Vermont was the first place in the United States to abolish slavery. That happened in 1777, years before Vermont even became a state.
However, the Vermont Constitution continued to allow exceptions — it allowed slavery for children or for the purpose of repaying a debt or a fine. Those exceptions are still in the state constitution today, even though the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited them in 1865.
The Vermont Senate’s Government Operations Committee held a public hearing Thursday night about a proposed constitutional amendment to get rid of the slavery language.
At the hearing, Christine Kemp-Longmore of Burlington explained how the presence of that language in the foundation of Vermont’s laws made it difficult to explain slavery to her own children.
“One of the things where I got stuck was when my daughter asked me if it could ever happen again, and I said, ‘probably not’, but I couldn’t really say that with confidence,” she said.
“Having any language that keeps slavery in the Vermont constitution sends a very clear message to people of color that we are not safe in Vermont,” Rachel Wilson of Woodbury added.
If the process were to begin now, the earliest the state constitution could be changed to get rid of all its slavery language is November 2022.