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Two views -- VT/NY debt

11/02/05 12:00AM
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(HOST) In 1791, New York opposed Vermont's petition to become the 14th state - until Vermont paid thirty thousand dollars in reparation for New York's loss of property in the Green Mountains. Commentators Neil Stout and Frank Bryan have Two Views of the fairness of that settlement. Here's Neil Stout.

(STOUT) Until it became a state in 1791, Vermont was part of New York. Its 1664 charter set New York's eastern boundary at the west bank of the Connecticut River. The British government confirmed it in 1674 and again in 1764. In 1934 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Vermont-New Hampshire boundary was determined by New York's 1664 charter. Legally, then, Vermont was part of New York until it became the 14th state.

However, New Hampshire's royal governor, Benning Wentworth, chose to ignore New York's ownership of the land between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River. Between 1761 and 1767, when the British government fired him, Wentworth illegally granted 180 townships, and by 1775 these "New Hampshire Grants" had been settled by frontiersmen who had no intention of paying fees to New York.

Although Vermont declared independence from New York in 1777, it was never recognized by any other nation, nor by the United States under either the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution, nor by any of the thirteen states.

The U.S. Constitution, article IV, section 3, says "No new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State . . . without the consent of the legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress." Thus the admission of Vermont as a state required the New York legislature's agreement.

$30,000 was a reasonable price for New York to charge for its consent to be dismembered. It was a conservative estimate of what it would cost to settle the claims of those who held perfectly valid land grants from New York that conflicted with the illegal ones from Benning Wentworth. If anything, it was a rather chintzy sum even for that purpose.

Note that Vermont paid up promptly, no doubt aware that it was getting a pretty good deal. And so it has proved. Vermont receives annually more money from the U.S. government than it pays in federal taxes. Think of it as a federal version of Act 60, with New York as one of the "gold towns."

Thank you, New York.

This is Neil Stout of Burlington.

(BRYAN) And I'm Frank Bryan of Starksboro.

It's a fact that - man for man - no nation contributed more to the revolution that gave birth to America than the Republic of Vermont.

When British General Burgoyne sailed down Lake Champlain with an army of 5000 redcoats on barges, he famously wrote in his diary: "Vermont abounds with the most rebellious race on the continent and hangs like a gathering storm on my left."

And he had reason to worry. It was Vermont that captured New York's Fort Ticonderoga and sent the colonies past the point of no return in their struggle for freedom. Cannons from this fort sent the British fleeing from Boston to the safety of New York City a year later. And Vermonters tipped the first two dominoes at the battles of Hubbardton and Bennington that led to the showdown at Saratoga that sealed the American victory in the war of independence.

Yet when Vermont freely chose to join the United States, New York stood in our way. The price for statehood, said the empire state, was $30,000.

New Yorkers justified the demand by insisting that they had legitimate land claims in Vermont, since Vermont was legally part of New York, not an independent political jurisdiction, and that the financial payment would be only a token sum anyway.

These claims were wrong, irrelevant or both. If we were not an independent political entity, then with whom were they negotiating? The courts that validated the New York claims were New York Courts, often staffed by prosecutors and even judges who claimed lands in Vermont. And by all tenets of international law the notion that Vermont was "part" of New York after the revolution is pure sophistry.

The $30,000 may have seemed like a paltry sum to the lawyers from Albany. But it was a huge sum for the hard working farmers of Vermont, requiring a special statewide property tax to raise.

New York's action was extortion, clear and simple.

It's time to give our friends from across the lake the opportunity to remove this shameful scar from their history.

It's time for them to give us our money back.

With interest.

Frank Bryan is a writer and teaches political science at the University of Vermont. Neil Stout is and Emeritus professor of history at the University of Vermont. They will debate this question tonight at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, and tomorrow night at the Billings Center at UVM.
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