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Careful what you wish for

In 1791 our new national currency, based on the dollar, was struggling for recognition without the support of the British financial system. The various colonies’ separate currencies had been used throughout the 18th century: after the war they had been devalued to one-40th of their pre-Revolution face value. Without the support of the British banking system those currencies were almost worthless, and social dislocation was widespread as Americans’ farms were foreclosed upon. Veterans of the Revolution had been paid with new currencies that had little if any face value, while the new nation struggled to gain recognition for a new national currency that would find international acceptance, and new international trading agreements with European nations.

In those desperate post-Revolution years the Monadnock region was filling up rapidly with newly displaced persons seeking cheap lands in a new fiscal environment, and lands north and west of Boston were newly attractive because of their low cost. At Concord, the New Hampshire state legislature struggled to build roads, and to find out who these new residents were. The dangers of popular uprisings were on everyone’s minds: it is not by accident that states’ militias were ordered to be formed by national law in 1792, or that the first official American census was taken in that year.

In such an environment it was imperative to establish order, and well educated students were seen as a source of stability by the sitting New Hampshire state legislature. The following item is recorded in Albert Bachellor, ed., NH Early State Papers, vol. XXII (1893):

Journal of the House of the House of Representatives, Tuesday, January 11, 1791: “Resolved that the President [of New Hampshire; the title of governor came later] give direction to the Commissary General of this State to deliver…one hundred and thirty stands of Arms with Bayonets and thirty Cartouche [ammunition] Boxes and belts for the use of the students of Dartmouth College, the President of the said College giving bond in the sum of three hundred pounds for the preservation of said fire arms and for their return when called for.”

Desperate times demanded desperate measures, as the New Hampshire state legislature struggled with newly landless poor and displaced pouring into the new state of New Hampshire after the American Revolution. Not all the new people spoke English either, and the fear was that these immigrants would challenge existing laws and expectations in New Hampshire. We have many of the same fears today, as our national legislature debates immigration policy and many Americans fear the changes of a new century.

Russell Bastedo of Dublin was the NH State Curator from 1997 to 2009.

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