The first chapter is a "Declaration of Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Vermont," was drafted in 1777, and is followed by a "Plan or Frame of Government" outlining the structure of governance with powers distributed between three co-equal branches: executive, legislative and judiciary.
Prior to 1791 Vermont was an independent state, known as the Vermont Republic, governed under the Constitution of the Vermont Republic. The Vermont Constitution was in 1777, and remains, among the most far reaching in guaranteeing personal freedoms and individual rights. It is the first constitution in the new world to prohibit slavery, guarantee universal manhood suffrage regardless of property ownership, and universal free education, a mandate for public funding of primary and secondary education available to all citizens.
The Vermont Republic's constitution's Declaration of Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Vermont anticipates the United States Bill of Rights by a dozen years.
The Vermont Constitution is divided into two chapters. The first is divided into articles, while the second is divided into sections.
- Chapter I is the declaration of Rights of the citizens of Vermont.
- Chapter II establishes the frame of government, detailing the three branches of government as well as elections, impeachments, militia, and other general provisions.
Amending the constitution
Section 72 lays out the procedures which govern changes to the Virginia Constitution.
- Proposed amendments must originate in the Vermont State Senate.
- Amendments must earn a 2/3rds vote of the members of Vermont State Senate, but require only a majority vote of members of the Vermont House of Representatives.
- Amendments, once adopted by the senate and house, must then be considered against at the next biennial session of the Vermont General Assembly.
- The amendment must win a majority vote of both chambers when it is considered for this second time.
- Such amendments then go on a ballot for a vote of the state's electors. If a proposed amendment wins a simple majority vote, it becomes part of the state's constitution.
The Vermont Constitution, like that of several other states, does not provide for constitutional conventions. Perhaps as a result, Vermont's current constitution was adopted in 1793. The Massachusetts Constitution is the only older constitution.
However, in 1969, the Vermont State Legislature referred an advisory measure to the ballot, asking ""Shall a Vermont Constitutional Convention be convened at the state house in Montpelier on October 6, 1969 to consider the following topics which shall receive a majority of the votes cast upon it in this election, and no others?" (The state's voters said "no" to this advisory question.)
Vermont has changed its amendment process three times:
- From 1777-1870, amendments could be proposed every seven years by the Council of Censors. This was a 13-member group whose members were elected in statewide elections.
- From 1870-1974, proposals originated as they do now in the state senate, but could only be made every ten years. This ten-year limit was known as the "time-lock".
- In 1974, the ten-year "time lock" was reduced to four years.
- Full text of the Constitution of Vermont
- The Vermont State Archives text of the Vermont Republic Constitution, 1777
- The Vermont State Archives text of the 1786 Constitution
- The Vermont State Archives text of the 1793 Constitution
- Visit the birthplace of Vermont and its Constitution
- See the original Constitution manuscript
- The Vermont State Constitution: A Reference Guide, by William C. Hill, a retired Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, published in 1992.