W[ashington] is that we may not carry
our movement through, a fear, which in some members amounts to distrust.
The President will support the old Charter government by his own forces upon
a failure of the civil posse to enforce the laws upon us. This is what he is
committed to by his letters. But he stands in awe of public opinion, as
it has been so unequivocally manifested in oththis city, and in other places.
So does Mr. Webster, who is very anxious for a peaceful settlement of the present
difficulties. I am able to assure you, and our friends that the first move-
ment of a government soldier upon our territory against the People will
be a signal for the same movement from this city in favor of the People. I
am anxiously engaged in arranging this matter, so as to say definitely what
force we may expect. My reception here has been most cordial. Allow me

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to say to you, my good friend, Whig as you are, that there is a
great heart in the democracy. Who sympathizes with us on this occasion
and promises us their aid? The great bulk of them are democrats, who can
gain nothing from any encouragement which they may hold out to us.
God bless our friends of all kinds. Without them the small state of Rhode Island
could do but little against the General Government. With them it can main-
tain itself successfully.

The determination of the People, not to see us put down
by the General Government has inspired them with doubt and misgivings.
Mr. Webster has requested an interview with men of both sides tomorrow in
this city. Mr. Pearce and myself remain to see what he means. I have
not much expectation that muchanything will come of it. The interposition of Connecticut
is of a more promising character.

The Algerine commissioners have succeeded in convincing the
President of the extremely liberal views of the old Charter Party; and he
speaks of the certainty of their doing every thing right! When told that his
letter to King has done the greatest injury by strengthening the Algerines in their
hostility against the People, he is incredulous. All that he has written has
been obtained by ‸their promising that all the demands of the People should be complied
with, the Algerine law repealed, etc. When the rogues get home they will
suppress the conditions on which Tyler made his promises. No man speaks more
severely of the Algerine law, & by that name, than the President. He has
too much confidence in the old Charter men because they have had the
boldness to persuade him that they are the Tyler party in Rhode Island.

Waving all ceremony, and without any absolution as an "insurgent,"
I called on Mr. Tyler because my friends in P.Providence were extremely anxious on this
point. He received me in a very affable manner. He is a very pleasant
and apparently kind hearted man, & very open and communicative. But he
wants a head for his place. There is a very apparent effort on his part to fill it

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neither the People, nor any other short of divine power can make a great man
of him. He has no fixed principles and cannot be relied upon. He seemed to
incline towards the People's side!; and I can easily see how Dr. Brown
was deceived in the manner that he was. If the same steps had been taken
by us early, that were taken by our opponents, the President's course might have
been altered. Nothing can alter him now but the operation of public
opinion (to which he is very sensitive, deeming himself a popular man) on his
fear. This process is now going on well.

I have more than once regretted that I left Providence on this
mission, when I have seen the statement of motives imputed to me by enemies.
My friends know me too well to be deceived; and I shall make myself
succinctly understood in a day or two by the Algerines.

I do not intend to be arrested on my return; nor will I
allow any other person to be, if I can prevent it by military force. I supposed
my further defiance of the Algerine law will disgrace us in the eyes of our

Having other letters to write, I am obliged to stop here. If any
good have been done by my visit, it is in the way of personal application
for military aid here and in Philadelphia. If any good result should
follow from the interview tomorrow with Mr. Webster you will be soon advised
of it.

I am with most friendly regard, Yours truly, T. W. Dorr


Why does Dorr regret leaving Providence? Why does he believe that Dr. John Brown, president of the Rhode Island Suffrage Association, was duped by President Tyler? Why would white southerners be fearful of Dorr's ideology?