Vermont House Advances Proposal of Amendment to the Vermont Constitutional Clarifying the Prohibition of Slavery and Indentured Servitude

21 January 2020

Montpelier, VT - On Tuesday, the Vermont House advanced the proposal of a constitutional amendment to clarify the prohibition on slavery and indentured servitude (PR.2) on a vote of 145-0.

The proposal of amendment passed the Senate in April and in May, the House held a public hearing on the proposal as part of the process to consider an amendment to the constitution. 

Chapter I, Article 1 of the Vermont Constitution is historically significant in that it is the source of the anti-slavery provision that made the Vermont Constitution of 1777 the first state constitution to outlaw slavery; however, the proposed amendment would eliminate part of this article and replace it with the statement, “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited,” as the current article does not protect those under the age of twenty-one. Currently, the second half of Article 1 reads:

No person born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to beholden by law, to serve any person as a servant, slave or apprentice, after arriving to the age of twenty-one years, unless bound by the person’s own consent, after arriving to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debts, fines, costs or the like.

“As we work to ensure that all Vermonters are treated equally and fairly, it is crucial that we amend the archaic language of the Constitution to emphasize that slavery and indentured servitude in any form and for persons of any age are prohibited,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson. “People of all races and genders who live, work, and visit Vermont should feel welcomed and safe.

“It is notable that the House will take this vote on the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day when we recognize the legacy of a man who dedicated his life to fighting for justice and equality. In the current national political climate, the racism that remains in our country is surfacing. Those of us who are not subjected daily to race-based violence, blatant discrimination, and subtle microaggressions have vital and long-overdue work to do to smooth out the very rough places of injustice. It is the collective responsibility of all Vermonters to make these Green Mountains a welcoming place of opportunity for all. This amendment is a step in the right direction to help break down structural racism so that we may build a truly just and equitable society. It is imperative that our work to create a Vermont for all be at the core of everything we do.” 

The proposed constitutional amendment now awaits consideration by the 2021-2022 legislature. If it passes both chambers again next biennium, the question will be on the ballot in 2022 for the approval of Vermont voters.

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