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Most Prominent Politicians (XIV): Vermont


Like most of New England outside of Massachusetts, Vermont has a very weak history of prominent politicians. I believe the state has contributed all of 1 person to a cabinet position, for instance. This isn’t too surprising, given Vermont’s size and proximity to two giants.

1. Ethan Allen–even after all these years, Allen, who was the most prominent person in Vermont during the American Revolution, remains its most important political figure. Given that Allen didn’t actually do that much, it’s kind of sad. He pushed for Vermont statehood, led the Green Mountain Boys, participated in the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga, and led the confiscation of Tory property in Vermont, but died in 1789, before Vermont reached statehood, his ultimate goal.

2. Justin Morrill–Congressman, 1855-67, Senator, 1867-98–most known for sponsoring the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act of 1862, establishing land grant colleges and revolutionizing America higher education. He also authored the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, attacking Mormon polygamy.

3. George Edmunds–Senator, 1866-91. Major supporter of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. Authored the Edmunds Act to crack down on Mormon polygamy (not sure what it is about Vermont senators and Mormons). On the commission to decide the disputed election of 1876. Generally prominent if not leading senator of the Gilded Age.

4. Patrick Leahy–Senator, 1975-present. Liberal lion, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Like Edmunds, a generally prominent if not leading senator.

5. Warren Austin–Senator 1931-46, Ambassador to the United Nations, 1946-53. Supporter of Franklin Roosevelt’s move away from isolationism. His internationalist perspective endeared him to Harry Truman, who named him UN Ambassador.

6. William Dillingham–Senator, 1900-23. Chaired the United States Immigration Commission, which played up the threat from eastern and southern European immigration. Generally led the charge to end immigration. Real class act.

7. Howard Dean–Governor, 1991-2003, making him the longest serving governor in the state’s history. Most well-known for his 2004 presidential campaign which made him the darling of anti-war progressives despite his centrist tendencies. Most laudable is his time as the head of the Democratic National Committee.

8. Redfield Proctor–Secretary of War under Benjamin Harrison, 1889-91, Senator, 1891-1908. His major accomplishment as Vermont’s only cabinet member was to improve the living conditions of enlisted soldiers, which I know were pretty bad. Classic old-school Gilded Age Republican who supported high tariffs and the gold standard.

9. George Aiken–Senator, 1941-75–Long-serving, generally moderate Republican who supported liberal ideas like food stamps. Relatively undistinguished in the end.

We are really fishing for #10, so here it goes:

10. Madeline Kunin, Governor, 1985-91, Ambassador to Switzerland, 1996-99. First Jewish female governor in American history. Was also Deputy Secretary of Education, 1993-96.

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