September 28, 2019


How New Hampshire adopted its famous motto (PETER T. GLENSHAW, 9/27/19, Valley News)

At the end of 1944, The Manchester Union (a predecessor of today's New Hampshire Union Leader, albeit with a different owner and editorial perspective) noted that New Hampshire was the last state in the country without a motto. The newspaper sponsored a public, statewide contest to solicit potential mottos. Under the terms of the contest, a panel of judges convened by the newspaper would review the entries, choosing one that would be forwarded to the New Hampshire Legislature, where it would be considered for adoption.

Public response to the contest was enormous. More than 1,500 people submitted some 3,500 entries. It took the committee of judges months to review the entries, and in late April 1945, the committee made its recommendation.

The winner was "Strong and Steadfast as the Granite Hills," proposed by a then well-known writer from Gilmanton, Curtis Hidden Page.

A special Joint Committee of the House and Senate recommended "Strong and Steadfast as the Granite Hills," relying on simple but persuasive logic. "Foremost in our minds was that New Hampshire is known as the Granite State," said state Sen. R. Robert Matheson, of Goffstown, the committee's chairman, in his remarks in support of Page's submission. "Her chief attribute is everlastingly set upon a firm, strong and steadfast foundation, her everlasting hills."

The state Senate approved Page's motto on Wednesday, April 25, 1945.

While adoption of a state motto was front-page news then, far more important events were taking place, across the Atlantic Ocean on the battlefields of World War II. "Reds Ring Berlin, Cross Elbe: Fantastic Battle Rages in Reich Capital; Hitler May Be Caught in Trap" read the headline of The Manchester Union on April 26, 1945.

Other stories that day suggested the War in Europe would soon be over: "VE Day To Be Proclaimed by Allied Chiefs of State." Another story reported that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had fled his villa east of Milan, telling his staff the war was lost. Equally important was the headline heralding President Harry Truman's address to delegates charged with creating the charter for the United Nations, in which he encouraged them to be "architects for a better world."

These were dramatic and historic days for anyone engaged in the fight against totalitarianism and fascism. Just five years earlier, Hitler had begun his assault of Great Britain. On the day of the New Hampshire Senate's motto vote, Hitler's empire and its twisted political philosophy based on racial, religious and ethnic identity were nearing defeat. Allied victory seemed certain, but it came at a terrible cost. On the same day of its story about the Senate vote, The Manchester Union reported that 1,244 New Hampshire men had died so far in World War II.

Not surprisingly, amid the motto debate, the historic events in Europe caught the attention of at least one elected official: State Sen. Earl Hewitt, of Enfield, asked if a different phrase, "Live Free or Die," had been considered as a motto.

Yes, responded Sen. Matheson, who nevertheless affirmed that "Strong and Steadfast" had the unanimous support of the Joint Committee.

A week later, on Wednesday, May 2, 1945, when the House met to consider the joint committee's motto, the finality of "Strong and Steadfast" as a state motto came unglued. Rep. J. Walker Wiggin, of Manchester, led a floor flight to replace "Strong and Steadfast as the Granite Hills" with "Live Free or Die." He spoke for 30 minutes and was followed by other representatives, who were supported by several patriotic organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Context always matters in politics. At the same time as the motto debate unfolded in the House, the leading headlines in The Manchester Union reported news of earth-shaking consequences: "Berlin Falls, Soviets Report Hitler, Aides Took Own Lives" and "Axis Surrender Million Men to Allies."

While not officially over, World War II in Europe essentially ended the same day Rep. Wiggin launched the floor fight over the state's motto. If there was to be debate about "Live Free or Die" versus "Strong and Steadfast as the Granite Hills," it would not be based on the rational merits of each proposed motto. Instead it became an emotional vote, heavily influenced by the truly historic events occurring thousands of miles away.

Indeed, The Manchester Union knew the tide had turned in this debate. Its reporter noted that "...even though a lengthy list of speakers scheduled to argue the respective merits of the suggestions before the House was curtailed sharply as it became obvious that the Stark quotation, a late-comer ... would be approved."

Put simply, "Strong and Steadfast as the Granite Hills" stood no chance against a motto coined by an American Revolutionary hero that embraced freedom on the day Hitler was defeated.

..."Yonder are the Hessians. They were bought for seven pounds and tenpence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it. Tonight the American flag floats from yonder hill or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!"

Posted by at September 28, 2019 9:57 AM