Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This research project will examine the concept of sovereignty in Vermont for the years 1750-1791. As with most conceptual studies, it is necessary to first examine the history of the concept. I begin with René Descartes (1596-1650), and his re-conceptualization of Man in a natural state. It is my contention that his metaphysical and ontological findings in Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) were then adopted by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) in Leviathan (1651), and John Locke (1632-1704) in Two Treatises of Government (1689). Basing their philosophies on Descartes's "revised" depiction of Man in nature, both Hobbes and Locke envisioned a Man who naturally made both rational and passionate decisions, as communities transitioned, via the process of government formation, from the state of nature into the state of "civil society," as they termed it. Contemporaneous with this theoretical evolution was the inclusion of "the people" in British governance through the rise of Parliament at the turn of the seventeenth century. Juxtaposed with real events, the philosophers' reconceptualization demonstrates an evolving concept of sovereignty in the British state. By the time of the American Revolution, the concept of popular sovereignty was born, and "the people" ascended in both political theory and political reality.
Because the eighteenth-century concept of sovereignty was based heavily on the metaphor of the state of nature, I chose the inhabitants of the New Hampshire Grants as a case study. These residents believed they resided in something close to a literal state of nature from 1760-1777, and that they had lived the theoretical philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and other contemporary theorists. Once the theoretical description of a natural state is juxtaposed with the socio-political history of the Grants region, it is clear that inhabitants believed the Colony of New York, the appendage of the British state which claimed authority in the region, did not provide efficient governance for the residents. After the American Revolution broke out, Grants residents claimed it was their natural right to erect a state and systematically replace New York. Once Vermont's constitution went into effect in 1778, the concept of sovereignty was expressed in response to two simultaneous processes: the first, the geo-political stabilization of the state in the midst of both war and constant challenges to the state's existence; the second, the Vermont people transforming from a blend of "Yorkers" and "Yankees" into Vermonters. Both of these processes were complete by the mid-1780s as surrounding states and former Yorkers grew to accept the legitimacy of Vermont. By the late 1780s, as the United States Constitutional Convention was underway, Vermont was no longer considered a "pretended state," and was able to face the convention on its own terms, representing its own sovereign people.
Number of Pages
DeMairo, Christopher, "On the People and the "Pretended" State: The Concept of Sovereignty in Vermont, 1750-1791" (2017). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 722.