New Hampshire Constitution

From Ballotpedia
Revision as of 09:44, 20 December 2008 by Musical (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

The New Hampshire Constitution is the primary governing document of the State of New Hampshire. The constitution became effective June 2, 1784, when it replaced the state's constitution of 1776. The constitution is divided into two parts: Bill of Rights and Form of Government. The subsection of each part is known as an "article". For example, the constitutional provision dealing with free speech and liberty of the press is referenced as "Part I, Article 22" or "Pt. I, Art. 22."

Part I – Bill of Rights

Part First of the constitution is made up of 39 articles, containing many of the same type of the protections in the United States Constitution, including: double jeopardy, free speech, freedom of the press, jury trials, natural rights, quartering of soldiers, religious freedom, right to bear arms and unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases the state constitution affords more protection than the U.S. Constitution. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the New Hampshire's Bill of Rights has been amended regularly since its adoption.

Article 10. Right of Revolution

New Hampshire is the only state which provides for a "Right of Revolution" in its state constitution. The Right of Revolution is a right dating back to the Revolutionary War, and is held in high regard in New Hampshire by members of the libertarian Free State Project. Part I., Article 10 reads:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

Part II – Form of Government

Part Second contains 101 articles of how the government of the state will function. Article 1, when first enacted established The State of New Hampshire as the official name of the sovereign and independent state, formerly known as the province of New Hampshire. The remainder of Part II is subdivided in the following sections:

The General Court

Articles 2 - 8 establish the frame work for the General Court and its authority to establish courts, enact state laws affecting the Government of New Hampshire, providing for the State's emergency powers, gather funding and use collected monies.

House of Representatives

Articles 9 - 24 establish the authority and makeup of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the General Court. This section of the Constitution establishes how representatives are elected, their responsibilities, and their privileges. These articles make clear that all state level budgetary legislation must originate from the House, much like the British House of Commons and the United States House of Representatives.

Articles 10 and 13 have been repealed.

Article 15. Compensation of the Legislature, fixes the pay for the General Court members at $200 per term (two years) and $250 for the presiding officers. Legislators also receive mileage for "actual daily attendance on legislative days, but not after the legislature shall have been in session for 45 legislative days or after the first day of July following the annual assembly of the legislature."


Articles 25 - 40, excluding 28 which was repealed in 1976, define the role and makeup of The Senate, the upper house of the General Court. This section is similar to the section regarding the House of Representatives, with the largest difference that the Senate is the ultimate arbiter of all elections.

Articles 38 - 40 describe how state officers may be impeached and be punished for bribery, corruption, malpractice or maladministration, in office. The House of Representatives is charged given the authority to impeach state officers, while the Senate hears, tries, and determines all impeachments made by the House. The articles also state the rules for the Senate's impeachment hearings and provides for the Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court to preside over the impeachment hearings involving the Governor, but not have a vote.

Executive Power --- Governor

Articles 41 - 59 define the roles and selection of the Executive Branch. The Governor of the State of New Hampshire is the supreme executive magistrate and is titled "His Excellency". The Governor is given the sole authority to command the New Hampshire National Guard and sole right to sign or veto bills and resolutions passed by the General Court and is charged with the "faithful execution of the laws". The Governor is elected to a two-year term at the November biennial elections; and must be 30 years-old and have been a resident of the state for seven years at the time of election.

With the advice of the Executive Council, the Governor has the authority to call the General Court in to session when in recess, to adjourn it early, and dissolve the General Court as required for the welfare of the state. The Governor, with the advice of the Council, has the authority to pardon offense not for impeachment; and to nominate and appoint all judicial officers, Attorney General, and all officers of the navy, and general and field officers of the state National Guard.

Article 58 states "the governor and council shall be compensated for their services, from time to time, by such grants as the general court shall think reasonable;" and Article 59 requires that "permanent and honorable salaries" be established by law, for the justices of the superior court.


n, ejection and conduct of the five Executive Councilors.

Secretary, Treasurer, etc.

Articles 67 - 70 discuss the duties and selection of the state's treasurer, secretaries and other such officials.

County Treasurer, etc.

