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Vermont Vs. New Hampshire
They border each other, they look alike, and most outsiders have a hard time separating the two. Yet residents know the differences are enormous.
April 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 2
They’re like brothers who, as only the family knows, couldn’t be more different. With a landscape of open, rolling farmland and small villages with white-steepled churches, Vermont is the most rural state in the Union, according to Census Bureau statistics. From an environmental point of view, it’s also the most politically liberal. New Hampshire, so heavily forested that it was once described by Vermont’s Richard Ketchum as looking “like a summer camp that’s been closed for the winter,” is the nation’s fourth most industrialized state and as politically conservative as any you can name.
Geographically separated by the Connecticut River, they lie next to each other in reverse, with each calling the other an upside-down version of itself. New Hampshire, the forty-fourth largest state in area, with about a million in population, is fattest at its bottom, which borders Massachusetts and, for eighteen miles, the sea. Land-bound Vermont, half as big in population but slightly larger in area (ranking forty-third), is fattest at its top, which borders Canada. Surely no two brothers could grow up the same with such different hereditary characteristics.
Most people who know the two states well like one or the other—but not both.
“She’s one of the two best states in the Union,” wrote Robert Frost of New Hampshire, then added, “Vermont’s the other.” Frost can be excused for liking both states; after all, he was originally from California. Most people who know them well like one or the other. Not both.
New Hampshire seems to make people either proud (that number would consist exclusively of the state’s residents) or angry (everyone else). Vermont, on the other hand, has a tendency to make people (particularly “flatlanders"—i.e., outsiders) either nostalgic or a little sick to their stomachs. The latter group consists of New Hampshire residents plus those few cynical Americans to whom the so-called New England image is vaguely repugnant.
There’s little question that Vermont (particularly Vermont), Maine, Boston, and Cape Cod are, together, responsible for the New England image. New Hampshire just doesn’t fit in. Former U.S. senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota once said, “All New Hampshire is divided into three parts: Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont.” Putting aside the misconceptions inherent in that statement, it does demonstrate New Hampshire’s lack of image. This, I submit, is unfair. New Hampshire is part of the New England image. It’s just the part that people don’t like.
For instance, consider how Dorothy Canfield Fisher, a writer and a Vermont summer person, described what she called “the Vermont tradition.” She said it was “like the tang of an upland October morning, the taste of a drink from a cold mountain spring.” Along the same lines, another writer, Craig Storti, found that “Vermont was the smell of grass after an April rain.”
In contrast, there’s a New Hampshire story (one of darned few, most New England stories being about Vermont or Maine) about a farmer (yes, just under one percent of New Hampshirites still farm) who was relaxing in his home with the evening newspaper. Finally, finding the soft April air, the sound of peepers, and the vapors of the damp, freshly plowed earth irresistible, he rose and headed for the front door. “Bessie,” he called to his wife, “it’s just too beautiful outside to stay in here. I’m going out and slaughter a hog.”
If that doesn’t help clarify the difference, contemplate for a moment a few of the things of which each state is proudest. Vermont points to its law banning highway billboards, its Act 250, which severely restricts real estate development, its generous aid to education and social services, and its basic general philosophy, written into the state constitution, that “private property ought to be subservient to public uses when necessity requires it.” It is hardly insignificant that that document was based on the Quaker-influenced constitution of Pennsylvania.
New Hampshire would no more adopt the above measures or endorse that philosophy than it would elect Madeleine Kunin, Vermont’s recent foreignborn, Jewish, Democratic woman governor, to the office of fence viewer—or any office involving the spending of money. New Hampshire glories in its frugality, rabidly protected by a four-hundred-member General Court (the largest state legislature in the country) and the Governor’s Council, a holdover from the Royal Governor’s Council, dedicated to keeping the governor from doing anything foolish.
Like, for example, violating “The Pledge.” Political candidates in New Hampshire, if they want a reasonable chance of being elected, are expected to pledge they’ll not support anything faintly resembling a broad-based state income tax. New Hampshire’s original bill of rights (taken from the business-minded Puritans, except for religious and property requirements) includes the right of revolution “whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered.” The words subservient to public uses, as found in Vermont’s constitution, don’t appear anywhere in New Hampshire’s.