The Story of Ethan Allen (1738-1789)

Chapter V

Ethan Allen had his own reasons for believing in Republicanism. The republican ideology was the spirit of the revolution, but not everyone had the same reasons as Ethan Allen for believing in it.

* * *

The citizens of the colonies participated in the American Revolution for different reasons. In recent decades, the American Revolution has become known as an interior and exterior revolution. The interior war was the fight by lower layers in the colonial social structure, against further aristocratic rule once the British were defeated. The colonial society has been divided into several layers. At the top were the Crown appointed British authorities carrying out the orders of the king. These were the governors, lieutenant governors, court justices, etc. The next layer down were the aristocrats who benefited from the British Empire. These were often wealthy merchants and large scale land speculators. The third layer contained smaller merchants and smaller land speculators, looking to fain the power and authority of the those in the layer above. Some of the people in this layer were Sam Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. The fourth layer contained tee shop keepers, artisans, and farmers. Ethan Allen was included in this layer. The fifth layer contained the laborers, and the sixth and last layer was the slaves. Those in the third layer, Sam Adams, Jefferson, Hancock, etc. worked to gain the support of the layers beneath them against those in the first and second layers. However, Jefferson and his colleagues had to be careful that the people they motivated did not get out of hand, and rebel against them after the war. Reason being, with the elimination of the British; Jefferson, Hancock, and Adams would be members of the new aristocracy. Their layer would surface to the top with the removal of the first two.

The fourth layer stood to gain the most from a democratic government. They would not be in power after the war was over, so they would rely on democratic devices to protect their liberties. The Hancocks, Adamses, and Jeffersons would be the most powerful men in the country, they would not have to rely on democratic institutions to give them life, liberty, and property. However, in order to get their power, they would have to enlist the assistance of the lower classes at the price of including the democratic institutions, in the future government of the United States of America.

From the third layer on down, all layers fought against the British. All firmly believed that their liberties and property would not be safe, no matter what layer they were in, so long as the British were still in power. This was the exterior aspect of the war.

The Grant settlers felt the best chance they had to become an independent province, which they believed was the only way to protect their property and democratic liberties, was to assist in defeating the British. Ethan Allen believed that if the Grants could prove they were responsible enough to fight successfully in war, then they would be worthy enough to be awarded statehood by the Continental Congress. The same argument has been made by many teenagers today, who feel that if they are eighteen and ready to go to war for their country, then they should be able to drink alcohol as well. Granted, becoming a state and drinking a beer represent a vast difference in freedom, but the achievements of the Green Mountain Boys during the American Revolution were quite significant. Their victory at Bennington seriously weakened the strength of Burgoyne's forces in northern New England, thereby preventing the loss of New Hampshire, New York, and the Grants to the British. (46)

After a brief military career that began at Ft. Ticonderoga and ended in Montreal, Allen was captured by the British. He was imprisoned throughout Canada and Britain for two years. After he arrived home, Ethan wrote his Narrative, an account of his imprisonment. The Narrative was important to the colonies because the Americans were losing the war. The Narrative was patriotic propaganda that motivated the colonies, as did Thomas Paine's Common Sense.(47)

In a congressional resolution by John Adams, on May 10, 1776, he stated that, "where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs has been hitherto established, the people could adopt such government as shall in the opinion of the Representatives of the people best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents." These statements echo the Lockian philosophy of a social contract the people had with the government. This was a philosophy held by many of those involved in the fight against Britain for independence, as well as Ethan Allen and the Grant settlers. (48)

According to James Duane, one of the New York authorities who wanted the Grant settlers off their land, the war had changed nothing. The Grants could not become a state because the king said New York's border extends to the Connecticut River. This seemed to the Grant settlers an odd reason, since the British had been defeated and the king was no longer an authority in the colonies. Furthermore, Duane continued, Congress declared that all states keep the boundaries they had previous to the war. This meant Vermont should remain part of New York.(49)