Freedom and Unity on Great Seal
Stella quarta decima on Vermont coinage
in English "the fourteenth star"
|Capital||Windsor, then Castleton|
|Legislature||House of Representatives of the Freemen of Vermont|
|Historical era||American Revolution|
|•||Independence||January 15, 1777|
|•||Admitted to Union||March 4, 1791|
The term Vermont Republic has been used by later historians for the government of Vermont that existed from 1777 to 1791. In January 1777, delegates from 28 towns met and declared independence from jurisdictions and land claims of both the British colony of Quebec and the American states of New Hampshire and New York. They also abolished adult slavery within their boundaries. Many people in Vermont took part in the American Revolution, although the Continental Congress did not recognize the jurisdiction. Because of vehement objections from New York, which had conflicting property claims, the Continental Congress declined to recognize Vermont, then called the New Hampshire Grants. Vermont's overtures to join the British Province of Quebec failed. In 1791, Vermont officially joined the United States as the 14th state.
Vermont coined a currency called Vermont coppers from a mint operated by Reuben Harmon in East Rupert (1785–1788), and operated a postal system. While the Vermont coppers bore the legend Vermontis. Res. Publica (Latin for republic or state), the constitution and other official documents used the term "State of Vermont". It referred to its chief executive as a "governor". The 1777 constitution refers to Vermont both as "the State of Vermont", as in the third paragraph of the preamble, and in the preamble's last paragraph, the constitution refers to itself as "the Constitution of the Commonwealth".
The Vermont Republic was called the "reluctant republic" because many early citizens favored political union with the United States rather than independence. Both popular opinion and the legal construction of the government made clear that the independent State of Vermont would eventually join the original 13 states. While the Continental Congress did not allow a seat for Vermont, William Samuel Johnson, representing Connecticut, was engaged by Vermont to promote its interests. In 1785, Johnson was granted title to the former King's College Tract by the Vermont General Assembly as a form of compensation for representing Vermont. The members of the Convention of 1787 assumed that Vermont was not yet separate from New York; however, James Madison's notes on the Federal Convention of 1787 make clear that there was an agreement by New York to allow for the admission of Vermont to the union as a separate state; it was just a question of process, which was delayed by larger federal questions.
After 1724, the Province of Massachusetts Bay built Fort Dummer near Brattleboro, as well as three other forts along the northern portion of the Connecticut River to protect against raids by Native Americans further south into Western Massachusetts. After 1749, Benning Wentworth, the Royal Governor of New Hampshire, granted land to anyone in a land granting scheme designed to enrich himself and his family. After 1763, settlement increased due to easing security concerns after the end of the French and Indian Wars. The Province of New York had made grants of land, often in areas overlapping similar grants made by the Province of New Hampshire; this issue had to be resolved by the King in 1764, who granted the land to New York, but the area was popularly known as the New Hampshire Grants. The "Green Mountain Boys", led by Ethan Allen, was a militia force from Vermont that supported the New Hampshire claims and fought the British during the American Revolution.
Following controversy between the holders of the New York grants and the New Hampshire grants, Ethan Allen and his militia of "Green Mountain Boys" suppressed Loyalists. On January 15, 1777, a convention of representatives from towns in the territory declared the region independent, choosing the name the Republic of New Connecticut (although it was sometimes known colloquially as the Republic of the Green Mountains). On June 2 of that year, the name of the fledgling nation was officially changed to "Vermont" (from the French, les Verts Monts, meaning the Green Mountains) upon the suggestion of Dr. Thomas Young, a Boston Tea Party leader and mentor to Ethan Allen.
John Greenleaf Whittier's poem The Song of the Vermonters, 1779 describes the period in ballad form. First published anonymously, the poem had characteristics in the last stanza that were similar to Ethan Allen's prose and caused it to be attributed to Allen for nearly 60 years. The last stanza reads:
Come York or come Hampshire, come traitors or knaves,
If ye rule o'er our land ye shall rule o'er our graves;
Our vow is recorded—our banner unfurled,
In the name of Vermont we defy all the world!
The Constitution of Vermont was drafted and ratified at Elijah West's Windsor Tavern in 1777, and was the first written constitution for an independent state in North America. The settlers in Vermont, who sought independence from New York, justified their constitution on the same basis as the first state constitutions of the former colonies: authority is derived from the people. As historian Christian Fritz notes in American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition before the Civil War:
They saw themselves as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York. Possessing an identifiable population or "a people" entitled them to the same constitutional rights of self-government as other "Peoples" in the American confederacy.
In addition to creating a new government for the original thirteen colonies, the claims for Vermont's independence raised the question of creating state governments. At the same time as they struggled for independence from Great Britain, Americans had to confront just how that formation should take place and who constituted "the people".
The Vermont constitution was modeled after the radically democratic constitution of Pennsylvania on the suggestion of Dr. Young, who worked with Thomas Paine and others on that 1776 document in Philadelphia.
During the time of the Vermont Republic, the government issued its own coinage and currency, and operated a postal service. The governor of Vermont, Thomas Chittenden, with consent of his council and the General Assembly, appointed commissioners to the American government seated in Philadelphia. Vermont exchanged ambassadors with the United States, the Netherlands, and France.
After a British regiment and allied Mohawks attacked and terrorized Vermont settlers, in the Royalton Raid, Ethan Allen led a group of Vermont politicians in secret discussions with Frederick Haldimand, the Governor General of the Province of Quebec, about rejoining the British Empire.
Much of the symbolism associated with Vermont in this period expressed a desire for political union with the United States. Vermont's coins minted in 1785 and 1786 bore the Latin inscription "STELLA QUARTA DECIMA (meaning "the fourteenth star"). The Great Seal of Vermont, designed by Ira Allen, centrally features a 14-branched pine tree.
On March 6, 1790, the legislature of New York consented to Vermont statehood provided a group of commissioners representing New York and a similar group representing Vermont could agree on a settlement of numerous conflicting claims to real estate. On October 7, the commissioners proclaimed the negotiations successfully concluded with an agreement that Vermont would pay $30,000 to New York to be distributed among New Yorkers who claimed land in Vermont under New York land patents. The Vermont General Assembly then authorized a convention to consider an application for admittance to the "Union of the United States of America". The convention met at Bennington, on January 6, 1791. On January 10, 1791 the convention approved a resolution to make an application to join the United States by a vote of 105 to 2. Vermont was admitted to the Union by 1 Stat. 191 on March 4, 1791. Vermont's admission act is the shortest of all state admissions, and Vermont is "the only state admitted without conditions of any kind, either those prescribed by the congress or the state from which it was carved." March 4 is celebrated in Vermont as Vermont Day.
Vermont's admission to the Union in 1791 was in part as a free state counterweight to Kentucky, which joined as a slave state shortly after Vermont. The North, the smaller states, and states concerned about the impact of the sea-to-sea grants held by other states, all supported Vermont's admission. Thomas Chittenden served as governor for Vermont for most of this period, and became its first governor as a member-state in the United States.
The 1793 Vermont state constitution made relatively few changes to the 1786 Vermont state constitution, which had in turn succeeded the 1777 constitution. It retained many of its original ideas, as noted above, and kept the separation of powers. It remains in force with several amendments.