Alternative History

The Sentinel of St. John's, Newfoundland, April 1, 2010

Republic of Keene celebrates, reflects on a year of independence:

DD1983 Keene Flag Civil KEENE - Music and fireworks pierced the silence of this normally quiet capital village throughout the day and long into the night, as the citizens of Keene, a small, idealistic, and insistently independent republic in the Adirondacks, celebrated their first year together. The celebration was attended by nearly every one of the 10,000 citizens who could get away from their farms, which stretch away from the capital in either direction along the Ausable River. Local progressive-folk bands New Granite and XODUS, among others, played marathon concerts for the cheering crowds, who became more and more receptive as the cider continued to flow.

Compact Day, as it is officially dubbed, commemorates the Keene Compact, signed on March 31 exactly one year ago by the 1600 or so adults who had left the Republic of Vermont to found a state based on wholly new ideas about government. Though they do not shy away from using imagery from the old United States - especially the Revolution - the adherents of Keene's founding ideology, called Libertarianism, want their creation to be a radical departure from the USA as it existed before the World War. "The Republic ought to leave ordinary people unfettered to pursue their own ambitions," states The Republic of Liberty, a book by Keene's President, Abram Howland, who serves both as Keene's George Washington and Thomas Paine, "...and it must not have the power to seize their resources to pursue grandiose projects that serve only to inflate the egos of the rulers." By limiting government to a sort of mutual security organization, the Libertarians of Keene hope to avoid the past's descent into war, which they blame on an over-abundance of state power.

Keene, then, is dedicated to the aims of absolute peace and absolute liberty - as lofty a goal as any nation ever set for itself. So the outpouring of emotion at Compact Day comes as no surprise. Keene's Assembly, channeling US founder John Adams, decreed last autumn that "the 31st day of March ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance; it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfire and illumination from one end of this Republic to the other from this time forward forevermore." The enthusiasm of the revelers today can hardly disappoint.

However, Keene's neighbors have been less than enthusiastic supporters of the ambitious new settlement. Vermont, the republic that most of Keene's settlers chose to leave, has been understandably aloof to the whole thing. And the neighboring village of Lake Placid was furious at what it saw as a land grab in its own backyard. Six months ago, the two towns clashed violently: "our war for independence", one speaker at the festivities said. It was telling that the only outsiders at the celebrations, besides supporters still living in Vermont (whose donations have kept Keene afloat over the last year) was a delegation from the village of Malone, the only government to recognize Keene's independence. Running throughout the celebrations of Compact Day was an unmistakable current of defensiveness; Keene is hungry to show the world that it truly is an independent republic.

Politics aside, the entire community of Keene's citizens, from the homesteaders and villagers in the valley to the small white-collar community in the capital, has much to be thankful for today. One year ago they set out into the mountain wilderness with nothing but their ideals and a few rough supplies. Today, they comprise a republic that, while not exactly the darling of the region, has endured for a full year against all odds. Keene Assemblyman Kevin Brown said in a speech between music acts, "Above all, today we celebrate because we are alive, and we are free" - a statement that any one of us, survivors of the World War, would do well to repeat often.