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Author Topic: The Vermont Papers  (Read 2992 times)


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The Vermont Papers
« on: June 10, 2003, 04:53:55 pm »

Here are some excerpts from The Vermont Papers by Frank Bryan and John
McClaughry (Post Mills, VT: Chelsea Green, 1989), as promised.

"Over the past quarter-century there have been many recommendations to
save American politics, but they have been mainly cosmetic and
superficial, like giving smelling salts to a fighter whose legs have gone.
We propose to return to where the roots of democracy are still firmly
established and nourish them into new life. We propose to focus on a
place where citizenship still lives, where a small pastureland of liberty
and community of the kind America desperately needs still lies intact.
There we propose to build a new, resurgent twenty-first-century politics
of human scale. As that promising place which will inspire all America,
we suggest Vermont." (3-4)

"Vermont is physically in the past and technologically in the future. It
leapfrogged America's urban-industrial period and landed smack in the
Information Age. It is still green. Unfettered by the baggage of
urban-industrialism and free of the problems associated with it, Vermont
nevertheless is among the leading states on measure after measure of
technological maturity...

"Moreover today there is no other place in America where the battle for
liberty, lost elsewhere, is still as fiercely waged as in Vermont.
Vermont democracy is under attack from the same forces that have undercut
democracy throughout the nation. But they are far less formidable here,
in part because they are more visible. The juxtaposition of freedom and
athority in Vermont is always striking. For Vermont, with its tiny state
capital (still the smallest in America with 8,241 people), with its town
meetings, its citizen legislature, its two-year term for governor, has
preserved the institutions and traditions of liberty and community." (4)

"Our values are libertarian in the face of authority, decentralist in the
face of giantism, and communal among our townspeople. We were country
when country wasn't cool. We were serious about town meeting democracy
when town meetings were considered anachronisms. Most of all we want to
bring power home from centralized institutions and distribute it widely
among the people." (5-6)

"In the summer of 1934 agents of Washington moved into Vermont with the
intention of buying up 'submarginal land' and transferring the people on
this land down into the valley towns where they would be given federal
loans to get started on new farms. How much of Vermont did they try to
buy? Fifty-five percent!

"The agents from Washington hit a snag almost immediately: the mountain
people didn't want to sell...

"The final offer worked out by the federal government was that Vermont
would turn over half the state to it. Recreation and forest areas would
be created. And more... The federal government would then turn its 55
percent of Vermont back to the state on a long-term lease, retaining all
rights over minerals and other natural products. Aiken: 'All the state
had to do to take advantage of the munificent offer was to agree that it
would maintain and operate these areas in such manner as the Federal
authorities might direct and pay the expenses of maintenance forever.'
Then Aiken adds: 'And also that we would never again permit any of this
land to be occupied as homes.' He then pauses to begin a new paragraph -
a short, blunt, one-line paragraph: 'The Federal government did not buy
any submarginal land in Vermont.'" (14-16)

"Another twenty-five years passed. Once again federal officials visited
Vermont in search of land, and again there was bubbling in the deep waters
of Vermont's consciousness. This time the feds were looking only for a
small parcel for a very specific purpose - a nuclear-waste dump. At Blue
Mountain High School in the town of Newbury two thousand people came down
from the hills and jammed themselves into the auditorium for a public

"One federal representative, with great care and patience, explained the
notion of national sovereignty and then suggested, with an
I'm-sorry-I-have-to-remind-you smile, that if Washington wanted the land
and Vermont didn't cooperate, the federal government could, after all,
simply, well...take it.

"There followed a moment of dead silence, the packed audience of two
thousand was seemingly checkmated. Then, from deep in the bleachers a
commoner's hoarse cry crashed toward the podium. 'Hey, have you guys ever
heard of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys?' The roar (half
laughter, half defiance) that followed originated deep in centuries past.
Every soul in the gymnasium understood at once. They were Vermonters, and
when push coems to shove the gods of the hills, still, were not the gods
of the valleys. The covenant holds. (The dump ended up in Nevada.)" (17)

"Vermont never had what most Americans are longing to be rid of. Over its
bedrock of civic humanism has developed a unique set of historical
circumstances that pivot around one critical event: Vermont leapfrogged
urban-industrialism, ignoring the astounding transformation of American
society that took place in the years between 1840 and 1940. The result is
a state that is already free and clear of the twentieth century.

"Turning the key to Vermont's future, however, requires a second
understanding, one less appreciated: while sitting out the
urban-industrial revolution, Vermont remained in the mainstream of
America's technological advancement." (26)

"In its first quarter-century, Vermont conducted armed skirmishes against
New York, battled the British, independently negotiated with them (well
before Yorktown ended the war), absconded with a tier of New Hampshire's
western border towns, gave them back, annexed part of New York, and
reclaimed some of New Hampshire. Finally in 1791 Vermont joined the Union
as the fourteenth state.

"Sort of. Vermont writer Vrest Orton in a letter to Judson Hale of
_Yankee_ magazine explained it this way: 'You must remember that Vermont
was _never_ a colony of Great Britain.' In 1777 Vermont declared itself
'to be an independent, sovereign Republic or Commonwealth. Then, when we
entered the Federal Union (a colossal mistake) in 1791, we became the 14th
state.' One of the most important points Orton makes has often been
overlooked by historians. 'All five of the other New England states had a
period of aristocratic oligarchy. We didn't. All Vermonters were
middle-class, hard-working, and young! No other state was like that.'"