Articles 71 details the responsibilities and powers of county level officials such as the county sherriffs, county attorneys, county treasurers, registrars of probate, and registrars of deeds. Article 72 details the selection of registrars of deeds, which usually is a countywide position.

Judiciary Power

Articles 72-a. - 81 dictate the rights and responsibilities of the Supreme and Superior Courts as well as other state sanctioned court officers.

Clerks of Courts

Article 82 gives judges of the courts (except probate) the sole authority to appoint clerks to serve office during the pleasure of the judge. Clerks are prohibited from acting as attorneys in the court of which they are a clerk and from drawing any writ originating a civil action.

Encouragement of Literature, Trade, etc.

Article 83 states the importance of education and associated endeavors to the citizens of New Hampshire and gives the General Court the power to safeguard them from hostile forces and encourage forces which help advance the general knowledge of the state's citizens.

Oaths and Subscriptions Exclusion From Offices, etc.

Articles 84 - 101 (excluding Articles 97 and 99) regard the installment of appointed and elected state officials; and the method for the Constitution taking effect, it being enrolled, and methods for proposing amendments.

Method of Amendment

Part II, Article 100 of the constitution provides for the following two methods of proposing amendments to the constitution:

General Court

A 3/5 vote of each house of the General Court is required to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the people at the next biennial November election. A 2/3 vote of the qualified voters participating in an election is required to adopt a new amendment.

Constitutional Convention

A majority vote of both houses of the General Court is required to place the following question on the ballot: "Shall there be a convention to amend or revise the constitution?" If such question has not been submitted to the people in ten years, the Secretary of State is required by Pt. II, Art. 100 to place the question on the ballot. A majority of qualified voters participating in an election is required to convene a convention. At the next election the delegates are elected by the people, or earlier as provided by the General Court. A 3/5 vote of the number of delegates is required to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the people at the next biennial November election. A 2/3 vote of the qualified voters participating in an election is required to adopt a new amendment.


On June 5, 1781, a constitutional convention was convened and began writing the state's new constitution. In the Spring of 1782, a draft of the constitution was sent to town meetings for ratification. During the town meetings there were substantial proposed amendments that the Constitution was redrafted by the Convention and resubmitted to town meetings in Fall 1782. The second draft of the 1784 Constitution was met with even more proposed amendments. A third draft was necessary before it was resubmitted and accepted in the town meetings "as is." On October 31, 1783, the constitution was established and the Convention adjourned sine die, after having declared the constitution ratified. In Spring 1783, a requisite number of town meetings ratified the third draft and it became effective June 2], 1784.

On September 7, 1791, a constitutional convention began drafting 72 amendments to the 1784 Constitution be redrafted into a new whole document and submitted it to the people on February 8, 1792. The revisions of the 1784 Constitution submitted to the people became effective June 5, 1793.

Since 1793, there have been only five constitutional conventions, with twenty-six amendments adopted of the sixty-four proposed. Sixteen times the people have voted negatively to question of calling a constitutional convention.

Before 1980, the only method for amending the constitution was by convention every seven years. The adoption of an amendment to Pt. II, Art. 100 allowed for either the General Court or Constitutional Convention to submit amendments to the people for adoption.

1776 Constitution

On January 5, 1776, the Congress of New Hampshire voted in Exeter to establish a civil government, and specified the manner and form that government would have. The Congress ratified the Constitution at the urging of the Continental Congress. The 1776 Constitution did not contain a Bill of Rights, nor was it submitted to the people of New Hampshire. The constitution was the first constitution ever ratified by an American commonwealth.

The Constitution established a legislature with two branches: Assembly and Council. The number of representatives of the Assembly was twelve members. The Council was charged with electing the President or governor. The people of the colony were able to elect both representatives and councilors. Together the Assembly and Council were responsible for running the government of the colony.

External links


  • The Green Papers: State and Local Government
  • Updyke, Frank A. "New Hampshire Constitutional Convention (in News and Notes)." The American Political Science Review. Vol. 7, No. 1. (Feb., 1913), pp. 133-137.
  • White, Leonard D. "The New Hampshire Constitutional Convention." Michigan Law Review. Vol. 19, No. 4. (Feb., 1921), pp. 383-394.