August 20th, 2019

1786 Economic Crisis in Vermont: Governor Chittenden Wants to Tax Lawyers


While the new nation was going through an economic crisis in 1786, the independent Republic of Vermont had its own economic crisis.


While Vermont had little debt compared to the thirteen original states after the Revolutionary War, it was not immune to currency inflation. As before the war, many old and new settlers used credit to buy land and build homes. Many settlers became financially overextended, and when they could not pay their creditors, foreclosure proceedings were instituted in the courts.


In 1784 people from Wells and other towns nearby met in convention and adopted resolutions “for a redress of grievances.” While the grievances were not printed, the following poem in the Vermont Gazette illustrates the concern about debt and courts:


Then lawyers from the courts expel,


Cancel our debt and all is well —


But they should finally neglect


To take the measures we direct


Still fond of their own power and wisdom,


Will find effectual means to twist ‘em.


Governor Chittenden, responding to these concerns, made a public address to Vermonters that was printed in Vermont newspapers. In discussing the reasons for the discontent he said, “Law suits are become so numerous that there’s hardly money sufficient to pay for entering the actions, not to mention the debts or lawyers’ and officers’ fees. I have reason to believe that the expense of law suits for two years past has been nearly equal to that of any two years of the war, for a remedy one cries a Tender Act, another, a bank of money and others, kill the lawyers and deputy sheriffs.”


In the address he made reference to the Old Testament:


“In the time of war we were obliged to follow the example of Joshua of old, who commanded the sun to stand still while he fought his battle, we commanded our creditors to stand still while we fought our enemies.”


Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail wdoyle@leg.state.vt.us; or call 223-2851.

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