The Green Papers Commentary
 

WE THE PEOPLE
Who 'We' are and how 'We' got that way
(Part Three)

Friday, July 18, 2008

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
TheGreenPapers.com Staff

By the Spring 1778- while the future Commonwealth of Massachusetts continued its internal struggle to join the 10 other colonies-become-States which, unlike Connecticut and Rhode Island, had found it necessary to draw up new fundamental charters of government after Independence (the first draft being circulated among all the People of the then-still Province of Massachusetts Bay was, at the time, on the verge of being rejected at Town Meeting [as noted in Part Two of this series of my Commentaries])- at least a couple of those other 10 were already realizing their original- in at least some cases, rather hastily drafted- documents were, only two years later, in no little need of revision.

South Carolina was among the first of the 10 to so realize and, recognizing that its 1776 Constitution was, in essence, merely a temporary expedient (after all, it had been adopted before Independence had even been declared by the Continental Congress and, as a result [as noted in Part One of this series] that earlier document had specifically reflected, hopefully, that "an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America can be obtained (an event which, though treated as rebels, we still earnestly desire)": by 1778, however, the achievement of just such a thing [put aside its desirability, at least amongst those most strongly attached to the Patriot cause] was becoming less and less likely, at least as regards a peaceful "accommodation"!) Thus, come 19 March 1778, less than two years into the shelf-life of the State'[s first fundamental charter, South Carolina's General Assembly simply adopted a second Constitution for the Palmetto State (one which, among other things, replaced its General Assembly-former Provincial Congress [a quasi-unicameral body: "quasi-unicameral" because the 1776 document had provided for some of its duly elected members to become a separate 'Legislative Council' to function as both an advisory body to the State's "president/commander-in-chief" and a check on the General Assembly itself (in effect, continuing- in republican form- the older system of governance of a British Royal Province such as that South Carolina itself once had been)] with a truly bicameral legislature separate from a Governor as chief executive).

In fact, in the Preamble to this second South Carolina Constitution, it was specifically noted that

whereas the United Colonies of America have been since constituted independent States, and the political connection heretofore subsisting between them and Great Britain entirely dissolved... [i]t therefore becomes absolutely necessary to frame a constitution suitable to that great event.

The new South Carolina Constitution continued the earliest practice of adopting Constitutions in the name of the representatives of the People, rather than the People in and of themselves, by noting that "[b]e it constituted and enacted... by the honorable the legislative council and general assembly, and by the authority of the same: That the following articles, agreed upon by the freemen of the State, now met in general assembly, be deemed and held the constitution and form of government of said State, unless altered by the legislative authority thereof"... note very carefully, dear reader, that- in the South Carolina of 1778- the "legislative authority thereof" (that is "the freemen of the State, now met in general assembly") was hereafter to be acting on behalf of said "freemen" as if it were said "freemen" en masse who had, in fact, authorized the State Constitution: for Massachusetts' Constitutional Convention and concomitant popular ratification of a fundamental charter of governance was still more than two years away.

In the same month that South Carolina was to replace its original fundamental charter by mere legislative fiat, however, there emerged yet another player on the scene- one that was not even officially one of the 13 United Colonies-now-United States still fighting for their Independence with the forces of the nascent British Empire. This "new player" was, of course, the 'Vermont' of Ethan Allen and his 'Green Mountain Boys' who had been a major factor in the British surrendering Fort Ticonderoga and, thus, indirectly responsible (for reasons already discussed in Part Two) for Massachusetts even being free to consider a new Constitution for itself in the first place!

Vermont, as a political entity, had its roots in the so-called "New Hampshire Grants" in the western portion of the Connecticut River Valley across that same river from modern New Hampshire. Indeed, the entire region we now call 'Vermont' was, during the Colonial Period of American History, originally claimed by no less than three of the neighboring British colonies: Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire and New York.

