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To The Editor:
Vermont's Constitution written in 1777 was one year before our nation declared its independence in 1776 and 12 years before our national Constitution was written in 1787. The year 1777 was especially important for Vermont. We declared our independence from England and New York and prevailed at the Battle of Bennington which led to the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
On July 2, 1777, a convention of delegates from the east and west side of Vermont met in Windsor to write a constitution. Borrowing phrases from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Article 1 stated: “that all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights among which are the enjoying and defending of life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protection property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” The first article concluded with a clause prohibiting slavery, Vermont being the first state to do so.
Vermont was also the first state to adopt universal male suffrage. Article 8 provided: “that all elections ought to be free, and all free men have a right to elect offices, or be elected into office.” McMaster, in his History of the United States, wrote that under most of the early state constitutions, “none but property owning, tax paying men could give that consent from which government derives its just powers. Nowhere, save in Vermont, did manhood suffrage exist. Elsewhere no man voted who did not pay a property tax, or rent a house, or own a specified number of acres or have a specified yearly income.” Other rights guaranteed by the Vermont 1777 Constitution included freedom of speech, press and assembly, protection from search and seizure, and the right to bear arms. Article 16 read: “frequent recurrence of fundamental principals, and the firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty, and keep government free.”
Senator Bill Doyle