NH House History

On Jan. 5, 1776, six months before the people of the United States claimed self-government, the people of New Hampshire gave this country its first state constitution. The next day, the House of Representatives was created.

Although threatened with reprisals from the British Crown and a bitterly divided constituency, New Hampshire’s leaders set the course for self-government in January 1776. Determined to keep the government close to the people, our forefathers fixed the size of the House of Representatives as a direct ratio to the state’s population. The first House consisted of 87 members, each one representing 100 families. As time passed and the population increased, the number of Representatives grew, until there were 443. In 1942, a constitutional amendment limited the size of the House to 400 but not less than 375 members. As a result, the New Hampshire House is the largest state legislative body in the United States. The first women legislators were elected to the House in 1921. 

Although the salary of $200 per biennium puts some practical limits on service in the House, New Hampshire has been fortunate over the years to have a representative cross-section of the state’s men and women: businesspeople, homemakers, educators, engineers, doctors, lawyers, students and retirees.

The General Court, consisting of the House and 24-member Senate, convenes annually. Biennial elections are held on even-numbered years. Legislative days are not the only ones in which a Representative is expected to work. A House member must be ready to invest many hours in committee work. During a regular session there may be as many as 1,000 bills to consider. Rules governing the lawmaking process mandate that every bill go through a public hearing before there’s a House vote. 

In 1819, the legislature moved into a newly constructed State House. The House continues to meet in these quarters, making Representatives Hall the oldest chamber in the United States still in continuous legislative use. At the time, the State House cost $82,000 to build. 

Many interesting incidents enhance the long history of the House. The ghosts in Representatives Hall remember the lottery of the 1900’s when choice front seats were bartered. They recall the band that, in the Depression, entertained lawmakers between committee meetings. In the 1930’s and 1940’s “mock sessions” were held in Representatives Hall on the night before adjournment – a fun-filled evening so popular that Concord citizens packed the gallery, the floors and windowsills to watch. There are superstitions as well: of the 400 seats in Representatives Hall, there is no #13.

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