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CONSTITUTIONS OF NEW HAMPSHIRE.
Name and Bounds. The territory now under the jurisdiction of New Hampshire was included in the grant made by King James I. to the Plymouth Company in 1620. The name it bears was used first in the grant made by the Council of that Company to Capt. John Mason of Hampshire, England, in 1629, and was then given to "all that part of the mainland in New England” between the Merrimack and the Piscataqua rivers. After New Hampshire became a province its boundaries were fixed, much the same as now, by royal authority, on the south and east in 1740, and on the west in 1764.
The northern and southern boundaries of the State were the subject of long controversy. The former was definitely settled by the Webster-Ashburton treaty between the United States and Great Britain in 1842, and the latter was not declared established by the General Court until 1901.
Early Government. The first settlements in New Hampshire were made at Dover in 1623, Portsmouth in 1631, Exeter in 1638, and Hampton in 1639. For several years these early settlements had no general government. The four towns, Dover, Portsmouth, Exeter, and Hampton, were independent communities. Each, though without any delegated power from the Crown, had its government formed by voluntary agreements, which claimed and exercised both municipal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. This simple plan of government naturally was a reproduction of the forms with which the settlers had been familiar in the English towns from which they came. When, in 1640, a general government became necessary for these settlements, their political and religious differences prevented its formation. The civil strife which distracted England made appeal to the Crown hopeless and they sought the protection of Massachusetts. That colony already had construed its charter of 1629, which only vaguely described its northern boundary, to entitle it to assume jurisdiction over New Hampshire. Accordingly in 1641-43 these New Hampshire towns by formal written agreement
resigned their jurisdiction to Massachusetts,” were guaranteed their liberties with the privilege of sending deputies to the General Court and became a part of Norfolk county. This union, convenient to the people of New Hampshire and agreeable to the people of both colonies, was continued until 1679-80, when, the Lords Justices of the King's Bench and Common Pleas having decided that the claim of Massachusetts to jurisdiction over New Hampshire was invalid, a royal order was issued severing them and organizing New Hampshire as a separate royal province.
Provincial Government. This government was erected by the issue of a commission (Provincial Papers, vol. 1, pp. 373–382) from King Charles II. to John Cutt, Esq., of
Portsmouth, dated Sept. 18, 1679, constituting a President and Council for the province of New Hampshire, appointing him to be its first president and authorizing them to issue writs for “the calling of a General Assembly, using and observing there such rules and methods as to the persons who are to choose their deputies and the time and place of meeting as they shall judge most convenient,” and delegating to them specified legislative, executive, and judicial powers, but reserving to the King the right of annulling all their acts, laws and ordinances. While the rudiments of an earlier organic law applicable to the inhabitants of New Hampshire may be traced in the charter of the Plymouth Company of 1620, in its grant to Mason and his Patents to the settlers, in their voluntary combinations, and in their written agreement with Massachusetts in 1641, this commission issued to John Cutt in 1679 marks the formal beginning of constitutional government in New Hampshire.
Despite the appointment in 1685 of Joseph Dudley as governor of New England, the reunion of New Hampshire with Massachusetts from 1690-92 and their administration by the same governor from 1698 to 1741, New Hampshire continued to be a royal province until the Revolution. The fundamental instrument of government of New Hampshire during this period, 1679-1776, though it was violated perhaps as often as followed, was the Cutt commission as formally amended by the commissions of successive royal governors and the informal changes wrought in it by the interpretation and administration of the laws by the Governor and Council, sometimes in harmony, but oftener in conflict, with the Assembly of the people. The only part of the frame of government of the people of New Hampshire during this period which was ordained and established by themselves is thus described by Dr. Belknap in his History, vol. 2, pp. 89, 90 :
An attempt had been made in 1724 to limit the duration of Assemblies to three years, in conformity to the custom of England). At the meeting of the new Assembly, 1727, the first business which they took up was to move for a triennial act. The Lieutenant Governor was disposed to gratify them. Both Houses agreed in framing an act for a triennial Assembly, in which the duration of the present Assembly was limited to three years (unless sooner dissolved by the commander-in-chief), writs were to issue fifteen days, at least, before a new election; the qualification of a representative was declared to be a freehold estate of three hundred pounds value. The qualification of an elector was a real estate of fifty pounds, within the town or precinct where the election should be made; but habitancy was not required in either case; the selectmen of the town, with the moderator of the meeting, were constituted judges of the qualifications of electors, saving an appeal to the House of Representatives. This act having been passed in due form, received the royal approbation, and was the only act which could be called a constitution or form of government, established by the people of New Hampshire, all other parts of their government being founded on royal commissions and instructions. But this act was defective in not determining by whom the writs should be issued, and in not describing the places from which the representatives should be called, either by name, extent or population. This defect gave birth to a long and bitter controversy, as will be seen hereafter.
Revolutionary Government. Until July, 1774, the government of New Hampshire in every branch was the government incident to a dependent province amenable
Previous to that date the term had been indefinite, and Assemblies continued in existence until prorogued by the Governor, when a new election was ordered.
to, and existing by favor of, the mother country. It is a slender thread that connects the government of the province with the government of the state. In the House of Representatives, May 28, 1774, notwithstanding Gov. Wentworth's protests of illegality, it was “Voted that the Honorable John Wentworth Esq., Speaker of this House, Samuel Cutts, Esqr., John Giddinge Esqr., Clement March Esqr., Josiah Bartlett Esqr., Mr. Henry Prescott & John Pickering Esqrs., be a Committee of this House to correspond as occasion may require with the Committees that are or may be appointed by the several Houses of Representatives in our sister Colonies, and to exhibit to this House an account of such of their proceedings when required.”
From this beginning and through the action of the committee named, which became known as a Committee of Safety, by progressive steps a state was formed.
This committee issued to the several towns a call for an election of delegates to be assembled at Exeter on the twenty-first day of July, 1774. This convention, or First Provincial Congress, as it is generally styled, was succeeded by four other conventions of a similar character. The second convention assembled at Exeter, Jan. 25, 1775. The next, styled the Third Provincial Congress, convened at Exeter, April 21, 1775, and was dissolved early in May following. The Fourth Provincial Congress convened at Exeter, May 17, 1775, and after successive adjournments was dissolved Nov. 15, 1775.
During the interval between the meeting and adjournment of this Congress events which seemed to make war inevitable had taken place in several colonies. The