Lessons from New Hampshire

Last week I returned home after spending a month living in New Hampshire. It was my first time really in the Granite State, unless you want to count the two twenty-minute periods I rode through it on my way to and from Maine when I was ten. I was there working as a contracted Election Coordinator for a Political Action Committee (PAC). In total, I knocked doors for twenty State House of Representatives candidates, sixteen of whom won their respective primary elections – an eighty percent success rate.

There were many reasons why I decided to quit my day job and take a dive into this unique experience. Yes, it provided me with a rare opportunity to both see a part of the country I’ve never really been to while simultaneously being safe in the era of COVID – as New Hampshire has one of the lowest case counts in the country. It is a sparsely populated state to boot (especially compared to the New York City suburbs where I hail from), and it is therefore easier to maintain a six-feet social distance. However, the main factor why I decided to head up north was to get the intensive campaign experience. The month-long commitment was not only my first paid political job (after five years of various internships in the field), it was a crash course in canvassing for when I inevitably run for office myself in the near future. I didn’t sign up for a vacation – it was time for me to hunker down and learn how an election is won.

 New Hampshire was without a doubt an eye-opening experience. Now, I can go on and on about all the super-political conversations I had with voters, about this law and that policy proposition. But, let’s be honest, that would bore you – and contrary to what some people might think, I didn’t go into writing to bore my readers (at least on purpose). Instead what I’m going to talk about are the general lessons the United States, and perhaps the world, can take from the “Live Free or Die” state. It may be a little state, but it sure brings a lot to the table. The values and culture of New Hampshire are quite frankly the closest example we have today to the very set of principles our nation was founded upon.

Since I mentioned it, I’ll start with the state motto. Live free or die. At first, I thought it sounded a little harsh. But when you think about it’s really not. The specific phrase was coined by John Stark, a general of the American Revolution, in 1809, almost three decades after the war ended. “Death is not the worst of evils,” General Stark elaborated in a toast to his fellow soldiers. He was of course referring to the absence of liberty. What the thirteen colonies endured before declaring independence was nothing short of tyranny. The colonists were taxed beyond belief by the British, and despite their pleas, completely denied representation in Parliament. Founding Father Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech to The Second Virginia Convention captured their sentiments. His bold challenge to King George III: “give me liberty or give me death,” certainly inspired Stark’s toast.  America is unique among all other nations as it was the only one created explicitly from the idea that all men and women are endowed with the natural God-given rights of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. The government does not give these rights out and shall not take them away under any circumstances. As the Declaration of Independence clearly states, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” As Americans, we must realize that since our freedom is utterly non-negotiable, the alternative might as well be death.

This “live free or die” mentality is fully displayed by modern-day New Hampshrites. While I was going door-to-door, I asked voters asking them what issue was most important to them. There were two responses that were far the most common: taxes and the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Interestingly enough, very few people listed the coronavirus as the most important issue, even as the nation is still very much immersed in the pandemic. Voters I surveyed pretty unanimously declared that the state’s property taxes were far too high. You can make the argument that people everywhere like to complain about taxes, but this revelation speaks volumes in New Hampshire, which has a reputation for being a low-taxed state, especially compared to its southern neighbor, the “Commonwealth of Taxachusetts.” It is the only state without both a state sales tax and a state income tax (on wages). Still, voters want the taxes to be even lower, partly echoing the colonial patriots who broke from the British. Also, I found that practically everyone I spoke with, even the Democrats, were in favor of the right to own a firearm. The doors to many households were even decorated with stickers boasting membership in the NRA or Gun Owners of America. Although many gun control advocates try to link increased gun ownership with higher levels of violence, New Hampshire is a state with the third lowest level of gun violence in the nation, only behind bordering Vermont and Maine. Maybe it’s because, as the founding fathers noted a “well-regulated militia” is necessary “to the security of a free state.”

It is no surprise that the citizens of New Hampshire hold their individual freedoms near and dear to their hearts. After all, it is the home of the Free State Project, an organized movement of tens of thousands of libertarian-leaning people who pledge to move to the state – a large number of them from the high tax, gun restricted Massachusetts. Although “Free Staters” are only a small percentage of New Hampshire’s population, they exude a great deal of political pull, occupying at least a dozen seats in the state legislature. The fact that the state House of Representatives has 400 members (each member representing only about 3,000 people – by far the lowest of any state legislature) also demonstrates its culture of autonomy and popular sovereignty. By comparison, the county I am from (Nassau County, NY) has almost exactly the same population as New Hampshire (both have 1.36 million people, as of the time I am writing this), and only nineteen people sit in its legislature – making the Granite State’s house twenty times more representative.

All these things are not a coincidence. Plainly speaking, New Hampshire’s way of life is a microcosm of the American ideals portrayed by the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Federalist Papers. When we, the residents of the other forty-nine states forget what it means to be America, the best thing we can do is to look to the humble Old Man of the Mountain…

Sources:

https://www.nh.gov/almanac/emblem.htm

https://www.history.com/news/patrick-henrys-liberty-or-death-speech-240-years-ago

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/slideshows/10-safest-states-in-america?slide=9

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