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.
In the "Era of Good Feelings", when many candidates were of the same party, specific issues would divide the candidates and the candidates would be described in newspapers in terms of their support or opposition of that issue. The various one-issue parties include:
- New York 1807 Assembly, Dutchess County: The Division and Anti-Division Tickets.
- New Jersey 1810 Essex County: The Bank Tax Ticket and the Anti-Bank Tax Ticket.
- Pennsylvania 1814 Assembly, Columbia, Northumberland and Union: In 1813, Northumberland County had been divided into three counties: Northumberland, Columbia and Union. The 1814 Assembly election for the district composed of these three counties split on the division.
- Maryland 1816 House of Delegates, Montgomery County: Moderates and Violents. Both groups appeared to be Federalists, but were listed in several newspapers as Moderates and Violents (including the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington), Alexandria Herald, Federal Republican (Baltimore) and Federal Gazette (Baltimore). Throughout the early republic, the Federalist remained incredibly united. One exception was the 1816 Montgomery County election. Montgomery was among the most Federal counties in Maryland, and as sometimes happens when one party is so dominant, dissension, often in the form of personality conflicts erupt. The exact cause of this split is not yet known, but it is interesting that none of the Delegates chosen in 1815 ran for re-election, although one was a candidate for Congress. Although all the candidates for Delegates were Federalist, it was stated that Republicans supported those listed as Moderates. Among those listed as Violents was Alexander C. Hanson, owner of the virulent Baltimore Federal Republican, which had recently moved back to Maryland from Georgetown. Although Hanson was not elected to the House of Delegates, he was chosen a few months later to the United States Senate. With his appointment, this conflict seemed to subside.
- New Hampshire 1816 House of Representatives, Portsmouth: Brickites and Woodites. Both groups were Republicans but were split on a "law passed for the exclusive erection of brick buildings" (Portsmouth Oracle. March 16, 1816.)
- Kentucky 1817 and 1818: George Madison who was elected Governor of Kentucky in August 1816, died very shortly after being inaugurated. He was succeeded by Gabriel Slaughter, who had just been elected as Lieutenant Governor. The new Lieutenant Governor, appointed John Pope, who was considered by many to be an avowed Federalist, to the office of Secretary of State for Kentucky. This caused uproar among the Kentucky Republicans and many of them demanded a new election for Governor and that became a big issue in the state elections of 1817. It would have required an act of the State Legislature to call for a new election of a Governor, so in the 1817 and 1818 state elections, candidates for the state legislature aligned themselves into those who were in favor of a new election for Governor, and those against a new election for Governor.
- New York 1819 Assembly, Ontario County: The Division and Anti-Division Tickets.
- Illinois and Missouri 1820: Various elections included tickets there listed as either Pro-Slavery and Anti-Slavery or Restrictionist (anti-slavery) and Anti-Restrictionist or variations of the two tickets running against each other (e.g. Pro-Slavery vs. Restrictionist). These would come up again in Illinois in 1824.
- Maryland 1822 and 1823 House of Delegates elections in Anne Arundel County and the 1822 Assembly election in Annapolis City: The Caucus and Anti-Caucus tickets. With their loss of the State Senate in September 1821, and even more for Delegates in the following month of October, by the next election of 1822, the Federalists in many counties offered only token any opposition. With the upcoming Presidential election, in which a Congressional caucus would be called upon to choose the republican candidate, the system of caucus nominations, both nationally and on the state level was coming under increasing attack. In 1822, several Federalist newspapers, listed some candidates in Annapolis City and Anne Arundel County as Anti-Caucus. In Annapolis City, Lewis Duvall who had been elected for many years a Republican member to the House of Delegates was not re nominated in 1821. This apparently caused some dissension, as he still received substantial support in both 1821 and 1822. In Anne Arundel County, two candidates were set up in opposition to the Regular Republican ticket and both were elected. It is interesting to note that almost half of their votes came from the most Federalist district within that county. It does appear that in both places, much of the support for these candidates was drawn from Federalists. Throughout the states, regularly nominated Republican candidates faced opposition from others within their party, a further reflection of dissatisfaction with the nomination process.
- Kentucky 1822 House of Representatives, Bullitt County, Assembly, Fayette County and Assembly, Franklin and Owen Counties, 1823 Assembly, Fayette County and 1824 Assembly, Madison County: The Relief and Anti-Relief (or Constitutionalist) Tickets. The Relief and Anti-Relief parties were a reaction to the crisis caused by the national economic downturn [Panic of 1819] and how the state of Kentucky was dealing with the aftermath.
- Maryland 1823 House of Delegates, Washington County: The Jew-Bill Ticket and the No Jew-Bill Ticket. This was in reference to the bill, eventually passed in 1826, that removed the Christian oath requirement for public office in Maryland.
- Pennsylvania 1824 Commissioner, Moyamensing Township: The People's ticket and the Family Ticket.
- Pennsylvania 1824 Commissioner, Southwark District: The 25 Cent ticket and the Quality Ticket.
- Kentucky 1824 House of Representatives, Bourbon, Fayette, Franklin, Mercer and Washington Counties: The Court Ticket and the Country Ticket.