July 23rd, 2019

Vermont Joins the Union

by Sen. Bill Doyle

While Vermont was busy with internal affairs, New York began to reexamine its Vermont policy. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton, a member of the New York Assembly, introduced a bill that called for the recognition of the independence of Vermont.

At the time there was debate as to whether the capital of the new nation would be located in New York or Philadelphia, and Hamilton realized that if Vermont were admitted to the Union, her vote would be most important. He also realized it was important that a northern free state be admitted to offset two southern slave states, Kentucky and Tennessee, which would soon join the Union. To Nathaniel Chipman, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “one of the first subjects of deliberation with the new Congress will be the independence of Kentucky, for which the southern states will be anxious. The northern will be glad to send a counterpoise in Vermont.” Of the first 13 original states, seven were northern and six southern. The one-state northern edge was maintained when Vermont was admitted in 1791 and Kentucky in 1792. The admission of Tennessee in 1796 created a balance of northern and southern states which was maintained until 1848, when each section could claim 15 states.

New York and Vermont agreed to negotiate the differences between conflicting land claims. In the summer of 1789, as a result of negotiations, Vermont agreed to pay New York $30,000 compensation while New York gave up her Vermont land claims. Vermont’s next step in the process of admission to the Union was to ratify the new United States Constitution. In January 1791, a convention authorized by the Vermont General Assembly met in Bennington to consider ratification. One of the delegates to the convention, Supreme Court Judge Nathaniel Chipman, said Vermont was too small in relation to a new powerful union to remain independent. “Whenever our interests clash with those of the union, it requires very little political sagacity to foretell that every sacrifice must be made on our part… United we become great, from the reflected greatness of the empire with which we unite.” The United States Constitution was ratified 105 to 4 by Vermont. The adoption was favorably received throughout the nation. In Albany, New York, the event was celebrated by a parade and a 14-gun salute.

By Act of Congress on March 4, 1791, Vermont was admitted to the Union as the 14th state, the first state to join the union. The Congressional Act declared “that on the 4th day of March 1791, the said State, by the name and style of the State of Vermont, shall be received into this Union as a new and entire member of the United States of America.”

Vermont’s own evolution from the New Hampshire grants to independence and the admission to the Union was difficult. The great controversy with New York might never have taken place if that province had been content to accept the territory west of the Connecticut. Congress did procrastinate in acting upon Vermont’s application for admission into the Union, but to have admitted Vermont during the war would have alienated New York, one of the most powerful states in the Confederation. New York’s attitude changed when it perceived that Vermont’s admission would help balance the admission of the new State of Kentucky and improve New York City’s changes of becoming a permanent capital. In 1791, the State of Vermont was ready to begin anew as a member of the Union.

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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