"Yet the imperatives of Vermont's geography then as now are equally
important to its identity. For Vermont is a place of ups and downs. Its
land seems to cluster people in little communities by nature. The winters
are cold, the coldest in New England. The snow comes early and lasts and
lasts and lasts. The soil is rocky, the living tough. Vermont's
geography contained a dual imperative: it cradled settlements and it made
living difficult.

"So Vermonters, harkening to humankind's basic need for cooperation, came
to huddle together like the Swiss in small communities, mountain towns,
and villages. They sought the safety of unity, of Congregationalism, of
neighbor, church, and town. Their spirits craved liberty, but the land
compelled union. That is why Vermont's ethic does not mesh well with the
rolling, big-sky libertarianism of the High Plains West.

"Vermonters have kept an eye on liberty by maintaining a seemingly
irrational proliferation of neighborhood and community. If others were
going to tell them what to do, at least those others would be close enough
to be called by their first name or grabbed by the scruff of the neck.
Thus the twin forces of history and geography created a felicitous blend
of liberty and community where citizens can thoroughly know a good portion
of the people with whom they share common, thus public, interests."
"Educate your children, educate yourselves, in the love for the freedom of others, for only in this way will your own freedom not be a gratuitous gift from fate. You will be aware of its worth and will have the courage to defend it." --Joaquim Nabuco (1883), Abolitionism


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Re:The Vermont Papers (cont.)
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2003, 04:54:58 pm »

"In Vermont community still lives. There is no agreement, of course, on
what is actually meant by community, but some characteristics appear so
invariably in the debate that a suitable definition can be attained by
induction. A good beginning is Robert Nisbet's formula: 'Community is the
product of people working together on problems, of autonomous and
collective fulfillment of internal objectives, and of the experience of
living under codes of authority which have been set in large degree by the
persons involved.' Community is a bond between the past and present which
extends into the future. Community is people who interact at a personal
level, have a shared identity, values, and traditions, sense an organic
bond to each other, possess the power to make many of the decisions about
their common lives, and feel a responsibility for extending mutual aid to
their fellows in need. Community, in its geographic sense, requires human
scale, a scale that human beings can understand and cope with. As
Aristotle observed, the scale of a state should not be so great that its
inhabitants cannot know each other's characters.

"A small, intimate community is essential to the flowering of the
civic-humanist ideal. It gives meaning and richness to human life. Its
landmarks, its landscape, its uniqueness as place afford a sense of
belonging and identity. A real community becomes a place of repair and
solace, a scrapbook of shared memories, a gratifying niche in history."

"In our time in Vermont the idea of community has reeled under the hammer
blows of centralization, mobility, massification, and social
disintegration outlined in the previous chapter. But even with all this,
Vermont remains the first place in America one would go if one sought to
preserve community. The hills are still alive with the sound of town and
village, neighborhood, corner, and place.

"Vermont is communal from the ground up. The great glacier that visited
twelve thousand years ago rolled massive boulders between ice and soil and
gouged out hundreds of nesting places for community. Vermont does not
show the ruralism of the heartland - flat townships checkerboarded on an
endless horizon. It is not like the great West - people enclaved in small
cities at the junctures of rivers or where mountain passes meet the
plains. Up and down, hill and dale, that is Vermont: a continuing
patchwork of little rivers, small mountains, hollows, ridges, slopes, and
bends - perfect places for small settlements." (64)

"From time to time small congregations of freemen worked their way into
the hill country of northern new England. Soon the towns they established
covered even the remotest of places. For all intents and purposes they
were the only local government in New England. Well into the 1800s many
of those towns, especially those in Vermont, still flirted with
sovereignty. Over the past half-century their political powers have been
severely eroded, yet the communities defiantly survive because their
people love them and see in them the means of their democratic
fulfillment." (65)

"Kingdomshire contains some of the few truly wild places left in Vermont,
unmarked by camp sites, trail markers, or other guide-like obstructions.
Some would like to see it remain that way - a reminder of what the land
was like when the settlers first heard the wind in the hemlocks. It is
one thing to hunt whitetails over hill and dale in rural farmland. It is
quite another to be alone in the huge tracts of unmarked timber, ridge,
and swamp of the Kingdom." (115)

Most of the book is dedicated to setting forth a plan for a "federal
Vermont," divided into shires. One of the authors (Bryan) is a professor
at UVM and an advocate for Vermont secession. The other (McClaughry)
founded the free-market Ethan Allen Institute in VT.
"Educate your children, educate yourselves, in the love for the freedom of others, for only in this way will your own freedom not be a gratuitous gift from fate. You will be aware of its worth and will have the courage to defend it." --Joaquim Nabuco (1883), Abolitionism


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Re:The Vermont Papers
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2003, 10:19:37 pm »

I have talked quite a bit with John McClaughry about what it would take to turn this state around.  John has often said that 1,000 committed activists could turn the state around.  The left wing in Vermont has become complacent and are ripe for someone to turn the tables on them.  A strong core group of activists could lead a revival of Vermont's historic pro liberty leanings.  A number of the people who vote for Progressives would vote for libertarian type candidates if they knew how to present their vision in a compelling way.
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