The claim of Massachusetts Bay to at least most of what is now Vermont was based on its original charter of 1629 which had set its extent as "[a]ll that part of New England in America... lying within the space of three English miles on the south part of the... river called Charles... [a]nd also all those lands and hereditaments whatsoever which lie and be within the space of three English miles to the northward of the... river called... Merrimack". The first border of Massachusetts Bay colony (its southern one)- that based on a line 3 miles south of the course of the Charles River- was that between Puritan Massachusetts Bay and the Pilgrims' 'New Plymouth' and became mooted once the two colonies had merged into a single Royal Province in 1691 (an event already noted in Part Two of this series)...

but the northern boundary- that based on a line 3 miles north of the Merrimack River (it is this that is responsible for the "bumpy" nature of the easternmost portion of today's Massachusetts/New Hampshire boundary as still seen on maps to this day)- became problematic when, as the settlers explored the Merrimack further upstream, they discovered that the river turned northward [!] Massachusetts Bay, thereafter, simply presumed its boundary with New Hampshire continued north, only now 3 miles east of the river, up to at least the regions close to Lake Winnepesaukee, from which- if an angle were to be drawn somewhat west of north (a common practice, back then, in areas where the definitions of a claim as stated in a charter or grant had become altogether vague)- Massachusetts Bay colony/later Province would not only include all of what is today southwestern New Hampshire but also almost all of Vermont (except for that section of Vermont nowadays known as "the Northeast Kingdom").

The Province of New Hampshire, naturally, disputed this claim and fought it well into the early 18th Century until, in 1740 (effective the following year), this dispute was definitively settled by Decree of King-in-Council (resulting in the straight line that makes up most of Massachusetts' northern border to this day): as a result, Massachusetts Bay Province was now "out of the picture" and the intercolonial tussle over what would become Vermont would only remain between New Hampshire and New York:

New York's claim was based on the grant, issued in 1664, to James, Duke of York (the future, yet ill-fortuned [thanks to the Glorious Revolution], King James II) by his brother, King Charles II, of a huge chunk of North American seaboard (it was this very same grant- once it was enforced by virtue of the threat posed by shipboard cannon- that also gave the English control of 'New Netherland' and, thereby, turned a Dutch colonial outpost on the tip of Manhattan Island called 'New Amsterdam' into English-run 'New York', as well as allowed for two of the Duke's friends and protectors, Lords Berkley and Carteret, to be given functional control of some place across the Hudson from Manhattan called 'New Jersey').

In that 1664 grant, Charles II had given his brother James all of the lands west of the Connecticut River. Fortunately for Connecticut itself, the future Nutmeg/Constitution State could then whip out its own charter- granted by that very same Charles II, only two years earlier- and, thereby, establish clear precedent (hence, legal Title to Land) which required the Duke to, however reluctantly, recognize Connecticut's previous arrangements as to its own western border (based on its own Treaty of Hartford with the Dutch back in the 1650s); at the same time, Connecticut also induced the until then-separate 'New Haven' colony to merge with it on grounds that, otherwise, what protected Connecticut from James' potential predations could not at all protect New Haven (not all that coincidentally, the towns of 'New Haven' agreed to become part of Connecticut in, yes, 1664!)

New Hampshire's claim, meanwhile, was based on mere proximity-- as well as logic: for the new straight line east-to-west portion of the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border established in 1741, at least theoretically, ran from "sea to sea" (that is, from the Atlantic to the Pacific)- the very language of the charters of both Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay (in fact, the language of the decree stated that the new line between Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire should extend westward until it reached "the next English Province" [which would be, of course, New York]) and neither Connecticut nor Massachusetts Bay had yet to give up claims to western lands beyond however far westward New York itself might extend based on just such a "sea to sea" extension of their respective borders (Connecticut, indeed, would continue to hold on to its "Western Reserve" in what became northeastern Ohio along the shores of Lake Erie [by then, as a State of the American Union] into the early 19th century!)- indeed, as is the case with the goal lines in Football (whether American or other forms- Soccer and Rugby) and foul lines in Baseball, the east-to-west borders of both Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay, if only hypothetically, extended all around the very Globe!

