Granite State of Mind, #24: State House Steps, Concord
First, I have to nod to Exeter as the Revolutionary-era capital of New Hampshire. But even I have to admit that Concord is more centrally-located to serve such a function (blasphemy!). The granite building constructed there to house the government of the young state is a beautiful, imposing Greek revivial-style structure complete with Doric and Corinthian columns and the iconic golden dome topped by an eagle. Inmates from the state prison did most of the labor, and the whole thing cost $82,000 in 1819 dollars. No state legislature in the country has sat longer in its original chambers than in Concord.
There are places inside the capitol that will merit their own entries on this list, but today I'm eager to celebrate the exterior, in particular the front steps and statuary gardens. John Stark is memorialized there, and Daniel Webster and John Hale. My favorite of the statues is Franklin Pierce, the only NH native to serve (rather poorly, I'll admit) as President of the United States. I still remember trips to Concord for the YMCA's Youth & Government programs in high school, and soaking in the living history of those grounds and the wonderful sense of access to the capitol. There's no front gate. The building is open. Heck, with 424 members of the legislature, any guard would be hard-pressed to tell that you weren't walking in to go vote on a bill.
The front steps, though, will always be a special, almost sacred place for me. It's a sort of agora, a place where the people come to assemble and be heard, to encourage or chastise their elected representatives. Countless demonstrations have been held on those steps, and in my college years at UNH I was honored to participate in and help organize my share. Politically active students at the university joined with broader community networks to help nudge the legislature toward acknowledging Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we made many trips in the ongoing effort to address the troubling and shortsighted lack of public funding for higher education in the state. The ancient-looking picture on the right dates from a 1995 rally for education, back when I had hair and ambition, both of which have since eroded in equal measure.
I still believe now what I believed then, though, as a naive 20-year old would-be agitator. For all its faults, the New Hampshire state government is closer to its citizens than any other in America. If you speak, they will listen. You won't always get what you want, but your voice is louder and more effective there than just about anywhere else in the world. Why should NH get the first Presidential primary? Because Granite State citizens practice democracy every day in our town and state governance in a more tangible and accessible way than any other state in the union. We're pretty darn good at this civics gig. People often ask me why I love New Hampshire so much and why I'm so anxious to get back. Well, that's why. Family and friends, and a democratic tradition and culture unlike any other.