Vermont trying to remove mention of slavery from constitution
Vermont was the first state to abolish adult slavery in 1777.
Now, state lawmakers are trying to completely eliminate any reference to slavery in Vermont’s constitution.
Back in the day, the state only enacted a partial ban on slavery for people older than 21. The proposed bill would remove that and any mention of slavery from the constitution.
Sen. Jeanette White, who presented the proposition, said the bill clarifies ambiguity in the language.
“There’s been some confusion about the way it was worded. It seemed to imply that once a person arrived at age 21 there could be no slavery, which seemed to imply that child slavery was condoned,” White said.
“We felt it was necessary to get rid of that … in this time where we’re seeing a rise of hate crimes and white nationalist groups.”
The state Senate passed the bill 28-1 on Wednesday, sending it to the House.
One senator thinks the ‘historic’ language should be left alone
Sen. Dick McCormack was the only one to vote against the bill. He believes that the language is a “historic artifact that should be left untouched.”
“Given when you look at the horrible, evil thing slavery is, that fact that Vermont was the first to outlaw it is a source of great pride,” McCormack said. “It ought to be preserved.”
He added that the bill is purely a symbolic gesture, given that the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery in 1865.
“What we’ve done basically is we’ve put a smiley face on our history,” McCormack said.
It’ll be years before the amendment takes effect
Amending the state constitution is a lengthy process. If the House approves the bill, lawmakers will have to pass it again after January 2021 and then the bill would go to a statewide referendum.
James Lyall, executive director of ACLU of Vermont, said in a statement that the proposed amendment is “welcome and long overdue.”
“It is an important recognition of our society’s failure to root out systemic racism and white supremacy culture, which does violence to communities of color every day, here in Vermont and across the nation,” Lyall said.
“Affirming that slavery in all forms is unconstitutional will help counter the racist dog whistling that still pervades American politics by sending the message that Vermonters are serious about addressing racial injustice, and that we have the will and capacity to change.”