New Hampshire, meanwhile, wasn't even claiming any lands to the west of New York, as Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay were doing (by the language of New Hampshire's own original charter, which lacked that same "sea to sea" provision, it legally couldn't) but, assuming New Hampshire was required to accept a western limit, wouldn't it make most sense to run such a north-south line north from that which New York already had to acknowledge at least as regarded Connecticut? (Massachusetts Bay Province, which didn't finally settle its western boundary with New York until 1773, was likewise depending on just such a theory at that time). Thus, almost all of what would become Vermont was, in the mind of New Hampshire's Royal Governor, Benning Wentworth (the uncle of the Royal Governor with the same surname who would leave New Hampshire "in the lurch" with his dissolution of its Assembly and then taking off for Boston in the Fall of 1775 [see Part One of this series]), so clearly- based on a fair reading of the 1740/1741 decree settling the future Granite State's southern boundary- part and parcel of New Hampshire!

New York, of course, begged to so strongly differ as it waved about the 1664 grant to the Duke for which the Province was named-- as far as it was concerned, its eastern boundary (if only in its northernmost reaches) was the Connecticut River!

On the premise that "Possession is Nine-tenths of the Law", New Hampshire's Governor Wentworth decided to "push the envelope" and, beginning in 1749, authorized a few tentative grants of land, the limits of one of which came within 20 miles of New York's upper Hudson River (thus, the beginnings of what came to be called, west of the Connecticut River, the "New Hampshire Grants"): the future Empire State protested, but to no immediate avail. But things started to come to more of a head, however, once the Battle of the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City on 13 September 1759 (in which both commanders- the defeated French Montcalm and the victorious British Wolfe- were mortally wounded) had virtually assured British control of French Canada as a result of the French and Indian War; New York suddenly no longer had to worry all that much about securing its northern border and could now concentrate on firmly delineating its northeastern one-- for his part, meanwhile, Governor Wentworth- recognizing the changed intercolonial situation- now (mostly from 1761 through 1763) stepped up the creation of New England-style town(ship)s in his grants west of the Connecticut River.

It was almost certainly no accident that many of the settlers in these "New Hampshire Grants"- as well as in other areas further west but still disputed between New Hampshire and New York- heralded from western Connecticut, including one Ethan Allen and his brother Ira. The Allen brothers had almost certainly come into contact with people otherwise like them (sons of small farmsteaders) on the other side of the Connecticut border with New York while out hunting (when tracking game over pretty much totally unposted land, surely little heed would be paid to something that later would come to be known as a "State line"), only to learn that the Hudson Valley of New York had inherited something known as "the Patroon System" from the Dutch (in fact, this very landholding scheme had actually been authorized through specific grant by the Dutch West India Company in the very same year Massachusetts Bay- the motherland of the entire New England Town Meeting system of local governance- had received its first charter from the British Crown, 1629).

Whereas, in the Allens' own home Town of Salisbury, in Connecticut, the small farmer almost always owned his farm, but a few miles away- in, say, what was the Manor of Livingston or Beekman's Patent, in New York- the very same farmer would have merely been a tenant, operating in something that was a cross between the Southern-style Plantation and outright Feudalism. In Connecticut, the farmer- owning his own land and, therefore, having rights of suffrage by dint of so owning real property, could vote and participate in Town Meeting: not so in New York, where the same farmer would've been merely a renter, hence not entitled to vote; in Connecticut, the town(ship) was, therefore, a 'common-wealth' (in the very sense defined in Part Two of this series) in miniature: in New York, on the other hand, an area the same size as a Connecticut town(ship)- in not a few cases, even approaching the size of a Connecticut county!- was, indeed, a "manor" and the "manorholder"/patroon (a word that, a cognate of "patron", was used in the sense of "one who, while not master of, yet maintains certain rights over, a freeman within his jurisdiction") was, indeed, the "lord of the manor"-- legally and, yes, constitutionally!

Such was the difference between a Charter Colony such as Connecticut and a Royal Province such as New York and what could clearly be seen in microcosm on different sides of the Connecticut/New York border was, at base, two differing concepts of the very definition of "We the People": this was a lesson clearly not ever lost on the Allens and their compatriots once these had come of age and moved on to settle virgin lands further north- if not actually within the "New Hampshire Grants", then- at the very least- in lands that New Hampshire itself nonetheless still claimed to govern!

