Pieces of N.H. Primary History On Display During Filing Period

Nov 3, 2015

The presidential candidates who start parading through Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s office this week might do well to pay special attention to the desk that’ll be on display nearby — its original owner is to thank (or blame) for why they’re spending so much time in New Hampshire these days.

As Gardner explained during the latest in a series of events to commemorate the primary's 100-year anniversary, it belonged to Stephen Bullock, a state representative from Richmond who in 1913 filed the legislation that gave birth to New Hampshire’s presidential primary. The desk will stay in the Secretary of State’s office during the upcoming presidential primary filing period from Nov. 4 to 20. 

Bullock’s law, according the Secretary of State’s office, allowed for “the election of delegates to national convention by direct vote of the people.” The state held its first official presidential primary in 1916, hence the centennial celebrations leading up to the 2016 contest, but it wouldn’t technically be the first-in-the-nation primary until 1920.

Despite his role in raising the state’s political profile, Bullock didn’t boast much about this contribution during his time. Even his family didn’t know about this connection to the primary — until Gardner, who is both the chief defender and chief historian of the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential contest, reached out.

“I was 9 years old when Grandpa Bullock died, so I do remember him,” Sybil Dupuis, Bullock’s great-granddaughter, told those gathered in Gardner’s office for the commemoration last week. “And we never knew anything about all of this with the presidential legislation or anything until Bill and Gov. Gregg started to research.”

Gardner, in the course of researching the primary, filled Dupuis in more fully on her family’s history. And in turn, Dupuis — who inherited some of Bullock’s items from her Aunt Edith, who inherited the items from the former legislator — decided to share some of the belongings with the state.

“After I learned more knowledge about what was going on with Grandpa Bullock,” Dupuis said. “I said the desk belongs to stay in New Hampshire, and it should go to the state.”

At its unveiling in the Secretary of State's office on Thrusday, the desk was also littered with a few other pieces of the former lawmaker’s life: his glasses, his pipe, his straw hat and his original “black book” (or legislative manual for the General Court).

Secretary of State Bill Gardner introduces George Cleveland, grandson of Grover.
Credit Casey McDermott, NHPR

 The desk won’t be the only piece of New Hampshire history on display during the filing period. Gardner’s also planning to show off a trio of wooden ballot boxes from Tamworth, Sandown and Richmond that were originally purchased by the state in 1892. The state distributed 232 of the ballot boxes to towns across New Hampshire, and Gardner said more than 60 towns are still using them to tally up the total votes cast to this day.

Another notable political ancestor on hand for the commemoration was also on hand for the presentation: George Cleveland, grandson of Grover and a former Tamworth town moderator. Like Bullock’s family members, he said he, too, learned something new about his family’s connection to New Hampshire history. The century-old ballot boxes were first used in 1892 — the same year Grover Cleveland won re-election.

“I wish I had known, all the times I had fondled this box, that one of the first votes that went into this box was for my grandfather,” Cleveland said.