Josh Fitzhugh’s version of a speech that might have been given by Vermont founder Ethan Allen at a July 10 gubernatorial-candidate forum and picnic at the Vermont Granite Museum, in Barre. Mr. Fitzhugh is the chairman of the Washington County (Vt.) Republican Committee.
My fellow Vermonters! The Almighty has given me an unprecedented Opportunity after 225 years to revisit the haunts of my Youth, to see what has become of my own special Green Mountain State, and to share with you my Thoughts regarding the same, with no Shame or Fear but only a Desire to arrive at the Truth using Reason which is the only Oracle of Man!
Ever since I arrived to a state of manhood, and acquainted myself with the general history of mankind, I have felt a sincere passion for Liberty. Many times have I hazarded my life for you, as in my attack on Montreal and my barbarous captivity by the British. You know that when I lived, with a small band of fearless countrymen, I stormed and took Ticonderoga, a stony symbol of Oppression and Tyranny, “in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” ( I might also have said, “Come out of there, you goddamn old rat!”)
The Green Mountain Boys later defeated the British warlord Burgoyne at Bennington. For many years I wrote, spoke and fought against New York authorities who wished to Deprive us of Property secured by the New Hampshire grants, even to the extent of sentencing us to Death in absentia for our Actions and Beliefs.
There were a number of Depraved and mean spirited Rascals, who would probably have assisted that designing government of Land clenchers to divide and enslave us, had not the Integrity and Heroism of the Green Mountain Boys prevented it.
Since New‐Hampshire had forsaken us, and New York tyrannized us as much as they possibly could or dare, we were left a people between heaven and hell, as free as is possible to conceive as any people to be; and in this condition we formed a government upon the true principles of Liberty and Natural Right.
So what do I see in Vermont today? I see a Beautiful land, as gorgeous as I recall, with as striking views of the Green and Adirondack mountains as ever I witnessed in my youth. I find people warm and friendly but sadly uninspired by the true Passions of our existence, a perpetual quest for Liberty and Personal Achievement. I see well-worked farms and hard-working farmers, and a strong commitment to our militia and armed forces. I see a people less controlled by clerics and more believing, as I am, in the law of nature.
Most proudly I see a state which still exists, independent of New York. But sadly, I also see a government which in many ways resembles the Schemers and Land‐Jockeys who worked so feverishly to deprive us of our Possessions and Liberties some two and a quarter centuries ago
You ask for examples. I see towering industrial windmills placed on Pristine mountaintops, because lobbyists have secured tax breaks and incentives in back room deals. I see contractors unable to choose how they wish to employ their help. I see local schools controlled by state know‐it‐alls. I see one’s very health determined not by one’s lifestyle and family and the will of God, but by the State itself. I see taxes imposed not to fund a critical social need but rather to redistribute income amongst the population. I see a high proportion of families under the regular supervision of state social workers, and I see rows of empty storefronts in some of our biggest cities.
When I lived, except for debts caused by war, government expenses were miniscule. Today, nearly 50 percent of all human enterprise in this state is attributable to government. Taxes and fees are imposed on nearly every human product and activity, from beehives to ginseng, mutual funds to fuel oil. State expenses are increasing twice the rate of income growth. I did not fight to create a “land of endless taxation!”
Our legislature was composed of farmers and small merchants, busy people who found time in winter to discuss and resolve the important issues of the day. Now I see that your solons are nearly full time and no issue seems too small to address. Where is the faith in the people and their families to solve these problems themselves? Above all, I see a state in which Freedom is defined as the ability to Ask for Permission rather than a Right to Act and Do, and where the political leaders routinely hand back our tax money and expect a thank you in return. Our leaders may not seek, but in fact are getting, a permanent dependency from their citizens. My wife, Fanny, doesn’t like me to say it, but I call it the “Mother May I” syndrome, after the children’s game:
“Mother Vermont, may I put a shed on this property? Yes you may, dear Ethan, if you pay us a fee and it satisfies our extensive rules.
“Mother Washington, will you give me some money for a new business? Why yes, Ethan, if we like your business, and you swear an oath to satisfy these 30 conditions.
“Mother Vermont, may I buy a gun from my neighbor? Today, yes, Ethan, but given your reputation, probably not for long.”
A dependent people are an impoverished people. A dependent people are those waiting for, indeed expecting, some kind of a handout. A dependent people are a people who believe that because they live, they are entitled to happiness. By my Beetle of Immortality, Happiness is not guaranteed in life!
You have this strange game where people try to throw a ball through a basket. A player in this game, LeBron James, said it well when he talked about his home in the Western Reserve. There he said, “Nothing is given; everything is earned. You work for what you have.” That is the Vermont I left and the Vermont I love!!
Tyranny, my friends, does not always come at the end of a gun, nor does it always come quickly. You can lose freedom slowly law by law, tax by tax. When I lived, hard currency was scare but we were free to build our lives and fortune in this new land. The opportunity to innovate and profit inspired all of us. Now it seems life is a network of credits and debits so complicated that even your vaulted computers can’t keep them straight, and the word Profit is treated like blasphemy.
We fought the New York patroons, the British lords and the Loyalist sympathizers because law was being used as a tool to cheat us out of the country we had made vastly valuable by labor and expense of our Fortunes. And if my life meant anything, it is that faced with such insatiable, avaricious, overbearing, inhuman, and barbarous intentions, you are not bound to be an accessory to your own ruin and destruction, but may act in accord with the law of Nature and Self Preservation.
Now don't assume I am against all government. Anyone who is acquainted with mankind, and things, must know that it would be impracticable to manage the Political Matters of this country without the assistance of civil government. People without it are like a ship in the Sea without a helm or mariner, tossed with impetuous waves. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, “Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule / then drop into thyself, and be a fool.”
You ask what can be done. I came here today because I feel these good people speaking today can help get Vermont back on track. I know they care for this state and understand the values that created her. I have previously, upon mature deliberation, expatiated on the good effects which cannot fail of redounding to the inhabitants, in so extensive a frontier country as, from the blessings of a well established civil government; and think it worth my trouble to communicate my sentiments and reflections to the public, with a view of encouraging the good and virtuous inhabitants of this State, to persevere and be happy in the further confirming and establishing the same.
In closing let me repeat something I wrote in my letter to Congress urging acceptance of Vermont as a state in the new Union. “A confederation of the state of Vermont with the other free and independent states cannot fail of being attended with salutary consequences to the confederacy at large, for ages yet to come. What a nursery of hardy soldiers may in future be nourished and supported in this fertile country (which is one hundred and fifty miles in length, and near sixty in breadth), stimulated with the spirit of liberty, having a perfect detestation and abhorrence of arbitrary power, from the exertions whereof they have suffered so much evil.”
I said then, and say now, that Vermonters will instill the principles of liberty and social virtue in their children, which will be perpetuated to future generations. The climate and interior remove from the sea coast will naturally be productive of a laborious life, by which means they will be in great measure exempted from luxury and self indulgence, and be a valuable support to the rising empire of the new world.
Hear ye, Hear ye. What was true then is still true today! Good luck and may I see you again some time!