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Why an antislavery amendment, Prop 2, is on the ballot in Vermont

The Vermont Constitution may be amended to clarify its ban on slavery.
Wikimedia Commons
Prop 2 is a proposal to amend the Vermont constitution to clarify its ban on slavery.

It’s election season in Vermont, and by now, you’ve likely received your ballot in the mail. There are two measures on those ballots—Prop 2 and Prop 5, or Article 22—that, if passed, would change the wording of the state’s constitution.

Prop 2 is an amendment to the Vermont constitution that would clarify that all forms of slavery are prohibited in the state. It would add language to the state constitution that states "slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited." It would also repeal language stating that persons could be held as servants, slaves or apprentices with that person's consent, or for the payment of debts.

As currently written, Article 1 of the constitution says that “no person born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person as a servant, slave or apprentice, after arriving to the age of twenty-one years, unless bound by the person's own consent, after arriving to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”

Rev. Mark Hughes, executive director of Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and a proponent of Prop 2, told Vermont Edition that changing the language is an important step toward ending systemic racism. "One has to always remember that slavery itself —just the institution itself—is what caused this whole mess called systemic racism today, which we see these racially disparate, adverse outcomes across all systems of state government—housing, education, employment, health services and the like."

Debbie Ingram, executive director ofVermont Interfaith Action, was a state senator and lead sponsor of the legislation behind Prop 2 in 2019. Since then, it has passed both chambers of state government twice before being put before voters on the ballot this election.

There hasn't been strong opposition to Prop 2, but some constitutional scholars have argued that it isn't necessary to protect civil rights. When asked if the amendment was largely symbolic, Ingram said, "Well, first of all, symbols matter to human beings."

She added that "we can also say that it does have even more substantive impact because, I think, it's really time, especially for white people, to recognize that the legacy of slavery in our country has led to so many other problems. And the fact that we've never properly dealt with it, has directly led to the hate crimes, the hatred, the violence, the systemic racism, the overt racism, the implicit bias that we experience in our country every day."

Also this hour, Vermont Edition aired a recent episode of Brave Little State looking into how Vermont profited from slavery.

Vermont is one of a handful of states considering similar measures this year, and similar measures previously passed in Colorado, Nebraska and Utah.

Broadcast live on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at noon.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Tedra joined Vermont Public as a producer for Vermont Edition in January 2022 and now serves as the Managing Editor and Senior Producer. Before moving to Vermont, she was a journalist in New York City for 20 years. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University.