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Ekstrom Library

Government Resources: States: Vermont

VERMONT

Vermont: Equality, Democracy, Civil and Human Rights

Vermont: General Information and Statistics

Vermont: Health, Disability, Safety, Nutrition and Fitness

Vermont: Public Safety, Law Enforcement and Crime

Slavery and Vermont

 In 1777, Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery with the adoption of its constitution. It was admitted to the union in 1791, with a state constitution that contained the slavery ban. Since its climate was not conducive to the slave trade, many residents were active in the anti-slavery movement. Vermont's Anti-Slavery Society is formed in 1834. The purpose of the organization was to abolish slavery in the United States, and improve the mental, moral, and political condition of the “colored population.”

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. This act increased the penalties for helping fugitives. Vermont abolitionists, many of whom were newspapermen or ministers, condemned the Act. In response, the Vermont legislature passed laws that made it very difficult for anyone to capture a fugitive and return him or her to a slave master. Throughout the 1850s, its citizens continued to help fugitives. Source:  The American Civil War State by State, National Park Service

Vermont Representative William Slade’s Antislavery speech in the 25th Congress, December 20, 1837

On this date, William Slade of Vermont caused the House to adjourn when he attempted to give a speech “on the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia.” Two days earlier, he had introduced a petition from his constituents on the same subject but refrained from going any further. The problem, said Slade, was that “no sooner did any member present a memorial relating in the slightest degree to a certain subject, the abolition of slavery, than it was directly attacked and placed under prohibition.” For more than a year, a new House rule had maintained that discussions about slavery and abolition were too contentious for debate during formal House business. Known as the “gag rule,” the provision intended to uphold party politics and prevent slavery from dividing the House into northern and southern voting blocks. Hugh Swinton Legaré, a Democrat from South Carolina, asked Slade to “consider well what he was about” because if the question of abolition “was forced upon the people of the South, they would be ready to take up the gauntlet.” Nevertheless, Slade continued to speak. As southern Members grew more irritated, Henry Alexander Wise of Virginia interrupted Slade and asked that the Virginia delegation retire from the hall. One by one, southern state delegations withdrew from House Floor, until Robert Barnwell Rhettof South Carolina asked that all southern Members and those “representing slaveholding interests” convene in a nearby committee room in protest. The next day, John Mercer Patton of Virginia, submitted the resolution “that all petitions, memorials, and papers, touching the abolition of slavery, or the buying, selling, or transferring of slaves, in any State, District, or Territory, of the United States, be laid on the table, without being debated, printed, read, or referred, and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon.” John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, who opposed the gag rule, tried to speak out against the measure, but was shouted down repeatedly with cries of “Order!” The measure forbidding petitions on subjects concerning slavery and abolition passed the House 122 for to 74 against. When Adams voted he railed, “I hold the resolution to be in violation of the Constitution of the United States.” As before, other Members shouted Adams down with cries of “Order!” The House reinstated the gag rule during each Congress from May 18, 1836, to December 3, 1844, when Adams finally managed to gather enough support to repeal the rule. Source: History, Art & Archives, US. House of Representatives

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