MONTPELIER >> Hard cider, birthday cake and finger food were on the menu Friday at the Vermont Historical Society as the state observed its 225th anniversary.
It was on March 4, 1791, that the 1st Federal Congress admitted Vermont as the 14th state in the United States of America.
Vermont had been an independent republic for the previous 14 years, the only state aside from Texas to go out on its own for a while. Vermont's 1777 Constitution was the first in North America to ban slavery.
"One constant through our history is our independent streak," U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and the Senate's longest-serving member, said in an email Friday. He pointed to several historical instances in which the second-smallest state by population has tended to "punch above our weight."
"Ethan Allen blockaded the British at a crucial time, to help us win the Revolutionary War. Vermonters stood out in the Battle of Gettysburg. Vermont's Ralph Flanders was the first in the U.S. Senate to take on Joe McCarthy," Leahy said.
In the latter half of the 20th century, an influx of newcomers helped turn Vermont from a longtime Republican stronghold into one of the most liberal states in the country, home to presidential candidates Howard Dean and Bernie Sanders.
The state Legislature has produced a series of laws that have been swatted down by the U.S. Supreme Court: limiting campaign contributions, trying to restrict the pharmaceutical industry's collection of doctors' prescribing records and trying to force health insurers to share data about their subscribers with state regulators.
But Steve Perkins, executive director of the Historical Society, also noted that some of Vermont's ideas have caught on: The state's civil union law in 2000 marked the first time gay couples' relationships had been legally recognized in the United States. In 2009, Vermont became the first — and still only — state to pass full marriage equality by legislation, without a court order.
Vermont's independent streak showed at the bicentennial in 1991, when a series of seven debates on secession from the United States ended with each audience voting to leave the union. Nothing much happened as a result.