Simply put: New Hampshire, even though having been made a Royal Province by the mid-18th Century, also- like Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay to the south- provided for Town Meeting and, thereby, local self-government... New York, on the other hand, did not!

The dynamics of this ideological battle changed, however, when- on 20 July 1764- a Decree of King-in-Council proclaimed that all lands to the west of the west bank of the Connecticut River "not part of the next English Province" (thus, mirroring the language of the 1740/1741 decree)- including what is now Vermont- was, henceforth, to be considered part of New York (it was this decree, by the way, that finally got Massachusetts Bay into the business of more firmly settling its western border: for that "not part of the next English Province" verbiage had otherwise potentially dire consequences for what is now western Massachusetts if the ramifications of New York's very existence being based on the 1664 grant to the Duke of York were not soon mitigated).

The intercolonial dispute over boundaries in this region was now, by fiat of the British Crown itself, over-- but the associated (up till now merely potential) dispute over Title to Land itself would now begin in earnest. In 1766, New York created a new "Cumberland County" overarching the New England-style town(ship)s east of the Green Mountains, most of which had been the direct byproduct of Governor Benning Wentworth's "New Hampshire Grants" (New York appears to have adopted a strategy of "divide and conquer", leaving those who had been settled under New Hampshire law alone, if only for the time being); the area west of the Green Mountains (where the Allens and others of their ilk had settled), however, was merely attached to Albany County (one of the original counties created in New York back in the 17th century and, at the time, containing all of what is now northeastern New York). In 1770, that county's courts began issuing orders of Ejectment which required that anyone living within the county who had not received a Title in Land from New York now had to apply for one; where Title was not so applied for (and there were also fines for not so applying) and/or could not be established to the satisfaction of the New York authorities, the occupiers of the land in question were to be forcibly ejected by the county Sheriff.

The Allens and their friends responded by creating the famous 'Green Mountain Boys' in 1771 as a local militia in order to better resist the enforcement of this decree and others like it; meanwhile, a new Charlotte (now called Washington) County had been, by New York, carved out of the northeasternmost reaches of Albany County, while- in 1772- a new "Gloucester County" was created out of the northern portion of Cumberland County. What would become Vermont was now split between four New York counties and, thankfully for the Green Mountainers, this actually began to have the desired effect from the Allen brothers' point of view: when those who had settled the "New Hampshire Grants" a decade earlier began to see what was going on to their west, they began to fear that it was only a matter of time before their own landholdings, along with the concomitant self-governing town(ship)s, might themselves well end up on the "ash heap" if they continued to be ruled as part of the Royal Province of New York.

Things were to get even more complex as the American Revolution itself loomed:

in Manchester, west of the Green Mountains, a convention met in mid-April 1774 (a full year before the Battles of Lexington and Concord) and resolved that anyone who might accept a commission from New York as a justice of the peace (who heard summary [small claims] cases, but who also served on a county quarter sessions court which administered the disdained New York-imposed county) should be branded "an enemy of the country and the common cause": later that same year, one Benjamin Hough, a resident of the New Hampshire Grants who favored being part of New York, accepted just such a position. In January 1775, he was adjudged to be in violation of the Manchester resolution, publicly flogged and then banished forever from what would become Vermont (keep in mind that, in most Royal Provinces such as New York, the justices of the peace were de facto ministers of the Crown, as they were- at least in theory- appointed by the Royal Governor: thus, the future Vermont was, even before "the shot heard 'round the world", already flaunting the authority of the British Crown itself- put aside the fact that, by refusing to submit to New York's jurisdiction for now a full ten years in the first place, its residents were also defying a direct order of King-in-Council).

