Historic Portsmouth Peace Treaty Dinner Tells Story of 1905 Hosts as “Who We Are” in New Hampshire
Five New Hampshire Governors Share Views of “What It Means to be from New Hampshire”
Portsmouth NH (August 10, 2005) -- Portsmouth began the commemoration of the 30 days in 1905 when the city hosted the conference that produced the Portsmouth Peace Treaty with a fanfare for the common man.
Troops paraded under a shower of confetti and calls of “thank you!” from the sidewalks. Children sang for the Governor. Tourists walked the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Trail or took an Isles of Shoals Steamship Company “Peace Treaty Harbor Cruise.”
The celebration of the 100th anniversary actually began months ago with lectures at the Portsmouth Public Library, the premiere of Pontine Theatre's original production “The Peace of Portsmouth,” and the opening of exhibits of artifacts at the Portsmouth Historical Society, Portsmouth Athenaeum, Children's Museum of Portsmouth, Seacoast African-American Cultural Center, and the Old York Historical Society. But on the anniversary of the date the Russians and Japanese arrived in Portsmouth to begin their negotiations, the focus was on “Why New Hampshire? What does the Portsmouth Peace Treaty say about who we are?”
To answer that question, at the Wentworth By the Sea Hotel dinner that recreated the reception New Hampshire Governor John McLane held for the delegates on August 8, 1905, current New Hampshire Governor John Lynch suggested that the people of New Hampshire have always recognized a special responsibility to their nation. Noting that half the soldiers at Bunker Hill were from New Hampshire (having liberated the gunpowder they used that day from Fort Constitution in New Castle in December 1773), that John Hancock called on the delegates from New Hampshire to be the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, and that as the 9th state to ratify the new Constitution, New Hampshire put the required votes to form the new nation over the top, Governor Lynch underscored that New Hampshire's privilege of holding the “First in the Nation” Presidential Primary (established in 1920) follows these examples of civic duty as well as the state's role in 1832 as the first to hold a national convention of political parties and its passing of the first law creating a Primary system in 1905.
Then the Governor challenged a panel of four former New Hampshire Governors -- in an unprecedented gathering of five New Hampshire governors in one place, at one time -- to address ”What it means to be from New Hampshire.” Again the focus turned to the 'common man' -- and woman.
Jeanne Shaheen, Governor 1997-2003, noted, “Anyone who has spent time in New Hampshire has an emotional tie to the state.. but what I appreciated when I was Governor was the people, and I believe they are what made a difference in getting the Peace Treaty negotiations done.” Noting other firsts, including the first labor strike, organized by the women of Sawyers' Mills and Marilla Ricker the first woman ever to try to vote, Governor Shaheen said, “It's been the people -- their independence, self-reliance and imagination. It's all possible in New Hampshire.”
Stephen Merrill, Governor 1993-1997, recalling his ancestor who arrived in New Hampshire in a wagon from Massachusetts and then walked the 22 miles from Manchester to settle in Concord, said “This is a state where ordinary people get to do extraordinary things.”
John Sununu, Governor 1983-1989, suggested that New Hampshire's difference lies in the participation of ordinary citizens in their government. Estimating that one in every 1500 citizens runs for office in the state, he said, “Why is New Hampshire entitled to pick the next President every four years? The answer is what makes the state so different. In no other place in the country, or perhaps the world, is the distance between the ordinary citizen and the government so short. Ordinary people determine the way our communities are governed. Everybody gets involved directly in accepting a share in the responsibility for what goes on in our towns and in the state. That constant involvement by all of us makes New Hampshire special. It's a great place to live, raise a family and do business in. It's also a great state to make peace in.”
Walter Peterson, Governor 1969-1973, spoke of the opportunities New Hampshire has always offered to those who come to the state, saying ”New people pay us the very great favor of moving here, and many of them immediately set about to change what's here, providing a necessary creative tension. What we have here is precious and important, a place to preserve and to welcome.”
Governor John Lynch wrapped up by saying “1905 was a very special year. On the Centennial, let's show the country that here in New Hampshire we come together. The quality that makes New Hampshire so special is our commitment to work together as we did 100 years ago.”
To conclude the evening's program, Charles Doleac, speaking on behalf of the community-wide Portsmouth Peace Treaty Anniversary Committee, quoted Secretary of State William Gardner from a pamphlet on the New Hampshire Primary system: “It's not that New Hampshire is a place where anyone can grow up to be President. It's that New Hampshire is a place where everyone has the chance.” He then relayed a conversation he had in June with a government official in Tokyo. After hearing about the dozens of events planned for celebrating the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Anniversary, the man said, “But New Hampshire is a small state and Portsmouth is a small town. How will you do all of these things?” When Doleac replied that dozens of community groups had taken on responsibility for producing lectures, concerts, plays and exhibits, that it was part of who we are, the man said, “Now I understand why the first Presidential primary is held in New Hampshire.”
For more information about the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, its history and the Centennial celebrations, visit www.portsmouthpeacetreaty.com. ###