Abbildungen der Seite

year 1787, the whole system of laws was revised, and formed into a new code, and the statutes passed previous to that time-a few only exceptedwere repealed. Thirty five years only, have elapsed, since that revision, and not a single entire copy of the laws passed previous to that time, is to Even the office of the Secretary of State has not preserved the laws passed during the first year after the organization of the govern

be found.


Whether we regard the ancient constitution and statutes of the State as among the best sources of its early history, or consider them as the parent stock, from which the existing constitution and laws have sprung,in either view, they assume an importance of no ordinary character. It is matter of astonishment that this importance should have been so long unheeded by the statesmen of Vermont, and that legislative provision for this object, should have been defered to so late a period.

Influenced by the considerations which have been suggested, the Legislature, at their session in October, 1821, made provision" for collecting and perpetuating the records relative to the assumption and establishment of government in this State, and such acts of the Legislature as were not in print."*

By the act making provision for this object it will be seen that the Honorable DANIEL CHIPMAN was appointed an agent for the purposes therein contemplated. He accordingly commenced the collection of materials for the proposed compilation; but in consequence of the interference of other duties, committed its further prosecution, to the present publisher, who has thus, unexpectedly, taken upon himself the labor and responsibility of compiling the work.

It will be seen by a reference to the act, in pursuance of which this publication was undertaken, that little more was originally contemplated, than to collect such records as should perpetuate a history of the Legislation of the State, down to the year 1787. In prosecuting the collection, however, and particularly, in the effort to recover that portion of the journal of the Council of safety which was unrecorded in any publick office, a great number of valuable historical papers were discovered, connected with a period, anterior to the formation of a regular government, and commencing previous to the existence of any kind of political organization in the State. On examining these papers, it was found that they were susceptible of an arrangement which would exhibit a connected view of the principal events which form the early history of Vermont.

They commence with the controversy between the Governors of New York and New-Hampshire, relative to the jurisdiction of the territory

*3ee the act above alluded to, page xiv.

[ocr errors]

which now constitutes the State of Vermont. This controversy was continued from the year 1749, to the year 1764; when, by an order of the King in Council, the question was decided in favor of New-York, and the claim of that province, to jurisdiction, as far east as Connecticut river, was confirmed. To this order the government of New-York gave a construction which involved the question of title, under the grants previously made by the government of New-Hampshire. It was contended that his Majesty's order had a retrospective operation, and that the New-Hampshire grants were thereby rendered void. Upon this ground, the settlers were called on to surrender their charters, and re-purchase their lands, under grants from the governor of New-York. This demand they resisted, and with this resistance commenced a controversy which was conducted with singular violence, and continued, with little interruption, during a period of twenty six years.

Connected with this controversy was that which arose in the year 1778, between the States of Vermont and New-Hampshire; and with both these, were closely interwoven the interesting events resulting from the application of Vermont for admission into the union. All the papers, therefore, which the compiler could collect, throwing any light on either of these branches of the history of Vermont, have been preserved in this volume. The papers, thus collected, have been arranged in chronological order, and connected with each other by the occasional introduction of such facts, derived from other sources, and such reflections, suggested by the current of events, as might tend to render the whole an intelligible, unbroken history of the State, from the very dawn of its existence to the time when it was admitted as a member of the American confederacy. Taken in their connexion with each other, these documents exhibit, perhaps, a more just and complete view of events, in their original character, and in all their relations, than can be derived from any other


There is a view however, in which many of them possess a much higher

* The materials from which this part of the collection has been formed, have been derived, principally, from the following sources, viz :—

"A vindication of the opposition of the inhabitants of Vermont to the government of New York, and of their right to form into an independent State"-written by Ethan Allen, and published under the sanction of the Governor and Council, in the year 1779-in which are found many of the most interesting documents relating to the controversy with NewYork.

A work of a similar character, published by the same author in the year 1774-[The former of these has been found in the possession of the Hon Stephen R. Bradley, and the latter in the possession of the Hon. David Fay]

A series of historical papers preserved in the Rural Magazine, published by Dr. Williams, in the year 1795.

Williams' and Allen's histories of Vermont.

Journals of the Legislature of Vermont, and of the Congress of the United States :and sundry papers found in the office of the Secretary of State.

interest than when regarded as a mere record of events. They introduce us to an intimate acquaintance with the fathers of Vermont, and exhibit them in all the interesting peculiarities of their character.

The first settlers of the State consisted of a plain, industrious, hardy race of men, who emigrated to "the grants," not with the view of establishing an independent government, but to cultivate the soil, and procure a competency for themselves and their children. Whether they were to be under the government of New-Hampshire or New-York, was, to them, a matter of indifference, provided they were permitted to enjoy, unmolested, the hard earned fruits of their industry. With these views they invested their estates in lands, and proceeded in the cultivation and improvement of them, with a confident reliance on the security of titles derived from the crown. In this state of things, they were suddenly met by the claims of New-York, to their whole territory. Grants of their lands were made to citizens of that State-actions of ejectment were commencedjudgments obtained-writs of seizin issued, and the posse commitatus raised, to drive them from their possessions. To them, submission was ruin. Resistance, therefore,-determined resistance, was the only alternative.

