Monday, January 2, 2012

The Long History of New Hampshire’s First in the Nation Presidential Primary

We have a secret ballot in the United States.  But wouldn’t it be fun to know how your ancestors voted? In today’s post I’m just rambling on about history, nothing in particular about genealogy today…
A NH "expert".  We're all experts every four years!

We removed to New Hampshire from Massachusetts in 1984.  It was apparent to me right from the beginning that it was a very political state.  New Hampshire’s General Court is one of the biggest political bodies in the free world, with 400 members.  Each legislator represents about 3,300 residents.  If this were the case in California, their house would have over 11,000 legislators.  If this were the case for the United States House of Representatives, there would be almost 100,000 representatives.  New Hampshire holds elections every two years for senators, legislators, and the governor.  New Hampshire, like the other New England states, still holds town meetings every year.  Most people are talking politics all the time, or campaigning for local or statewide positions.
The "Ballot Room" at the Balsams

New Hampshire has only three delegates selected in the primary, due to its small population, but the first primary gives it enormous media coverage, as well as a tradition of being a proving ground for candidates.  The world descends on the tiny town of Dixville Notch, where the two dozen or so voters file ballots right after the stroke of midnight in the Ballot Room of the Balsams Hotel.  The media frenzy to report the first election results is almost comical.  Until 1992 the candidate who won New Hampshire won the federal election (in 1922 Bill Clinton lost to candidate Paul Tsongas). 
NH Secretary of State William Gardner
addressed the NH Mayflower Society on the NH Presidential Primary
This past November, the New Hampshire Society of Mayflower Descendants invited the New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner to be the luncheon speaker at the Compact Day meeting.  You have all seen him on TV due to the controversy this year on setting the date of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary election.  Mr. Gardner battled several states who challenged New Hampshire’s “First in the Nation” status for the presidential primary election.   He came to the rescue by reminding everyone that by our state constitution New Hampshire is entitled to this special status, and so the date was set for January 10, 2012.

At this luncheon Mr. Gardner gave an interesting history of New Hampshire’s “First in the Nation” status, which I will attempt to summarize here.   When the states ratified the constitution, New Hampshire was the seventh state to sign, thus the 2/3 majority passed it as law.  Since then New Hampshire was given special status to vote first.  The idea for the first political party convention was proposed in Concord, New Hampshire in1832.  When the convention was held in Baltimore In July 1832, the newspapers credited New Hampshire with the idea.  

New Hampshire has held a political party primary for the president elect since 1916.  You can see memorabilia, news clippings pamphlets and political pins from all the primary elections at the New Hampshire Historical Society Museum and in the display cases of the Balsam’s Ballot room.   Several more populous states have attempted to wrestle the “First in the Nation” status from New Hampshire, but New Hampshire has stood its ground, usually by moving the date up from March town meeting to keep the election first.  The earliest New Hampshire primary was moved all the way up to January 8th in 2008. 
Yours Truly perusing the memorabilia
at the Balsams Ballot Room

....and, just in time for the New Hampshire primary, has come out with its usual presidential genealogy connections between candidates.  See this link:


Links for those who are truly curious about the “First in the Nation” Presidential Primary:
The official state of New Hampshire webpage on the First-in-the-Nation Primary election

The Secretary of the State of New Hampshire website for the 2012 Presidential Primary (where you go to fill out the paperwork if you want to be on the ballot,  see a sample ballot, etc.)

The Balsams Hotel Ballot Room history webpage
Live Free or Die Alliance a non-partisan, non-profit providing objective information about issues and candidates to New Hampshire citizens

A “Why NH?” sort of article from

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

1 comment:

  1. Very intersting info, Heather-- most of it I didn't know till now.

    Happy New Year to you and yours!