The British writer Anthony Trollope, born in 1815, wrote over forty novels plus various nonfictional accounts, including a two-volume North America, published in 1862 and based on a nine months’ sojourn here. In 1823, his mother, Frances Trollope, wrote a controversial but popular dishing of the United States called Domestic Manners of the Americans. Her son’s own book, whatever its merits, features this curious passage on Rhode Island:
Rhode Island, as the State is usually called, is the smallest State in the Union. I may perhaps best show its disparity to other States by saying that New York extends about 250 miles from north to south and the same distance from east to west; whereas the State called Rhode Island is about forty miles long by twenty broad, independently of certain small islands. It would, in fact, not form a considerable addition, if added on to many of the other States. Nevertheless, it has all the same powers of self-government as are possessed by such nationalities as the States of New York and Pennsylvania; and sends two senators to the Senate at Washington, as do those enormous States. Small as the State is, Rhode Island itself forms but a small portion [of its name]. The authorized and proper name of the State is Providence Plantation and Rhode Island [sic]. Roger Williams was the first founder of the colony, and he established himself on the mainland at a spot which he called Providence. Here now stands the city of Providence, the chief town of the State; and a thriving, comfortable town it seems to be, full of banks, fed by railways and steamers, and going ahead quite as quickly as Roger Williams could in his fondest hopes have desired.
Rhode Island, as I have said, has all the attributes of government in common with her stouter and more famous sisters. She has a governor, and an upper house, and a lower house of legislature; and she is somewhat fantastic in the use of these constitutional powers, for she calls on them to sit now in one town and now in another. Providence is the capital of the State; but the Rhode Island parliament sits sometimes at Providence and sometimes at Newport. At stated times also it has to collect itself at Bristol, and at other stated times at Kingston, and at others at East Greenwich. Of all legislative assemblies it is the most peripatetic. Universal suffrage does not absolutely prevail in this State, a certain property qualification being necessary to confer a right to vote even for the State Representatives. I should think it would be well for all parties if the whole State could be swallowed up by Massa- chusetts or by Connecticut, either of which lie convenient for the feat; but I presume that any suggestion of such a nature would be regarded as treason by the men of Providence Plantation.
I trust that my former editor Bob Whitcomb will enjoy this. Submerging Rhode Island in either of its two neighbors was an intermittent proposal of his, often in the councils of the editorial board of the Providence Journal, and occasionally even in his published editorials and opeds. To my recol- lection he was never chastized for his treasonable apostasy by voices either on the inside or the outside of 75 Fountain St.
In colonial times, however, the colony was indeed targeted for elimination by a combination of Connecticut, Plymouth, New Haven and Massachusetts Bay called the United Colonies of New England. No action was ever taken. (The colony and state have been named Rhode Island and Providence Plantations since 1644.)