Constitution of Vermont (Vermont Republic)

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Vellum manuscript of the Constitution of Vermont, 1777. This constitution was amended in 1786, and again in 1793 following Vermont's admission to the federal union in 1791.
The Old Constitution House in Windsor, Vermont, where the constitution of the Vermont Republic was signed.

The Constitution of Vermont was Vermont's constitution when it existed as the independent Vermont Republic or, more correctly, the Commonwealth of Vermont, from 1777 to 1791. The official title of the document was simply the Constitution of Vermont. The constitution was adopted in 1777 when Vermont declared independence from the British Empire. In 1791 Vermont became the fourteenth US state and in 1793 it adopted its current constitution, the Constitution of the State of Vermont. The 1777 constitution was the first in what is now the territory of the United States to partially prohibit slavery,[1][2] grant suffrage to non-landowning males, and establish free public education.

The constitution was adopted on July 8, 1777, at the tavern in Windsor now known as the Old Constitution House and administered as a state historic site. The constitution consisted of three main parts. The first was a preamble reminiscent of the United States Declaration of Independence:

It is absolutely necessary, for the welfare and safety of the inhabitants of this State, that it should be, henceforth, a free and independent State; and that a just, permanent, and proper form of government, should exist in it, derived from, and founded on, the authority of the people only, agreeable to the direction of the honorable American Congress.

(Here the term "American Congress" refers to the Continental Congress, not the United States Congress, which had not yet been established.)

The second part of the 1777 constitution was Chapter 1, a "Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Vermont." This chapter was composed of 19 articles guaranteeing various civil and political rights in Vermont:

  • The first article declared that "all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety," echoing the famous phrases in the Declaration of Independence that declared that "all men are created equal" and possess "inalienable rights," including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The article went on to declare that because of these principles, "no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one Years, nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent." While this was the first such partial ban on slavery in the New World, it was not strongly enforced[3] and slavery in the state persisted for at least another sixty years.[4]
  • The second article declared that "private property ought to be subservient to public uses, when necessity requires it; nevertheless, whenever any particular man's property is taken for the use of the public, the owner ought to receive an equivalent in money." This established the basic principles of eminent domain in Vermont.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • [1] The Vermont State Archives text of the Vermont Republic constitution
  • [2] The Vermont State Archives text of the 1786 constitution
  • [3] The Vermont State Archives text of the 1793 constitution
  • [4] Visit the birthplace of Vermont and its constitution
  • [5] See the original constitution manuscript

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Vermont Constitution of 1777". Chapter I, Section I: State of Vermont. Retrieved 12 February 2014. "Therefore, no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave, or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one years; nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent, after they arrive to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like." 
  2. ^ Lee Ann, Cox. "UVM historian examines Vermont’s mixed history of slavery and abolition". University of Vermont. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Lee Ann, Cox. "UVM historian examines Vermont’s mixed history of slavery and abolition". University of Vermont. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  4. ^ J.L, Bell. "How Long Did Slavery Linger in Vermont?". The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777–1810. Retrieved 12 February 2014. "And nearly 60 years after the supposed abolition of slavery in Vermont, Ethan Allen’s daughter, Lucy Caroline Hitchcock [1768–1842], returned to Burlington from Alabama in possession of two slaves—a mother and child. Hitchcock continued to enslave this pair for six years in the Queen City."