Town Meeting Day

Town Meeting Day is a holiday celebrated across Vermont on the first Tuesday in March. It’s a day when about 40 Vermont towns hold town meetings to discuss the important business of the community and to allow citizens to make their voices heard. This holiday has been observed for over 200 years and it allows the citizens in these communities to engage with democracy in a direct way.

The History of the Town Meeting

The town meeting is a form of local government that has been practiced in communities all over the U.S. since at least the 17th century. It first began with towns in New England but soon spread across the rest of the U.S. Although town meetings differed from one locale to the next, most of them gave direct representation to citizens of the town and were therefore a form of direct democracy.

In the New England towns of Dover and Portsmouth, town meetings were a regular annual occurrence since the 1630s. Some of these early meetings were very basic, with ordinary citizens merely coming together at a tavern, private residence, or church to discuss the town’s business. For many communities, attendance at these meetings was mandatory, and failure to show could be punished with a fine.

Nowadays, town meetings aren’t as prevalent as they used to be, and some communities are now using ballot referenda to enact legislation instead of holding a town meeting. However, for most communities, the town meeting remains an important practice that gives ordinary citizens a chance to participate in their local government.

The History of Town Meeting Day

This holiday was first created in 1762 in a town called Bennington. The date of this holiday is significant because it was established even before Vermont would become a U.S. state. In fact, it was 15 years before the date Vermont became a state. Of course, during the time when the town meeting was first held, it wasn’t uncommon for people to hold town meetings to give people a chance to air their opinions.

At the first Bennington meeting (which was held in a tavern, by the way), residents had to decide on the election of town officers. Some of the first orders of business included paying someone $40 to set up a grist mill by August of that year and then paying someone the same amount to set up a sawmill by September of that year. This made the town productive, and it wasn’t long before it began to prosper.

Observing Town Meeting Day

Town Meeting Day is observed in Vermont by first giving state government employees the day off. Many workers are also allowed to take unpaid leave from their job so they can attend the annual town meeting. Of course, the essential operation of certain jobs or the government might not make this possible for everyone. Students 18 years and older are also allowed to attend town meetings. People also use the hashtag #TownMeetingDay on their social media accounts to spread the word about the meetings in their towns.

Where is it celebrated?
United States (State holiday) - Vermont
When is it?
This year (2024)
March 5 Tuesday
Next year (2025)
March 4 Tuesday
Last year (2023)
March 7 Tuesday