Then, on 13 March 1775 (more than a month before Lexington and Concord), came an even bigger showdown: when a new term of court attempted to open in Westminster, the "shire town" (that is, county seat) of the New York-created Cumberland County, east of the Green Mountains, residents of the area massed outside the courthouse and successfully blocked access to it by the judge. Overnight, however, a sheriff's posse comitatus (as was the case throughout the 13 United Colonies themselves, not everyone in what was, in effect, the 14th jurisdiction taking on the nascent British Empire was in favor of such "Patriot" defiance) overpowered a small group of citizens guarding the courthouse on behalf of the ordinary people of the district- killing 2, wounding 8 and taking 7 into custody. Next day, court managed to open; however, an even larger mob gathered outside the building and temporarily imprisoned the judge and other court officers inside.

Incidents such as these were ratcheting up the political temperature in the Green Mountainers' dispute with the despised "Yorkers", a political temperature that would only increase when neighboring Massachusetts Bay Province outright revolted and then, within a year, had (thanks, of course, to the cannon "liberated" from British hands by the Green Mountain Boys themselves) successfully driven the British- and their hated Royal Government- from Boston (as described in Part Two of this series).

With American Independence (along with, however, the Continental Congress' apparent reluctance to intervene in the Green Mountainers' dispute with New York), it was clearly time for even more decisive political action. On 25 September 1776, a convention met in Dorset, west of the Green Mountains, where a resolution was adopted urging that the region- even though it had never ever been formally established as a separate British colony in the first place- form its own State government according to the suggestion made by the Continental Congress back on 10/15 May of that same year (see Part One of this series). Then, on 17 January 1777, an even larger convention met at Westminster and proclaimed the entire area in dispute with New York a separate commonwealth (in essence, an independent Republic!) under the name of 'New Connecticut'.

Following on this Westminster resolution, a further convention met at Windsor from 2 July through 8 July 1777 and drafted a Constitution for what was henceforth to be known as "the Commonwealth or State of Vermont"; credit for same was said to be due to [w]e the representatives of the freemen of Vermont [note: again, not the freemen in and of themselves, but- instead- their representatives: REB~A], in General Convention met, for the express purpose of forming such a government--- confessing the goodness of the Great Governor of the universe (who alone knows to what degree of earthly happiness, mankind may attain, by perfecting the arts of government) in permitting the people of this State, by common consent, and without violence, deliberately to form for themselves such just rules as they shall think best for governing their future society.

The General Assembly of New Connecticut-now-Vermont officially accepted this document as the fundamental charter of governance on 12 March 1778 (the second Thursday in March, which had been set aside for the very first meeting of this body under its new Constitution) and, on that same day, restored the original Cumberland County (that is, all of Vermont generally east of the Green Mountains) while the rest of Vermont was made into a new Bennington County (which officially began operation the following year): though it would be over the next decade and a half that most of the counties that, to this day, make up Vermont would be created.

The establishment of a new political entity called 'Vermont' would also create more than a few problems for both its neighbors, New Hampshire and New York, as well (these problems being besides the Green Vermonters' ongoing dispute with the latter over jurisdiction [self-government versus government from afar]):

the new "Republic" in the Green Mountains would begin to more forcefully agitate for a western boundary with New York that would have included the upper Hudson River and then a line drawn northward from that river's source (had this border ever been accepted, all of today's Washington County- along with most of what is now Warren, Essex and Clinton Counties- in New York would have become part of Vermont!). This had actually been a claim on the part of the Green Mountainers for at least a few years before (the participation by Ethan Allen and his 'Green Mountain Boys' in the raid on Fort Ticonderoga back in May 1775 had also been a means of asserting the Green Mountainers' interest in that particular region of New York, where Lake George comes closest to Lake Champlain; while the famous "Battle of Bennington" [commemorated today by a monument in what is known as Old Bennington, Vt.] was actually mostly fought in areas west of what is now the Vermont/New York State line precisely because many settlers in areas such as what is now Hoosick Falls, N.Y. themselves did not all that much appreciate being part of New York either) but this claim was now being asserted by a duly constituted Government! However, was it a real claim, or merely a "bargaining chip" ('you claim east to the Connecticut, we now claim west to the Hudson- let's see if we can't split the difference')?

