Thomas Wilson Dorr was leader of the popular movement for universal manhood suffrage, and was at the forefront of a campaign to establish a new, fairer state constitution. In April 1842, he was elected Governor of the State of Rhode Island through the People's Constitution.
However, Dorr and his reformers were resisted by a "Law and Order" group, who returned incumbent Governor Samuel Ward King to office in a separate election and then used force and intimidation to prevent the implementation of the new constitution. Dorr and his followers responded by attempting to seize the state arsenal in Providence, but was unsuccessful. Most of his followers deserted the cause and Dorr fled into exile.
In late June, Dorr returned to reconvene his so-called People's Legislature in Chepachet. However, a Law and Order army of 2500 soldiers marched to Glocester and sent the People's Governor into exile a second time. King declared martial law, many Dorrites were arrested, and the leader himself was indicted for high treason. He eventually served one year at hard labor until he was pardoned and cleared of all charges.
The Pettingill-Mason House played a role in that military clash in Chepachet. Recently restored through the efforts of the Glocester Heritage Society, the house is now used by the Glocester Heritage Society as a museum to commemorate the Dorr Rebellion – the forerunner of the enfranchisement movement that has made America the model of a representative democracy for the world.
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