Attitudes toward New Hampshire's form of government were shaped by the state's relationship with England and by a series of royal governors. The debate erupted in the mid-1770s and continued during the war. The fundamental ideological disagreement focused on local control versus state authority. Moreover, the competition for power among three distinct regions of New Hampshire (the seacoast and Piscataqua Valley, Merrimack Valley, and the Connecticut River Valley) animated the public debate further.
Before passage of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, New Hampshire was the only province in New England without a formal charter of incorporation. New Hampshire was without legal government when the last royal governor, John Wentworth, fled in the summer of 1775 and the personal safety and future of Loyalists was in question. New Hampshire declared its independence six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4.
The Federalists, an elite party concerned about commercial interests and monetary policy for the new nation, regained power in New Hampshire in 1813 under John Taylor Gilman, who did not cooperate with President Madison's administration and did not support the war. Power for the Federalists was short-lived, as a declining economy lead to the resurgence of the Republican Party after the war.
The nature of state government that evolved in New Hampshire during the nationalization of America had its roots in the desire to impose checks on state control, creating a political structure that was and continues to be decentralized. The governor heads a weak executive branch held in check to this day by a five-member Executive Council elected from five regions of the state. Moreover, the large House of Representatives, known as the General Court (400 members), ensures strong local representation and is the third largest legislative body in the world after Parliament and the United States Congress. A 24-member state Senate rounds out a bicameral legislative body.
New Hampshire remains one of two states with two-year terms for governor, for members of the Executive Council, and for legislative office. The struggle in the early national period focused on local control, on limiting state and federal power, and on the proper distribution of authority. Although New Hampshire became the keystone of the federal government by voting as the ninth and ratifying state to adopt the United States Constitution in 1789, it has always cast a wary eye on federal power over states and on state power over local government.
Local elections of delegates and representatives to constitutional conventions included the tactic of "binding instructions" to ensure that local representation would not be sacrificed to the state or federal government. This proved unpopular because a constitutional convention requires public discussion and reasoned decisions based on varying points of view raised at the convention. Hence the delegates need flexibility, not binding instructions. However, New Hampshire's political culture continues to be steeped in the desire to preserve local, community interests. The method of voting began with voice votes at town meetings, but by 1804 New Hampshire had directed in state statute that town clerks be chosen by ballot. Ballots were hand written, although by the 1830s, printed ballots came into use.
Early in the new republic, the right to vote reflected the tension between the Federalists, those property owners with a "stake in society," and the Republicans (Democratic-Republicans), who wanted to expand democratic participation as broadly as possible—so broadly, in fact, that some feared "mob rule" at the other end of the spectrum. By 1800 New Hampshire was one of just three states (the others were Kentucky and Vermont) that had universal white manhood suffrage, having done away with the requirement of property ownership. All of New England except Connecticut allowed African Americans to vote without significant restriction. New Hampshire endorsed the principle that the more people taking part in the democratic process, the better. This engaged political culture continues to this day, with high voter participation in New Hampshire's well-known first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
- Daniell, Jere R. 1981.
Colonial New Hampshire—A History.Millwood, NY: KTO Press.
- Gardner, William M., Mevers, Frank C., Upton, Richard F. 1989.
New Hampshire: The State That Made Us A Nation.Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall Publisher.
- Turner, Lynn Warren. 1983.
The Ninth State: New Hampshire’s Formative Years.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
The Anti-Federalists were never a political party as is thought of in modern times. It was a coalesced group of voting interests that were united in their opposition to the Constitution.
"The Antifederal objections to the Constitution fall into four categories. First, some attacked it for violations of the Whig theory. Such criticisms came particularly from merchants, lawyers and large landowners who believed in Whig ideology themselves, and represented a sort of right wing, non-agrarian Antifederalism. Second, almost all of the new plan's opponents accused it of excessive centralization: these were the localists. Third, some critics attacked the Constitution as leading toward monarchy or aristocracy rather than democracy: these comprised the left wing. Finally, the agrarians feared that the commerical, creditor, or large propertied interests would benefit at the expense of the farmers." (Jackson T. Main, History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher. p. 153.)
"Strictly speaking, Antifederalism ended with the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, without ever producing a party in any modern sense. During the next few years the term continued as a word of opprobrium, employed by the Federalists to demean whoever opposed the men or policies of the new government. In some states, opposition nearly ceased. In others, however, former Antifederalists remained strong and even gained ground, especially where they had developed a local political organization: they composed a majority or a strong minority in such states as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, and appeared elsewhere for the first time, as in New Jersey. Although they still lacked an inter-state organization and suffered a serious loss of strength during the election of 1788-1789, bitterly fought in certain areas. Presently, in Congress, they supported amendments and opposed various policies of the Federalists. The close relationship between the Anti-Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans may be traced through a continuity both of men and ideas. At least seven-eighths of those known to have opposed the Constitution in 1787-1788 became Republicans." (Main, p. 166)
"Despite the intensity of Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, no Anti-Constitution party emerged after ratification. With the demise of the second-convention movement, Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists only diminshed the likelihood of a distinctive Anti-Federalist party's emerging. Instead, Anti-Federalists set about becoming a loyal opposition. A number of other factors facilitated this transformation. The rapid adoption of the Bill of Rights, even if it failed to satisfy many Anti-Federalists, deprived them of an important rallying point. Reverence for the principles of constitutionalism and a belief that, when properly amended, the new frame of government would effectively protect liberty further weakened the chances of an Anti-Federal's party forming. The respect accorded George Washington, the new president, also worked against continued opposition. When coupled with renewed econimic prosperity, all of those factors helped promote the formal demise of Anti-Federalism. Yet, though Anti-Federalism did not generate an Anti-Constitution party, the term 'Anti-Federalist,' the various texts produced by the Anti-Federalists during ratification, and the alternative constitutional discourses that shaped Anti-Federalism did not simply disappear. The emergence of a court faction among Federalists caused many former supporters of the Constitution to rehtink the original Anti-Federalist critique. The efforts of former Federalists, most notable James Madison, and former Anti-Federalists, such as William Findley, were crucial to the creation of a Democratic-Republican opposition. That loyal opposition drew important ideas and rhetorical themes from Anti-Federalism and adapted them to the exigencies of political conflict in the 1790s." (p. 170-171)
- History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher.
- The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Saul Cornell. Chapel Hill, 1999, University of North Carolina Press.