HISTORY OF THE SECOND VERMONT REPUBLIC
by Thomas Naylor
September 1, 2005
Nearly three years before I moved to Vermont, on October 9, 1990, the Bennington Banner published my article entitled “Should the U.S. Be Downsized?” Four years later in Challenge (Nov.–Dec. 1994) I wrote “The time has come both for the individual states and the federal government to begin planning the rational downsizing of America.” Continuing I suggested that Vermont might lead the way by helping “save our nation from the debilitating effects of big government and big business” and by “providing an independent role model for the other states to follow.”
In 1997 William H. Willimon and I published Downsizing the U.S.A., which not only called for Vermont independence, but the peaceful dissolution of the American Empire. We argued that the U.S. government had become too big, too centralized, too powerful, too undemocratic, too militaristic, too imperialistic, too materialistic, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities. However, since we were in the midst of the greatest economic boom in history, few Americans were interested in downsizing anything. The name of the game was “up, up, and away.” Only bigger and faster were thought to be better.
A year or so later I joined an organization called the New England Confederation whose objective was to have New England split away form the United States and establish itself as an independent nation-state. Unfortunately, the Confederation turned out to be mostly an Internet website rather than a real political organization. However, its website survived several years after the demise of the Confederation itself under the leadership of Bristol, Vermont resident Michael Patno.
For the most part, before September 11, 2001, my call for Vermont independence and the dissolution of the Empire fell on deaf ears. It was as though I were speaking to an audience of one, namely, myself. But a year or so after 9/11 that gradually began to change. On March 4, 2003, two weeks before the second war with Iraq began, Michael Patno and I met for lunch in Burlington to discuss the possibility of organizing a serious, peaceful, participatory independence movement in Vermont opposed to the tyranny of the U.S. government, Corporate America, and globalization and committed to the return to its status as an independent republic as it was between 1777 and 1791. The following day I spoke at an anti-war rally at Johnson State College and decided to test-market the idea of an independent Vermont.
Basically my pitch to the students was, “If you want to prevent future wars in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, we have no choice but to break up the United States into smaller regions, and that process should begin with Vermont declaring its independence from the United States.” They were stunned, but they got it. Their positive response literally provided the energy for Michael Patno and I to launch the Second Vermont Republic.
Ten days after the bombing began in Baghdad on March 19, 2003, we held the first of four monthly meetings at the Village Cup in Jericho to discuss how such a movement might evolve. These meetings were attended by only a handful of people. Early on we decided not to become a political party but rather a civic club. The name “Second Vermont Republic” was proposed by Jeffersonville high school student Walker Brook and registered with the Secretary of State on June 19, 2003.
Over lunch in the backyard of the Bread & Puppet Theater Museum in Glover, Vermont on July 18, 2003, the puppeteers, under the leadership of Peter Schumann, agreed to cooperate with the Second Vermont Republic to promote Vermont independence.
In conjunction with the release of my book The Vermont Manifesto on October 11, 2003, an organizational meeting of the Second Vermont Republic was held in the New Building of Bread & Puppet Theater in Glover. The daylong meeting was attended by around fifty people. Wes Hamilton served as the facilitator.
About the idea of Vermont independence, Ambassador George F. Kennan said, “I see nothing fanciful, and nothing towards the realization of which the efforts of enlightened people might not be usefully directed.” Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith added, “I must assure you of my pleasure in, and approval of, you views of the Second Vermont Republic.” “From the standpoint of puppeteers and their subversive papier-mâché, the Second Vermont Republic sounds like a very good idea to fight the megalomania of the globalizers,” echoed Peter Schumann.
On November 16, 2003, the Times-Argus published the first major article on the Second Vermont Republic. This was followed by Jay Walljasper’s piece in Utne on the Vermont independence movement. Chicago based economist and SVR member David Hale proposed in The Burlington Free Press on January 6, 2004 that Vermont should secede from the United States and join the British Commonwealth.