Meanwhile, across the Connecticut River from Vermont, there were town(ship)s- officially part of New Hampshire all along, even after the Royal Decree of 1764- who would rather have been part of Vermont than New Hampshire. On 9 December 1778, a convention of 16 of these town(ship)s east of the Connecticut joined with delegates from 8 towns on the Vermont side and agitated for inclusion of the 16 New Hampshire towns in question into Vermont-- if this was not to be had, these 24 towns on both sides of what the Native American Indians had called "the long river" (Quinetegwut) resolved to form their own separate, independent 'commonwealth' with a capital on the river at what is now Cornish, N.H.!

By this time, however, New Hampshire itself was realizing it, too, needed to- just like South Carolina had that same year of 1778- completely revise its own rather hastily put-together fundamental charter of governance. Even though, as it turned out, New Hampshire had created the very first modern written Constitution known to Mankind, there was clearly no place for any such sentimentality as the Granite State began to work towards coming up with a much better Frame of Government for itself.

On 10 June 1778, a new document was drafted in the State capital, Concord, sent out to the Town Meetings of the Spring of 1779 for ratification and was promptly rejected!

New Hampshire next took a page out of the "book" used by neighboring Massachusetts in 1779 into 1780 and called a full Constitutional Convention which began meeting at Exeter (where the first Constitution had been drafted and adopted) on 12 June 1781...

it was to be a long meeting!

As had been the case in Massachusetts, the new document was submitted to the Spring 1782 Town Meetings (that is, "the People") for either approval or amendments. Unlike in Massachusetts, however, there were so many amendments and revisions proposed at Town Meeting, with different town(ship)s accepting differing sections of the document while outright rejecting others, that it was impossible for the Convention to, afterwards, fairly discern that a majority of those in the majority of the State's town(ship)s might have actually approved it! So, the Convention incorporated as many of the amendments/revisions proposed by the several town(ship)s as it could and then resubmitted the revised version to Town Meetings scheduled for the Fall of 1782...

again, there were further amendments and revisions proposed in many a Town Meeting and, again, a new draft of the proposed Constitution had to be submitted to Town Meetings in the Spring of 1783: these, too, would produce still more proposed changes to the document but, overall, the newly revised draft had been- it turns out- found to be satisfactory. After a few more adjustments (through which the Convention sought to incorporate as many of the objections made in the Town Meetings of Spring '83 as possible), the Exeter Convention was able to proclaim the new Constitution of the State of New Hampshire on 31 October 1783 and then adjourned sine die (2 years, 3 months and 20 days after the Convention had first been gaveled to order!)...

the Granite State's brand new Constitution was to be effective come the first Wednesday of June 1784. Again taking a "page" from their neighbor to the south, it was declared that the people inhabiting the territory formerly called the Province of New Hampshire do hereby solemnly and mutually agree with each other, to form themselves into a free, sovereign and independent body politic, or State, by the name of the State of New Hampshire. Thus, as was the case with Massachusetts' 1780 fundamental document, it was- in New Hampshire's of 1784- 'We, the People'- and not those merely representing same- in whose name a Constitution was here being adopted. In addition, New Hampshire appended a 'Bill of Rights' lacking in its original document ahead of its 'Form of Government' (again, mimicking Massachusetts in this regard).

In the mean time: by the time New Hampshire's second Constitution had come into force, Vermont was at least already on the road towards- finally!- settling its differences with New York (as well as New Hampshire):

On 21 October 1779, New York- recognizing the problems inherent in there now being an actual, working Government functioning in the Green Mountain State (but also, perhaps, merely "buying time")- officially asked the Continental Congress to intercede in its dispute over the status of Vermont (14th State or New York-governed "backwater"?) When not much seemed to be happening in this regard immediately thereafter (though, to be fair, with the War for American Independence still ongoing, the Continental Congress had plenty of other things to worry about), Vermont took the next steps:

