Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Thesis Topics: Ready Made



We are still a year away from the next national election, but already it is nearly impossible to find a newspaper or television news show that is not full of stories about possible candidates and potential campaign issues. And once again, New Hampshire–small in area and population, still at least somewhat rural–will be the focus of the country’s attention. In every presidential election year for more than seventy years, the nation’s first primary election, in which voters choose delegates to the parties' national conventions and in effect choose the candidates, has been held in this state. A study of this institution provides numerous research possibilities not only in the area of politics but also in aspects of social history such as the women’s movement and the rise of the influence of the media in national affairs.

There are many studies of the New Hampshire primary,[1] but a concise introduction may be found in an article by former Governor Hugh Gregg published in the most recent edition of New Hampshire’s Manual for the General Court.[2] The article outlines the history of the legislation establishing the primary elections, from setting the date to changing requirements for getting one’s name on the ballot. The early date was originally chosen not from a desire for national attention, but from plain old New England common sense. The first presidential primary, in 1916, was to have been held in May but was moved back to early March, on town meeting day, since 'frugal New Hampshirites had realized it was wasteful to light the Town Hall twice.'[3] However, in subsequent years, as media attention has grown, the prestige inherent in holding the very first primary has motivated the legislature to amend the primary law to state specifically that the presidential primary will be held 'on the second Tuesday in March or on the Tuesday at least 7 days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier,'[4] although the law is not clear about exactly what action would be taken should any other state pass a similar law.

Candidates must still pay a fee to be listed on the ballot, but petitions from supporters in each of the state’s two congressional districts are no longer required. This ease of access is probably the main reason for the sometimes extraordinarily high number of little-known names on the ballot. Many such candidates never receive much coverage in newspaper or television reporting, but Gregg’s brief descriptions of some of them whet one's appetite for more. There was Sam Rouseville, who was in too much of a hurry to meet the filing deadline–he was picked up for speeding on the way and couldn’t get to Concord in time–and William Flanagan, who proposed a '$50 federal tax credit for anyone who would adopt an animal, $100 if neutered.'[5] If national exposure eludes these colorful candidates, local coverage can sometimes compensate. Caroline Killeen, an enthusiastic supporter of marijuana who had once wanted to become a nun, was featured in a Dartmouth article on several lesser-known figures in the 1996 election.[6] Of course, the Library’s holdings include important primary sources relating to more significant aspects of primary-election history, For example, in 1984, a debate among eight Democratic candidates was held on the campus; Special Collections holds transcripts of the debates, press kits, and newspaper clippings;[7] a 1988 primary campaign speech by Pat Robertson is available on phonotape.[8]

A student may conduct research on specific election campaigns, from the modern era or from the earliest days of the primary system. It may be of interest that New Hampshire's first primary election was not held in a presidential election year. The law establishing a direct primary was passed in 1909[9] and implemented in the 1910 by-election. The law was the culmination of efforts by the progressive wing of New Hampshire’s Republican party to wrest control of the state’s political institutions from large corporations. The 1910 contest for governor is discussed in detail in an article in The New England Quarterly[10] that takes no note of an interesting sidelight. In that year Marilla Ricker, a seventy-year-old widow, a lawyer and woman-suffrage advocate, 'submitted her name to Edward Pearson, New Hampshire’s secretary of state, and demanded that it be put on the ballot,' claiming that the governor need only be 'over thirty years old and a resident of the state for seven years.'[11] But the state’s attorney general ruled that her name could not appear on the ballot 'on the ground that without the right to vote she could not run for office.'[12] Marilla Ricker may have been merely a footnote in primary-election history, but she had a distinguished and influential career.

These are but a few examples of a vast range of possible research topics concerning New Hampshire’s election history. The enterprising student will find many more.

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[1] See, for example, Niall A. Palmer, The New Hampshire Primary and the American Electoral Process (Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 1997); Media and Momentum : The New Hampshire Primary and Nomination Politics, ed. Gary R. Orren and Nelson W. Polsby. (Chatham, N.J. : Chatham House Publishers, 1987); and Frances Shaine, 'First in the Nation,' New Hampshire Profiles 13 (February 1964), 20-23,45-46, 48-49.

[2] Hugh Gregg, 'New Hampshire’s First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary,' Manual for the General Court 55 (1997), [viii]-xlii.

[3] Gregg, 'Presidential Primary,' xi.

[4] 'An Act Relative to Election Procedures,' New Hampshire, Laws, Statutes, etc., Laws of the State of New Hampshire (1995), 509.

[5] Gregg, 'Presidential Primary,' xxiii'

[6] 'Fringe Candidates Seek to Spice Up NH Primary,' The Dartmouth (30 January 1996), 3.

[7] Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate ( 1984 : Dartmouth College), Records (Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, DA-98); Transcript of the 1984 Democratic debate, January 15, 1984, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. , transcribed and produced by Charles E. Wilson II and Mark Tully ([1984]); and two volumes of scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, Dartmouth News Service, 'Dartmouth Democratic Debate, January 15, 1984 : Clips from Dartmouth News Service,' 2 vols. (The Service, [1984]).

[8] Pat Robertson, What I Will Do As President (Greenville, Tex.: Americans for Robertson, [1988]), phonotape.

[9] An Act to Provide for the Nomination of Party Candidates by Direct Primary,' New Hampshire, Laws, Statutes, etc., Laws of the State of New Hampshire (1909), 520-528.

[10] Jewel Bellush, 'Reform in New Hampshire: Robert Bass Wins the Primary,'The New England Quarterly 35 (1962), 469-488. See also James Edward Wright, The Progressive Yankees: Republican Reformers in New Hampshire, 1906-1916 (Hanover, N.H.: Published for Dartmouth College by University Press of New England, 1987).

[11] Shirley Barker, 'Marilla Was No Joke,' New Hampshire Profiles 7 (September 1958), 20, 46. The constitution of 1784, article 42, doesn’t mention the term 'man' or 'male,' but uses the male pronoun: 'And no person shall be eligible to this office, unless . . . he shall have been an inhabitant of this state for 7 years . . . and unless he shall be of the age of 30 years.'

[12] Notable American Women, s.v. Ricker, Marilla Marks Young.