On January 4, 2004, SVR’s website www.vermontrepublic.org came on stream with Sam Young of West Glover as webmaster. During the first ten months of that year the site averaged 800 unique visitors per month. Kimberly Johnson became webmaster in July 2005.
Throughout the spring of 2004, we held monthly planning meetings at the Institute of Social Ecology in Plainfield. Then on June 19th SVR and Bread & Puppet Theater held a parade in downtown Montpelier which originated in front of the Firehouse and proceeded six blocks to the steps of the State House. Nearly 350 people attended the rally which followed in front of the State House. It included a performance by Bread & Puppet, live music, and a dozen or so speakers calling for Vermont independence. John Remington Graham, author of A Constitutional History of Secession, was the keynote speaker. The rally ended with the reading of the Vermont Declaration of Independence. Copies of the new 32-page, glossy Journal of Vermont Independence edited by David White were also distributed. Nearly a year later, this journal evolved into Vermont Commons.
Two events which took place in November of 2004 put the Second Vermont Republic on the map, so to speak—statewide, nationally, and internationally. They were the November 2nd re-election of George W. Bush and a conference sponsored by SVR in Middlebury, Vermont three days after the election.
On November 5-7 forty people from eleven states and England attended a conference at the Middlebury Inn co-sponsored by SVR and the Fourth World of Wessex, England entitled “After the Fall of America, Then What?” The Fourth World, which publishes The Fourth World Review, a periodical inspired by Leopold Kohr and Fritz Schumacher, is committed to small nations, small communities, small farms, small shops, the human scale, and the inalienable sovereignty of the human spirit. Speakers included Kirkpatrick Sale, Donald Livingston, Rober Allio, Frank Bryan, and Thomas H. Naylor.
The underlying premise of the conference was that the United States has become unsustainable, ungovernable, and unfixable. If that is indeed the case, then do we go down with the Titanic or seek other alternatives? Among the options discussed at Middlebury were denial, compliance, and political reform, proven to be deadends; revolution, rebellion, and implosion, equally problematic; and decentralization, devolution, and peaceful dissolution. The conference also included a mock town meeting open to the public with guest appearances by Ethan Allen (Jim Hogue) and Thomas Jefferson (Gus Jaccaci).
At the close of the meeting over half of the delegates including Kirkpatrick Sale, Donald Livingston, and Thomas H. Naylor signed The Middlebury Declaration which called for the creation of a movement that would “place secession on the national agenda, encourage secessionist organizations, develop communication among existing and future secessionist groups, and create a body of scholarship to examined and promote the ideas and principles of secessionism.” The Middlebury Institute will soon be launched to pursue these goals.
The combined effect of Bush’s re-election and the Middlebury Conference gave rise to a fifty percent increase in SVR’s membership, over 5,000 unique visits to our website in November, and an enormous amount of state, national, and international media attention.
The SVR has been covered by The Nation, Le Devoir (Canada), Montreal Gazette, La Van Guardia (Spain), Le Courrier (Switzerland), CBC Radio, Globe TV (Canada), Channel 3 (Burlington), New Hampshire Public Radio, Channel 5 (Burlington), Vermont Public Television, The New York Times, Boston Globe, Utne, Ode, Resurgence, Salon.com and most newspapers in Vermont.
In addition, Dr. Rob Williams has released a Vermont independence film entitled Independence Trilogy: U.S. Empire, Green Mountain Voices, and A Second Vermont Republic.
As a follow-up to the Middlebury Conference, SVR held several meetings in Montpelier at the Langdon Street Café, a worker-owned collective which supports creative dialogue, sustainability, local products, and community. Such a meeting was held on January 15, 2005 to commemorate the day in 1777 when Vermont declared its independence and became a separate republic for fourteen years. Ethan Allen (Jim Hogue) again made a guest appearance. One of the aims of the meeting was to promote the Vermont Independence Day Resolution being considered by the Vermont Legislature. During the previous September SVR members Linda and John Whitney launched a statewide campaign calling for the Legislature to make January 15, 1777 Vermont Independence Day.
