Celebrating the Birth of Vermont
Vermont was admitted to the union on March 4th, 1791. We celebrate this day as the birth of Vermont, but the Vermont Republic was formed in 1777, long before Thomas Jefferson signed the act that created the state of Vermont. Read Vermont’s original constitution and follow the road to statehood.
Thomas Chittenden served as Vermont’s first governor, and spoke on his role in Vermont’s government in the years leading up to statehood. You can find the transcripts of his surviving speeches, as well as the inaugural and farewell addresses of all of Vermont’s governors.
Beginning as early as 1779, the United States Congress issued a series of resolutions concerning Vermont and what would be required to join the union. As the debate between Vermont and the federal government grew more heated, George Washington feared Congress would order troops into Vermont. Washington’s letter to Joseph Jones, a representative from Virginia and close friend, argues against armed intervention in Vermont.
“The country is very mountainous,” Washington writes, “full of defiles, and extremely strong. The inhabitants, for the most part, are a hardy race, composed of that kind of people who are best calculated for soldiers; in truth, who are soldiers; for many, many hundreds of them are deserters from this army, who, having acquired property there, would be desperate in the defense of it, well knowing that they are fighting with halters around their necks.”
Mary Greene Nye, Editor of State Papers from 1927 through 1950, painstakingly reviewed many early Vermont records. Her work produced an index that can be searched by name or subject. Called the Nye Index, this resource is now online and allows researchers to identify records related to the earliest Vermonters.
One of the record series included in the Nye Index is known as the Stevens Collection. Many early Vermont records were lost when the State House was destroyed by fire in 1857. Henry Stevens, Sr.. made it his life’s work to rescue and recompile as many lost records as he could, and these records are now held at the Vermont State Archives. For information on this fascinating collection, view the finding aid.
But the State Archives is not just a repository for 18th and 19th century records. Vermont celebrated its bicentennial of statehood in 1991, and the records of the Vermont Statehood Bicentennial Commission are now in the State Archives. The records document Vermont’s celebration of this milestone – fireworks, music, a play, a postage stamp, a license plate, and a huge range of commemorative products from baseball bats to beer were commissioned for the occasion.
The bicentennial created a good opportunity to reflect on what statehood means for Vermont. The Commission hosted a series of debates on the question of whether or not Vermont should secede from the union. A myth long persisted in Vermont that the state had a clause in its constitution allowing it to take up the question of secession every two hundred years. This was never true, but the Commission took advantage of this story to bring issues of state government to the public. A series of debates throughout the state, moderated by then Lieutenant-Governor Howard Dean, wrestled with questions of statehood. At the end of each debate, the audience would vote on the question. In 1990, Vermonters voted in favor of secession at these debates, 999-608.
The 225th anniversary of Vermont’s entry into the Union allows us to look back on Vermont’s fourteen-year road to statehood, to consider the historical implications of having become the fourteenth state, and to contemplate how that informs present-day Vermont and its citizens.