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Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods.

January 15, 2009


1777American Revolutionary War: New Connecticut (present day Vermont) declares its independence.

Flag                  Coat of arms

The term Vermont Republic has been used by 20th and 21st century writers to describe the period of the U.S. state of Vermont from July 1777, when delegates met and declared independence from jurisdictions and land claims of British colonies in New Hampshire and New York, until its admission to the United States in 1791 as the fourteenth state.

Vermont coin with the passage VERMONTIS. RES. PUBLICA. on the obverse, and the motto STELLA QUARTA DECIMA on the reverse

While an independent state, Vermont assumed many of the functions of a nation, including issuing currency called Vermont coppers from a mint operated by Reuben Harmon in East Rupert (1785-1788),  and operating a postal system. While the Vermont coppers stated “Vermontis. Res. Publica” (Latin for Republic of Vermont), the state’s constitution and other official documents used the term “State of Vermont”. It referred to its chief executive as a “governor.”

Further, the Vermont Republic is sometimes referred to as a “reluctant republic” because many early citizens favored political union with the United States. Both popular opinion and the legal construction of the government were clear that the independent State of Vermont would eventually join the other thirteen colonies. The largest obstacle to Vermont joining its peers was New York. 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’s interests.) However, Madison’s Notes on the Federal Convention of 1789 make clear that there was an agreement by New York to allow for the admission of Vermont to the union, it was just a question of execution of the process which was delayed by larger federal questions. Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution was designed with Vermont in mind. Note that the members of the Convention of 1789 assumed that Vermont was not yet separate from New York.


In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War, giving the area to the British. Parts of the region were controlled by the Province of New York and the Province of New Hampshire, with overlap due to controversy surrounding the New Hampshire Grants, and George III’s decision to make that part of New York.


Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” became the militia, and fought against the British, particularly those associated with the crown colony of New York, and on January 15, 1777 the rebels declared the region independent as the Republic of New Connecticut, although it was sometimes known colloquially as the Republic of the Green Mountains. On July 8 of that same year, the name of the fledgling nation was officially changed to Vermont (from the French for Green Mountains, les Monts Verts) upon the suggestion of Dr. Thomas Young, a Boston Tea Party leader and mentor for Ethan Allen.

John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem The Song of the Vermonters, 1779 describes the period in ballad form. First published anonymously, the last stanza’s similarities with some of Ethan Allen’s prose caused the text 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!

Constitution and frame of government

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. This constitution was modeled after the radically democratic Pennsylvania one on the suggestion of Dr. Young, who worked with Thomas Paine and others on that 1776 document in Philadelphia. It was also the first constitution in the New World to outlaw slavery and allow all adult males to vote, regardless of property ownership. During the Vermont Republic, sometimes referred to as “the first republic”, a veiled suggestion of future independence, 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 unicameral General Assembly, appointed ambassadors to France, the Netherlands, and the American government seated in Philadelphia. There is no evidence of a true exchange of ambassadors.

It took 15 years for New York and Vermont to negotiate a indemnity of several million dollars to be paid to New York to relinquish their claim to Vermont and thereby gain their support for Vermont to be admitted to the union. In the meantime, a group led by Ethan Allen participated in secret discussions to join Canada known as the Haldimand Negotiations.

Symbolism of fourteen

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 inscription STELLA QUARTA DECIMA translating from Latin to English as the fourteenth star, presumably fourteen following the original thirteen U.S. states. And the Great Seal of Vermont, designed by Ira Allen, centrally features a fourteen branched pine tree. Today the use of fourteen by early Vermonters might seem to come from the present number of counties (14), but before statehood Vermont never exceeded ten counties.


Vermont’s independent status held until 1791, when Vermont joined the Union, in part as a non-slaveholding counterweight to the slaveholding Kentucky. The admission of Vermont was supported by the North, the smaller states, and states concerned about the impact of the sea-to-sea grants held by other states. 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 1777 Vermont republic constitution, for example, retaining many original ideas, as noted above, and keeping the separation of powers. It remains in force with several amendments


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