The resolution endorsed by Senator Jim Jeffords, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, Lt. Governor Brian Dubie, and most members of the Vermont House and Senate was approved in an amended form in April. By then it had become a resolution naming January as Vermont history and independence month.
Then on March 4, 2005, a memorial service was held at the Langdon Street Café led by Rev. Ben Matchstick of Bread & Puppet Theater and General Ethan Allen (Jim Hogue) commemorating the day in 1791 when Vermont joined the Union. The service included a reading from Ecclesiastes with Chopin’s “Funeral March” playing in the background. A funeral procession with a New Orleans-style funeral band carried the flag-draped coffin containing the deceased First Vermont Republic to the State House where it was placed at the foot of the statue of Ethan Allen. The funeral received extensive statewide media coverage.
In April 2005 publisher Ian Baldwin, editor Rowan Jacobsen, and webmaster Dr. Rob Williams introduced an exciting print and online forum for exploring the idea of Vermont independence called Vermont Commons. The print version is a twelve-page monthly newspaper included as an insert in the Vermont Guardian and also distributed separately to paid subscribers and SVR members. Recent contributors to Vermont Commons include Frank Bryan, Wendell Berry, Kirkpatrick Sale, Bill McKibben, and James Howard Kuntsler.
Thomas H. Naylor and Jim Hogue, who speaks French, participated in the fifteenth national Congress of the Parti Québécois in Quebec City on June 3-5 at the invitation of Vice Premiere Marie Malavoy. The invitation to the PQ Congress represented a form of political recognition of the Second Vermont Republic by a major political party in a neighboring country.
To celebrate Vermont’s uniqueness and independence SVR has proposed that the Vermont Legislature initiate the process of amending the Vermont Constitution so as to change the name of Vermont to the Republic of Vermont, a name which more accurately reflects the character and mission of the Vermont people.
SVR members participated in three Fourth of July parades this year in Barton, Cabot, and Warren. The politically radical, funky, grassroots, seat-of-the-pants Warren parade attracts as many as 20,000 people each year to the Mad River Valley. The parade, whose homemade floats are held together by duct tape and baling twine, has no marching bands, only bands that march. It combines New England Americana with vintage Vermont culture and the residual effects of 1960s hippie culture.
To celebrate the signing of the Vermont Constitution in 1777, SVR held a mock town meeting on the Constitution House lawn in Windsor, Vermont on July 9, 2005. The meeting was led by Ben Matchstick and Rick Foley. Participants received their own personal Vermont passport. This meeting is expected to become an annual SVR event.
In August 2005 SVR’s office was moved to Montpelier and seventh generation Vermonter Jane Dwinell was named Executive Director.
On October 28 the Second Vermont Republic will hold the first statewide convention on secession in the United States since North Carolina voted to secede from the Union on May 20, 1861. The daylong event will take place in the House Chamber of the State House in Montpelier. Only in Vermont would such a meeting be possible.
Secession combines a radical act of rebellion grounded in fear and anger with a positive vision of the future. Vermonters’ propensity to secede will be driven by a combination of external events beyond their control. Examples of such events might include: peak oil, collapse of the dollar, nuclear attack of Iran or N. Korea, reinstatement of the draft, another major act of terrorism in the U.S., highly visible violations of civil liberties, some human-made environmental catastrophe.
The decision to secede represents an act of faith that the new will be better than the old. It involves a very personal, painful, four-step decision process:
Among the principles to which the Second Vermont Republic subscribes are political independence, direct democracy, Swiss federalism, sustainability, economic solidarity, quality education, humane health care, nonviolence, political neutrality, and international solidarity with its neighbors New Hampshire, Maine, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces of Canada. Notwithstanding its policy of neutrality, SVR does not rule out some form of political alliance with the aforementioned states and provinces.
The Second Vermont Republic has three strategic objectives:
At the very least, the Second Vermont Republic represents a radically different political model for a nation obsessed with money, power, size, speed, greed, and the fear of terrorism.