Vermont was one of three states to approve ballot measures Tuesday to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime.
Vermont was the only state that had a constitutional provision that permitted involuntary servitude. Proposal 2 repealed language that says persons could be held as servants, slaves or apprentices with the person’s consent or “for the payments of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”
It passed with almost 90 percent of the vote.
Peter Teachout, a longtime professor of constitutional law at Vermont Law School, contributed to the writing of Prop 2. He says Vermont’s Constitution eliminated slavery in the state with it’s opening lines that “all persons are born equally free and independent.”
“Our constitution makes that crystal clear,” he said.
Teachout said that slaves have not been bought and sold in the state since 1777. However, white migrants to Vermont used to bring and possess slaves without punishment. An 1802 Vermont Supreme Court case set a precedent that once a slave crossed into Vermont, their bounded contract would be null and void.
While some historians rej3ected changes to Vermont’s founding document, Teachout thinks passage sends a national message.
“It’s a kind of statement we’re making that says we are against racism, we’re against the history of slavery,” Teachout said.