Vermont History

Summer 2005


Handout two


Vermont explicitly began as an idea. Did the idea of Vermont remain strong because it was clearly defined or because it was flexible? Was its weakness its specificity or ambiguity?


“Here William French his Body lies,

For Murder his Blood for Vengeance Cries.

King George the third his Tory crew

that with a bawl his head Shot threw.

For Liberty and his Country's Good

he Lost his Life, his Dearest Blood.”


Key words, names, phrases:

Jacob Bayley

Ira Allen

Vermont Constitution, 1st and 2nd clauses

The Republic of Vermont (1777-91)

Isaac Tichenor

Nathaniel Chipman

Matthew Lyon

David Avery

Springfield Congregational Church

The Rutland Riots (1786)

Jacob Swift/Moses Robinson


Arlington Junto         Federalists

Thomas Chittenden       Isaac Tichenor

The Allens              Nathan Chipman

Matthew Lyon            David Avery

Moses Robinson          Jacob Swift


Timothy Dwight on the earliest settlers of VT: “men of loose principles and loose morals. They were either professed infidels, Universalists, or people who exhibited the morals of these two classes of mankind. We cannot expect, therefore, to find the public measures of Vermont distinguished by any peculiar proofs of integrity, or justice.”


Key Point: the task of Vermont’s state builders was to create an imagined community sufficiently coherent to firmly establish the state’s legitimacy.


i.e. they wanted to appeal to the largest number of people yet give the state clear goals and lofty ideals. The state needed to be about something.


Vermont adopted a radical constitution, but there was deep ambiguity to it. State residents wanted a radical independence rooted in local interdependence? They were committed to contrary values: uninhibited fulfillment and a sense of mutual obligation between citizens.


Was Vermont’s appeal that it replicated tradition notions of what a fair society was, or that it introduced new ones?


Vermonters contested their society’s future hotly, above all because they could not agree upon a common response to the central dilemma of democratic life: how to reconcile their desire for security, moral and spiritual unity, and political harmony with their revolutionary commitment to competition, toleration, and democracy.


The First Generation


Downhillers were:


hierarchical (deference)




maintained a firm belief in the inherent value of material progress.


Uphillers meanwhile were:







--suspicious of innovation

--their lives constructed around the antinomian values of community and equality.


When Tichenor and Chittenden faced off for governor in 1793:


Uphiller: “An aristocratical party has emerged…the patrician spirit of the town is being eclipsed by a patrician order…Men of common capacity are capable and better suited than others to be public officers. If he succeeds, Tichenor and his party will live in idleness while the poor peasant and his family toiled away to support the splendor and luxury.”

Downhiller: “A Friend to Order” declared that “the nation faces foes of order, religion and government from abroad and a turbulent, designing and execrable faction at home. It is necessary for every friend of peace and morality to stand against those who would undermine the peace and good order of their nation and state.”