New Hampshire’s Early Elections: Bloody Noses, Riot and Corruption

1848 votingEach time the presidential primary rolls around, some people become excessively focused on preventing potential vote cheating (which happens to be an exceptionally rare event here despite the hype). We like to think of New Hampshire as always putting the voter’s rights first, but historically this is not true. The current desire of the misguided to further limit us, may just our state’s citizens repeating their past mistakes.

From riots, bloody noses, and gerrymandering to the question of exclusivity (whether paupers, women and soldiers away from home could vote), local newspaper articles often  demonstrated how New Hampshire’s blood ran hot and passionately around election time. The following are only a few examples of these arguments.

According to the Portsmouth Journal, the democracy signalized themselves by the most disgraceful proceedings–threatening the Moderator, J. Goodwin, Esq., at midnight, and insisting on going on with business at that late hour–obstructing the avenues to the Whigs and keeping them clear to their friends–brandishing fists, &c. &c. An adjournment until day light the next morning finally took place. The proceedings the next night were similar; so that peaceable citizens were deterred from voting for selectmen and the Democratic ticket was carried without opposition.–Drums were beat in the hall, and about 100 of the pure spirits paraded before the Moderator’s house. Here they were met by a large body of the Moderator’s athletic friends, when the pure spirits scattered. There was no little disorder at Concord, and some bloody noses. This is disgraceful to our State, and can never happen when in defending our own rights, the rights of others are respected. Such proceedings have long been common in New York, and it is a comfortable reflection that though on a few occasions the ballot box has been seized and the votes destroyed in the latter city, we are not up to the shameful conduct of our Queenly neighbors in Canada, where a standing army is always at hand to put down insurrection and riot. Read the following account. The law in our republic is after all, stronger than a military force. [the story goes on to relate a mob riot in Montreal, Canada]. —Wednesday, March 24, 1817 New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene NH) Page 2


REPORT of the Whig Investigating Committee on the Irregular Proceedings of the Selectmen on the Portsmouth Check-List [etc] at the March Election 1848….
In the second place, the Committee ask attention to the facts in regard to the insertion upon the check list, of the names of Hunking Wheeler, William Bailey and other paupers in the Alms House in Portsmouth. The fact that these persons have been town paupers, some of them for years, is notorious; and the Committee now invite public attention to the manner in which, in defiance to the express provisions of the Constitution, these paupers were admitted to become voters at the late election. By the express terms of the Constitution, “every male inhabitant of each town, and parish with town privileges, and places incorporated, in this State, of twenty-one years and upwards, EXCEPTING paupers,” and person excused from paying taxes at their own request is a legal voter…..Saturday, April 22, 1848, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth NH) Page 1

No. 26, State vs. Christopher J. Marshall, for illegal voting, in Ward 3, Portsmouth, at last March election. Verdict, guilty. This case will be transferred, in order to test the constitutionality of the law requiring six months’ residence before exercising the right of suffrage. Bell for State; Hatch for respondent. –Monday, November 02, 1863 Manchester Daily Mirror (Manchester NH)

[Editor’s additional note:]
The Supreme Court decision of March 21, 1872, declared lengthy requirements for voting in state and local elections unconstitutional and suggested that 30 days was an ample period. Most of the states have changed or eliminated their durational residency requirements to comply with the ruling, as shown. Note, for all states, in order to register to vote, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of the state, and 18 years old on or before election day. Additionally, most states do not permit an individual to vote if he or she is a convicted felon currently serving time in prison or has been declared mentally incompetent by a court of law.


The Judges of the Supreme Court have given an opinion that the Governor’s veto of the Voting Bill was not delivered in season to accomplish its purpose, and that the bill is therefore a law. They had before given an opinion that such a law would be constitutional. It provides that the soldiers may vote in the field for Members of Congress and Electors for President, but not for State and subordinate local officers. It will be remembered that a law was passed last year authorizing the soldiers to vote without such limitations. That law was declared to be unconstitutional, and the Judges made liberal citations from the Constitution to show that the “personal presence” of the voter at the time and place of voting, was necessary, to give validity to his action…. –October 4, 1864 Weekly Union (Manchester NH)

“It is known that we have a large number of naturalized voters here. Prior to the Know-nothing agitation, their strength was about equally divided between Whig and the Democratic parties. The brief, but intolerant and proscriptive reign of that faction not only drove the foreign vote into the ranks of the Democracy, but stimulated naturalization to an unusual degree. The result was, that the ascendancy of the dominant party in this city was seriously threatened, even when they controlled nearly all the check lists. To arrest this danger, they passed a law requiring naturalized voters to “show their papers” thirty days before the election. Of course, this was done to create embarrassment, and had that effect to a very great degree. Many persons known to be as well entitled to vote as any others in the city, were thereby disfranchised. The city vote was thus made tolerably secure to the ruling party, but certain wards were still contested. To secure this, they passed an act breaking up the most convenient and symmetrical arrangement of wards that could possibly be devised, and made the most infamous gerry mander that could possibly be conceived. The naturalized voters were mostly laborers, and they naturally sought their residence as convenient to their work as possible. Hence, a narrow strip of territory in the heart of the city, nearest to the corporation property, embraced by far the larger portion of them. To make all other wards secure, this was set off by itself, and denominated Ward Five.” [this was pre-Civil War] –Tuesday, June 25, 1867, Weekly Union (Manchester, NH) page 2

The trial of Miss Susan B. Anthony, before the United States Court at Canandaigua, New York, for voting at the State election last fall, has resulted in a verdict of guilty..Miss Anthony has been sentenced to pay a fine of one hundred dollars for illegal voting.
Wednesday, June 25, 1873 New Hampshire Patriot and Gazette (Concord New Hampshire) Page 1


For long years past the state of New Hampshire has borne the unenviable reputation of being the most corrupt state in the Union, so far as the matter of election bribery is concerned. The wholesale purchase of votes at the polls, inaugurated under the old Rollins-Chandler regime, a quarter of a century ago or more, and extended, not only into the close towns, but into all towns and localities….”  —Thursday, September 3, 1885 New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord NH) page 4

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One Response to New Hampshire’s Early Elections: Bloody Noses, Riot and Corruption

  1. Amy says:

    Ah, democracy—a work in progress! I love how this post gives a flavor of American history over time. Great post!

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