Bolstered, perhaps, by the neighboring Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially recognizing Vermont as a 'commonwealth' separate from New York in March 1781, Vermont not only formally reiterated its claims to the Hudson River as part of its western border, but also- in April 1781- also formally annexed the 16 New Hampshire town(ship)s along the east bank of the Connecticut River that had been clamoring to join Vermont (these 16 town[ship]s, by the way, were not immediately represented in the Exeter Convention that convened to draft a new New Hampshire Constitution two months later). Meanwhile, in May of that year, Ethan Allen's brother Ira met with British officials in Canada under official Vermont auspices, ostensibly to arrange a prisoner-of-war exchange- but also to suggest that Vermont might actually be willing to become a British Province! (At the time, Cornwallis' surrender to Washington at Yorktown virtually assuring American Independence was still six months in the future)... then, a mere month after this, Ira Allen was appointed one of three commissioners to represent Vermont before the Continental Congress in its dispute with New York... the little "Republic" in the Green Mountains was not at all above such intrigues in order to better secure its own Independence!

The Continental Congress, by now, had become the 'Confederation Congress' (for the Articles of Confederation, the first attempt at American 'union', could now come into force with all 13 of the United States having ratified it as of earlier that year of 1781) and their response was to resolve, on 20 August 1781, that- preliminary to any recognition by what was now, at least technically, 'the United States of America' as a political entity in and of itself- Vermont relinquish both its western and eastern claims: the Vermont General Assembly formally agreed to do so on 22 February 1782 (interestingly, George Washington's 50th Birthday!) and, from that point on, what we nowadays see as 'Vermont' on a map was, indeed, to be the State's complete extent (however, there was some resistance to this still: only two months later- in April 1782- Brattleboro and several surrounding towns actually agitated to be formally declared part of- yes- New York, an insurrection that was not put down until the following September by a posse comitatus led by, yes, Ethan Allen himself!), though it would not be until 1790 that New York and Vermont could come to a permanent agreement in which Vermont agreed to pay an indemnity to New York in order to then be admitted as a separate, 14th, State- come 4 March 1791- to what, by then, had already become the "more perfect Union" of a United States of America under the Federal Constitution.

Meanwhile, Vermont (following a practice already authorized by Pennsylvania in its first Constitution) had also instituted, in its own Constitution, a body known as the "Council of Censors", to be elected every seven years in order to meet and determine not only "whether the legislative and executive branches of government have performed their duty as guardians of the people; or assumed to themselves, or exercised, other or greater powers, than they are entitled to by the constitution" but also whether or not a convention should be called in order to draft a wholly new fundamental charter. As things turned out, the very first Council of Censors (elected in 1785) did call for just such a complete revision and, thereby, Vermont would have its second Constitution (still as, in essence, an independent Republic, since there was as yet no agreement by New York to give up its claim to Vermont at that time) in 1786, in force once accepted by the Vermont General Assembly in March 1787 (the independent Commonwealth or State of Vermont was not yet ready to follow the lead of Massachusetts and allow its People to directly approve its Constitution).

Thus, by the time Vermont's second Constitution began operating in 1787, there had been 15 fundamental charters of governance drafted and adopted on behalf of free people of Liberty (though only two of these- Massachusetts' own and New Hampshire's revised version- were actually submitted to 'We, the People' for their approval and, as a result, were declared to have been established by the People in and of themselves): the original Constitutions of 11 of the 13 United Colonies-become-United States of America (all but Connecticut and Rhode Island, each of which continued to operate under their respective colonial charters) and 2 more adopted by States (South Carolina and New Hampshire, both of whom had adopted their original Constitutions before the Continental Congress had adopted its general advisory in May 1776, in effect, urging the United Colonies to prepare for an Independence that was ultimately to be declared less than two months later) seeing their original documents as having been, at best, temporary expedients and, therefore, in need of fullest revision as early as 1778, plus the 2 Constitutions adopted for the people of the independent "Republic" of Vermont that was still, as of 1787, outside the United States of America looking in. (For more detail, by the way: please see the upper portion of the chart of the Constitutions of the several States).

Also by 1787, however, the supposed "confederation and perpetual union between the states" making up the United States of America promised by the now-nearly decade-old Articles of Confederation was in serious trouble. And the eventual solution to the problems of that Confederation would end up having far reaching consequences for the very definition of "We, the People".

to be continued...

[Part IV -Ed.]

 


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