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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Independence Day!

I’m all for the Tenth Amendment, but there are times when States Rights are a pain.
Fox Island Thoroughfare Light, by Carol L. Douglas. Painted plein air from the deck of American Eagle.
While we’ve been legal residents of Maine for more than two years, we still pay income tax primarily to New York. It is one of a handful of states that tax telecommuters reporting to an office within its state.

Periodically, bills are proposed in Congress to standardize the rules for taxing telecommuters. These are quickly batted down. Powerful states, New York in particular, stand to lose a lot of money. Compared to poor Maine, New York is an 800-lb gorilla in national politics.

This is nothing new. By 1750, New Hampshire and New York were tussling over the Grants, the territory we now call Vermont. It wasn't sovereignty that drove them, but money. They were each selling land grants to speculators and settlers, not particularly caring if the grants overlapped.
Replica Green Mountain Boys flag from the Battle of Bennington, 1777.
In 1764, King George III settled the debate in favor of New York. New York promptly demanded a topping-up fee to validate the grants issued by New Hampshire. This fee was almost equal to the original purchase price. For settlers scrabbling to live on a hard, unforgiving and cold frontier, it was impossibly high. By 1769, surveyors and law enforcement were being physically threatened and driven out.

Some of these settlers appealed for help from a bumptious fellow from Connecticut named Ethan Allen. Allen had left school after his father died. His only involvement with the court system was from the wrong side. Still, he was fiery, and he was willing to find the lawyers he needed.

Schooner Mercantile, by Carol L. Douglas. 
The case pitted small landowners against powerful New Yorkers, including the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which was hearing the case. As is customary in such cases, the little guys lost.

That transformed Allen into a Vermonter. He returned to Bennington and met with the grantholders at the Catamount Tavern. From their grievances, the Green Mountain Boys were born. They intended to stop New York from exercising any authority in the Grants. Allen himself sold off his Connecticut property and moved north.

In October, 1771, Allen and his Boys drove off a group of settlers, telling them, “Go your way now, and complain to that damned scoundrel your Governor, God damn your Governor, Laws, King, Council, and Assembly.” That’s an idea I’ve often endorsed, although never so poetically.

In response, Governor William Tryon put a £20 bounty on the heads of the rebels. By 1774, he was exasperated enough to raise that to £100. He passed legislation to suppress the “Bennington Mob”, as he called them. It imposed the death penalty for interfering with a magistrate and criminalized all public assembly in the Grants.

If this unattributed portrait is any indication, Ethan Allen was a character.
On March 13, 1775, the conflict spilled into outright bloodshed.  A small riot in the town of Westminster resulted in the death of two men at the hands of Colonial officials. This might have resulted in an early War Between the States, but the fracas was overtaken by events.

On April 18, 1775, 700 British troops were sent to confiscate militia ordnance stored at Concord. Local militia resisted this early effort at gun control. The colonies united in force against the British. Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys passed down through history as patriots* and heroes, not as tax rebels from New York.

*The reality was a bit more complex, but I only have 600 words here.

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