It is easy to perceive that the controversy, thus commenced, was of a character, calculated to rouse to their highest effort, the moral and intellectual energies of our nature; and it is in this view, that many of the documents connected with it, assume an importance which they could not otherwise possess. In perusing them, we catch the living expression of the times. The actors in those eventful scenes which distinguish that period of our history, rise in full view before us, and we seem to converse, and become familiarly acquainted, with the Allens and Warners and Chittendens of ancient days. In the view here taken, nothing can supply the want of these original papers. Like the human countenance, in all its peculiarities of expression, they mock the highest effort at imitation or description.

The papers which form the first part of this collection have been selected, principally, with a reference to the relations of Vermont with other powers, and therefore exhibit but an incidental view of the internal organization of the State. To the latter object the remaining part of the collection is devoted; and commences with the journal of the Council of safety.

The history of the government of Vermont, previous to the adoption of the Constitution is involved in much obscurity. We frequently hear of Committees, and Councils, of safety, and curiosity prompts to an enquiry into their origin and the nature and scope of the powers with which they were invested. It should be remembered, however, that the very nature of the subject forbids the hope of arriving at any definite conclusions, The truth is, there was no regular government in the State. Every thing

was unsettled; no social compact existed, nor any bond of union, save that which resulted from common wants and common dangers; and every thing that bore the semblance of organization, was the premature offspring of urgent necessity. But one sentiment prevailed in relation to the claims of New-York. On the full exhibition of their extent, every man's arm was instantly nerved for resistance. To give effect to this resistance, town meetings were held-committees of safety were appointedand general conventions of these committees were called, on important occasions.* Originating in the necessity of resistance to the claims of New-York, the proceedings of these conventions appear to have been confined to that object. Remonstrating with the Governor of that Province-addressing the people-passing decrees, forbiding the exercise of authority, and the acceptance of grants, under New-York and ordering the application of the "beach seal” as a terror to evil doers, appear to have constituted the scope of their power.

On the 2d of July, 1777, the Convention that formed the Constitution, appointed a Council of safety, to act until the government should be organized; and it is the journal of this Council which forms a part of this collection. This is the first Council of safety, of whose appointment or proceedings we have any distinct, satisfactory account. That such a body existed, previous to the time above mentioned, is certain; yet, with respect to the date of its original institution, the number of which it was composed, the method of electing its members, and the extent of the powers it exercised, we are left wholly to conjecture.

The journal of the Council of safety, which we have preserved, exhibits an interesting and curious example of the combination of legislative, judicial and executive power, in a single body of men. The government was, in principle, nothing short of absolute despotism; and it evinces no ordinary devɔtedness to the common cause, that a people, as tenacious of their rights as were the people of Vermont, should, for a moment, have submitted to the administration of such a government. It is worthy of remark, however, that the exercise of this dangerous power, as the journal of that Council plainly evinces, seldom exceeded the limits prescribed by a just regard to the publick safety.

The journal of the Council of safety closes the long period of misrule in Vermont, and introduces us to a new and important era. Under the Constitution, adopted in the year 1777, a government was organized, and commenced its operations, on the 13th of March, 1778. A history of its legislation, up to the year 1787, may be found in the journals and laws embraced in this collection. These laws have been selected from the mass of statutes passed within the period embraced in that department

* See proceedings of these Conventions, pages 33, 38, 60. † See page 36,- See page 79.

of the work. In making this selection, the first object of the compiler has been to retain those statutes, which form the basis of the most important part of our present code. Although these statutes may, by many, be regarded as interesting, only on account of their antiquity, the enlightened civilian will understand and appreciate their importance, not only as matter of history, but as furnishing, in many cases, an invaluable key to the just construction of existing laws.

Many statutes have been retained in this collection, merely as historical papers; and the value of all the ancient statutes is, in this respect, greatly enhanced by the preambles with which they are generally, introduced. The few acts of a private nature which have been preserved, have been introduced into the collection, for the purpose of showing, more fully, the extent of the powers exercised by the Legislature, during the period to which they belong. All the acts relating to proprietors meetings, the regulation and establishment of town lines, and the levying of taxes, have been omitted. These acts, together with a number of others, omitted, are preserved in the appendix to the revised laws of 1797.

The compiler could not, consistently with a just regard to the interests of the State, close this work without attempting to rescue from oblivion the important and interesting proceedings of the first Council of Censors. After witnessing the flagrant violations of the Constitution, and, indeed, of all just principles of legislation, which appear in many acts of the Le. gislature, during the first septenary, it is peculiarly gratifying to be introduced to a body of men, so distinguished for correct, elevated views, sound wisdom, and dignified firmness, as were the members of that Council. Their address to the freemen is, in many points of view, the most important document to be found in this collection; and will never cease to be interesting to the people of Vermont, until they cease to be under a government of laws.

It has been thought proper to preserve in this collection, the Constitution as revised by the first Council of Censors, and proposed for the consideration of the people; and also to present a summary view of the amendments proposed by the second Council, in the year 1792,-thus preserving, in connection with the original Constitution, all the proposed amendments of that instrument, previous to its adoption, in the form in which it now exists.

The compiler owes it to himself to state, that the selection, arrangement, and preparation, of the materials which compose this work, have been made under circumstances of great embarrassment, arising from ill health, and the constant pressure of official duties,-an embarrassment which has been felt, in a degree proportionate to the severe labor, incessant care and high responsibility connected with the execution of such a work.

MIDDLEBURY, FEB. 13, 1823.

« ZurückWeiter »