Four Days: Seven State Capitols

From June 18th to June 22nd, I visited the state capitol buildings in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Here are some interesting, educational, and/or amusing things I learned during my travels.

  • The New England States are small.
  • For someone who has only lived in Iowa and Minnesota, it’s easy to get Vermont and New Hampshire mixed up.
  • As a political junkie, it was interesting to learn about the size and composition of each state’s House of Representatives and Senate. Below is a spreadsheet for the seven states I visited.
    • Three quick highlights from this spreadsheet. 1) Both New York and Vermont have 150 state representatives. In New York, each one represents about 130,000 voters. In Vermont, each one represents about 4,200 voters. 2) New Hampshire has 400 state representatives! Each one represents about 3,200 voters. 3) Democrats control all the Houses of Representatives, but only three governors.

New England State Legislatures

  • The senators in all of these states only serve for two years. My assumption had been that state senators throughout the country serve a four-year term. When I googled the question, I found that there are 13 states where the senators serve two-year terms.
  • Don’t ask the information desk lady at New Hampshire why both Massachusetts and New Hampshire have a statue of Daniel Webster at their state capitol grounds. She emphatically emphasized that Daniel Webster grew up in New Hampshire and served as a New Hampshire congressman. He only served as a Senator for Massachusetts.
  • The history of these states is about old white guys. I know this is not shocking news. Most of these state houses have paintings of all the governors. This truth became obvious as I walked by painting after painting of white male governors in every capitol. Only recently have women started to appear.
  • Another example of old white guys ruling is the collection of sculptures on the outside of the Connecticut State Capitol. It was all old white guys, except for one woman, Ella Grasso, who was the first female governor for the state, and whose sculpture was added in 1987.
  • Paintings or statues of African-Americans are even rarer than paintings or statues of females.
  • Every state capitol had a picture or statue of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Washington I understand – father of the country and everything. But, what I learned from this trip was the importance of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War to these states. The Revolutionary War and the Civil War murals, flags, and memorials were more prominent than anything from WWI or WWII.
  • I think the reason that the civil war is honored so much is that most of these buildings were built or remodeled in the years between the civil war and WWI.
  • State Regiment Battle Flags are important. Three states had rooms dedicated to these flags. I’d seen a collection of these types of state flags in other state capitols, but I hadn’t taken the time to understand the significance of state regiment battle flags.  
  • Nathan Hale has a prominent statue in Connecticut, and Ethan Allen has one in Vermont. Both are Revolutionary War heroes.
  • In Rhode Island, the tour guide said that their magnificent state capitol would cost over a billion dollars if it was built today. That sounded impressive until I realized that in Minnesota, we just spent over a billion dollars to build a football stadium.
  • The presidential primary is important to New Hampshire. The visit to the presidential primary photo collection in the Secretary of State’s office confirmed that fact.
  • I didn’t know that the majority of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are covered by forests. As I drove through those states, I mainly saw trees.
  • There is a whole lot of Maine north of Augusta.  It’s the 39th largest state.
  • The “Maine” in “Remember the Maine” was a naval ship that was sunk in Cuba, which started the Spanish-American War, which eventually lead to Theodore Roosevelt becoming president.
  • Without exception, the people who work at the information desks in these state capitols were friendly and eager to answer questions about their state capitol. Go visit a State Capitol!

 

To illustrate the importance of the Civil War to these states, I’ll end with two large paintings of civil war battles. The one on the left is from New Hampshire and depicts New Hampshire soldiers fighting at Gettysburg. The one on the right is from Vermont and shows Vermont soldiers fighting at the Battle of Cedar Creek. The Vermont and New Hampshire capitol buildings are small, but they found space to include these paintings about their brave men fighting in the civil war.

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