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Vermont in the 1820s


William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison

Vermont was the scene of numerous reform movements from 1820 to 1860, encouraged by religious revivals that were common in the north and near Lake Champlain. Abolitionist and reformer William Lloyd Garrison started the Journal of the Times in Bennington in 1828, arguing against slavery and for moral reform, before leaving the state to found his more famous periodical, the Liberator. Social reformer John Humphrey Noyes founded the Perfectionist Community, a utopian commune, at Putney in 1839. Condemned for its practice of “complex marriage,” free sexual sharing within a community, it was disbanded and later reestablished in Oneida, New York. The Vermont Temperance Society was founded in 1828 to combat the use of alcohol, and in 1852 the state adopted a stringent statewide prohibition law. The statewide prohibition on alcohol lasted until 1902, when a law that gave local communities the option to legalize or ban alcohol sales took its place.

In the 1820s, a national movement developed to oppose the influence of Freemasonry in politics, and it attracted a strong following in Vermont. The Masons, a fraternal organization whose members were sworn to secrecy, included many well-known American and Vermont political leaders. Opponents of the Masons believed it was an elite, antidemocratic society. The opposition movement became the national Anti-Masonic Party after William Morgan, a Mason who was planning to publish a book revealing the secrets of the order, disappeared in 1826 in New York. Although his fate was never determined, it was widely believed that Morgan had been kidnapped and murdered by fellow Masons, increasing hostility toward the order. By 1831 the Anti-Masonic Party held the governorship of Vermont and a majority in the state legislature.

The next year, when the national Anti-Masonic Party nominated a candidate for president, Vermont was the only state to cast its electoral votes for the nominee, William Wirt. The Anti-Masons forced the Vermont lodges of the order to close, which left the party with no reason to exist. In 1836 Anti-Masonic leaders joined the new Whig Party.

Vermont had opposed slavery even before it became a state, and when slavery became an important national political issue in the 1830s, the state supported the antislavery forces. During the 1840s the Whig Party was able to maintain control of state offices by campaigning on antislavery platforms. When the national Whig Party broke up in the 1850s over the slavery question, most Vermont Whigs joined the newly formed Republican Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery. John Charles Frémont, the Republican candidate for president in 1856, won about 80 percent of Vermont’s popular vote. For the next 100 years, Vermont remained solidly Republican. "Vermont" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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