I enjoy anniversary celebrations as much as everyone else. Make a champagne toast, toss the confetti, ring the bells, cast a vote. New Hampshiremen and New Hampshirewomen never seem to need an excuse to party. But I like to know exactly what I am jubilating, don’t you? In order to celebrate our presidential primary, we have to investigate New Hampshire history.
The First Primary Election
1909 was the first important year for New Hampshire when the republican majority called for the passage of an act creating a direct primary election system. In 1910 New Hampshire held a primary election in September for state-wide positions of governor, congressmen, councilors, senators, and county officers. This was followed by a general election in November of the same year. By one newspaper account, New Hampshire was the first eastern state to convert to a primary election process.
But why change the system? As the Boston Herald of July 23, 1916 reported on the New Hampshire primary: “When the direct primary law was enacted in New Hampshire seven years ago, “the uplift was the thing”… The idea of the primary was to give everybody an equal chance, and the poor man a better chance than anybody else. Bosses were to be eliminated by a process of political strangulation and the old convention system would pass away and carry with it all the bribery, proxy-swapping, ward-yellow-dog corruption and injustice that existed in the nightmare of a colony of summer-boarder reformers who at that particular time infected the scenic fringes of the state.”
New Hampshire’s Presidential Primary Law Enacted
In 1912 then-New Hampshire Governor Bass urged the adoption of some form of Presidential primary law. Here comes the second important date: 21 May 1913. It was on this day that [at least according to the Manual for the General Court of 2015] a new law creating the New Hampshire presidential primary was passed, signed and became effective. This law was amended in 1915.
New Hampshire’s First Presidential Primary Held
The third important date: a presidential primary was held in New Hampshire on March 14, 1916 for the first time. Reportedly, in 1912 a presidential primary was conducted under the auspices of the Republican party organization, and only the Republican party participated in the voting. I say reportedly because this would be difficult to do if the law was adopted in 1913 (see previous paragraph).
The official returns of the 1916 presidential primary were as follows:
1916 Woodrow Wilson (elected) 43,787
Charles E. Hughes, Republican 43,724
Electors–Charles G. Barnard, Lawrence M. Connor, Jules Parent, Samuel D. Felker
The Boston Herald of October 15, 1916, page 28 stated, “In a presidential campaign New Hampshire is not commonly regarded as an important state. Presidents have been elected who failed to carry it….so little regard is paid to the electoral vote of this little state that it is difficult to get a speaker from another state to come here and orate.…”
2013 Presidential Primary Celebration Held
In 2013 special recognition was given, and celebrations were held to honor the anniversary of the passage of the law. The 2013 edition of the Manual of the General Court included highlights of the 100th birthday celebration of the law creating the New Hampshire presidential primary. It was stated that “A celebration was held in the Executive Council Chambers, in the State House on May 21, 2013, honoring the families of the sponsor of the legislation (Stephen Bullock) and the governor at the time (Samuel Felker). The gathering listened to a special message from former State Representative Natalie Flanagan who was born in the same year as the primary.”
Centennial Commission Created in 2014
As if this celebratory party was not enough, in July 2014, the New Hampshire Legislature created the Presidential Primary Centennial Anniversary Commission to plan and coordinate events commemorating the first primary, which was held on March 14, 1916.
More Dates for NH to Consider Celebrating
Lets not stop here. For party-anxious New Hampshire, there are still other dates to consider. Starting in 1920 New Hampshire has held its presidential primary election before any other state [making it the “first in the nation” primary]. That year was also, and very importantly, the first election where New Hampshire women were able to vote in national and state elections. Then in 1949 additional changes in New Hampshire law made the primary election a direct selection of presidential candidates, instead of a choice of delegates pledged to specific nominees. Does this mean we can look forward to 2020 as the 100th Anniversary of being designated “First in the Nation” and the 100th Anniversary of Women participating in the election process? [The latter celebration would be one I personally would support and participate in].
I have personally experienced great satisfaction that New Hampshire has been the frequent stomping ground of presidential aspirants. Through the years, the New Hampshire primary became an important and critical political stop. By law our presidential primary elections are held in February or March, always during the week previous to any similar election elsewhere in the country.
2016 Date for NH’s Presidential Primary
Tuesday, February 9, 2016 is the actual date for New Hampshire’s primary election. Get out and vote. This year the primary is being held a month and some days earlier than the actual anniversary date, so it will be interesting to see what is planned for anniversary celebration, after the real deal.
For a truly GREAT video with additional information on the origin and history of the New Hampshire primary, see this “EXETER HISTORY MINUTE – NH Primary” presented by the Exeter Historical Society and narrated by Barbara Ramkunis. (below). It may answer questions that arose by reading my article.
Celebrating 100 New Hampshire Presidential Primary (Commission’s web site)
I left a note on their web site (1/12/2016) that they really should post the 2016 primary date for voting, as it still says the date has not been announced.
2016 Presidential Primaries and Caucuses in the United States
Past Activities of the Presidential Primary Centennial Anniversary Commission
NH Presidential Primary centennial Kickoff Party: Sept 15, 2015
Highlights of Primary History – official NH web site [they start in 1950? what?]
Dartmouth College Library
Thesis Topic: New Hampshire Primaries
Hugh Greg: First in the Nation Primary