Vermont Vs. New Hampshire

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Excluding legislators themselves, New Hampshirites like the fact that the state has retained its nineteenth-century pay scale for legislators too: mileage, plus two hundred dollars every other year. (Vermont pays its nearly two hundred legislators four hundred dollars for each week they’re in session.)

Vermont has a few more heroes of which to be proud than does New Hampshire. Ironically, almost all of them—Ethan Alien, Calvin Coolidge, and the late Sen. George Aiken, for instance—personify that conservative, rock-ribbed Republican sort of image Vermont once basked in for years. And indeed, it used to be true. Vermont was the only state in the country to vote straight Republican from the time the Republican party began, in 1856, to 1962, when Vermonters first elected a Democratic governor. (Even New Hampshire voted for FDR in 1936,1940, and 1944.) When Senator Aiken advised President Johnson to declare victory in Vietnam and then bring the troops home, the nation smiled, not so much at his humor but more because he so perfectly personified the commonsense reputation of Vermonters.

“You can feel the difference the minute you cross the Connecticut River,” people say.
 

New Hampshire’s historical heroes are, for the most part, somewhat flawed or, worse, erroneously credited to Vermont. The only President to come from New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce, favored states’ rights at exactly the worst time in American history to do so. Daniel Webster is a Granite Stater to be proud of, but unfortunately he moved permanently to Massachusetts halfway through his life. New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War hero, John Stark, is known mainly for his victory at the Battle of Bennington, Vermont. He’s also credited with New Hampshire’s official motto, “Live Free or Die,” of which New Hampshirites are rather defiantly proud while Vermonters and the national media enjoy it as the butt of jokes. (New Hampshire doesn’t think much of Vermont’s motto, “Freedom and Unity,” either. How can you have both? they ask.)

 

John Stark’s wife, Molly, is even more famous than her husband, but not in New Hampshire. Vermonters, inexplicably, seem inclined to name just about everything after her. There is a Molly Stark Trail, and there are Molly Stark schools, parks, gift shops (galore), streets, restaurants, and motels.

Vermont is proud it invented the first ski tow for downhill skiing (in 1934), while New Hampshire counters with its invention of the ski-mobile (1937). New Hampshire brags it has two Fortune 500 companies. Vermont brags it has none. And on it goes—each state always true to its character.

From time to time Vermont enjoys some modest national attention when someone sees “Champ,” a Loch Ness-type monster in Lake Champlain, or perhaps one of the state’s often-sighted-but-never-caught panthers. And its maple sugar/covered bridge image appears year in and year out in literature, advertisements, and even Bob Newhart’s old television show. But New Hampshire eclipses all of that—briefly—every four years when it holds the nation’s first presidential primary. For the weeks prior to that, New Hampshire is the center of attention in the nation—maybe even the world. And justifiably so, in the opinion of residents. “The state [of New Hampshire] is a better proving ground than most for an office seeker,” wrote Nancy Coffey Heffernan and Ann Page Stecker in their 1986 book New Hampshire, “because...the voters there are not over-awed by politicians seeking public office.”

It infuriates many outsiders, however, particularly members of the national media. The problem, I submit, stems from the fact they all arrive in New Hampshire thinking they’re coming to Vermont. Then, since they never bother to learn the differences between the two states, the incongruities inherent in their basic misconceptions of New Hampshire make them angry. New Hampshire doesn’t fit the story they’ve unconsciously written in their minds all their professional lives.

“New Hampshire is a fraud,” wrote Henry Alien in February 1988 in the Washington Post National Weekly. He went on to rant about the nation being held hostage to a state made up of “souvenir hustlers, backwoods cranks, motorcycle racing fans...and tax-dodging Massachusetts suburbanites who have conspired...to create an illusion of noble, upright, granite-charactered sentinels of liberty out of little more than a self-conscious collection of bad (if beautiful) land, summer people, second-growth woods full of junked cars and decaying aristocracy, lakes howling with speedboats, state liquor stores that are open on Sundays, and the most vicious state newspaper in America, the Manchester Union Leader.”

Poor fellow. Instead of finding Santa Claus in New Hampshire, as he was so sure he would, he found common, everyday reality. The covered bridges, maple syrup, Champ, and probably Santa Claus are over in Vermont, Mr. Allen.