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OPINION: Where one boundary begins and another ends

OPINION: Where one boundary begins and another ends

I should probably send a sympathy card to Vermont, maybe to the governor up in Montpelier — which is the smallest state capital in the country, with a population of 7,436, which is barely more than half the population of next-place Pierre, South Dakota — which, by the way, the locals pronounce “Peer.”

Now isn’t that interesting?

But why the sympathy card? Because Vermont lost the suit it filed against New Hampshire in 1915, which was settled by the Supreme Court in 1933, confirming that the boundary between those states is the west bank of the Connecticut River, not a dotted line somewhere near the middle of the river, which is what you’d expect.

You see, according to the Supremes, the state line is “the westerly edge of the waters of the Connecticut River at its average and mean stage during the entire year without reference to the extraordinary freshets or extreme droughts.” 

So the whole width of the river up there “belongs” to New Hampshire.

You’d think Vermonters would be in a tizzie over this, but apparently not. When I was up there in August, they seemed quite calm.

But it could have been worse: New Hampshire had claimed that the boundary was “at the top or westerly margin of the westerly bank of the Connecticut River” — meaning that some slices of land on the Vermont side, be they only a few feet or even a few inches wide, would belong to the Granite State instead of the Green Mountain State.

Wars have been fought over less.

Said the Supreme Court, in Vermont v. New Hampshire in 1933: “In determining the boundary, the Court considers the history of the subject from the creation of New York and New Hampshire as adjoining Royal Provinces to the admission of Vermont into the Union as an independent state, and also the subsequent acts and claims of Vermont and New Hampshire respecting the subject down to the present time, and finds and decides: (1) That the boundary of New York and New Hampshire originally was the river on its westerly side, and not a line on the bank above low water.”

So it seems that the idea of pushing the line to the middle of the river had already been given up as a lost cause by that time, and Vermont just wanted to make sure it had title to those slivers of land along the shoreline.

I only discovered this stuff while peering at a map of Brattleboro when I was planning a recent trip, but the controversy goes  way back — to 1674, when there was no Vermont and King Charles II granted his brother, the Duke of York, dominion over the New York Colony, whose eastern border they had already decided would be the west bank of the Connecticut River, east of which was New Hampshire Colony.

Later kings, including James II (the erstwhile Duke of York), George II and George III, would go along with this border stuff. 

Then, in 1777, Vermont declared independence — from everybody — calling itself the Vermont Republic and even flirting for a time with joining British Quebec. The Continental Congress never recognized the Vermont Republic but accepted Vermont as the 14th state in 1991, with its eastern border still at the water’s edge.

Now isn’t that interesting?

Reach Glenn Richter at