Republic of New Connecticut
Republic of the Green Mountains
Location of the Vermont Republic (green) in 1790
|Capital||Windsor, then Castleton|
|Common languages||English, French, Abenaki|
|Legislature||House of Representatives of the Freemen of Vermont|
|Historical era||American Revolution|
|January 15, 1777|
• Admitted to Union
|March 4, 1791|
The government of Vermont from 1777 to 1791 has been called the Vermont Republic since the 20th century. In January 1777, delegates from 28 towns met and declared independence from the jurisdictions and land claims of the British colony of Quebec, and from the American states of New Hampshire and New York. They called this territory "New Connecticut" (see Connecticut River) and sometimes referred to it by the name of the Green Mountains. The delegates also abolished adult slavery within their republic. Many Vermonters took part in the American Revolution, even though the Continental Congress did not recognize the jurisdiction's independence. Because of objections from New York, which had conflicting property claims, the Continental Congress declined to recognize Vermont, then sometimes also known as the New Hampshire Grants. Vermont's overtures to join the Province of Quebec were accepted by the British, offering generous terms for the Republic's reunion. When the main British army surrendered in 1781, however, American independence became apparent. Vermont, now bordered on three sides by American territory, rejected the British claims and instead negotiated terms to enter the United States. 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 of Vermont"), 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 variously: the third paragraph of the preamble, for example, mentions "the State of Vermont", and in the preamble's last paragraph, the constitution refers to itself as "the Constitution of the Commonwealth".
The historian Frederic F. van de Water called the Vermont Republic the "reluctant republic" because many early citizens favored political union with the United States rather than full 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, Vermont engaged William Samuel Johnson, representing Connecticut, to promote its interests. In 1785 the Vermont General Assembly granted Johnson title to the former King's College Tract as a form of compensation for representing Vermont.
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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 farther 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 against 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 member of the Sons of Liberty and 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!
On August 19, 1781, the Confederation Congress of the United States passed an act saying it would recognize the secessionist state of Vermont and agreed to admit that state to the Union if Vermont would renounce its claims to territory east of the Connecticut River and west of Lake Champlain.
The Constitution of Vermont was drafted and ratified at Elijah West's Windsor Tavern in 1777. 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.
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 engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the United States, the Netherlands, and France.
After a British regiment and allied Mohawks attacked and terrorized Vermont settlers, in the 1780 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 that a group of commissioners representing New York and a similar group representing Vermont could agree on the boundary. Vermont's negotiators insisted on also settling the real-estate disputes rather than leaving those to be decided later by a federal court. 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 of 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.