I had some time to kill before the recent stats vote in Concord, so I crossed the street to the State House to engage in some New Hampshire tourism: watching presidential candidates make their formal filings with the Secretary of State. (Rubio, Fiorina, Sanders, and assorted fans and protesters: best free show in town.) The State House walls are lined with portraits of ex-Governors, each with a little bio. One in particular caught my eye, just outside the Secretary of State’s office. Here’s what its descriptive plaque says.
“GOV. RALPH METCALF 1855, 1856. Metcalf (1798-1858) was born at Charlestown, NH. He graduated from Dartmouth College (1823) and studied law for three years. He was admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1826. Metcalf practiced law at Newport, NH, then at Binghamton, NY. He then returned to Claremont, NH and entered state service as secretary of state (1831-1836). He clerked for New Hampshire’s Hon. Levi Woodbury, Secretary of the Treasury, at Washington, D.C. (1838-1840). In 1841 Metcalf returned to practice law at Newport, NH. Metcalf was appointed Sullivan County’s register of probate in 1845. He was elected a state representative in 1852. Metcalf won election as the anti-immigration Know-Nothing Party’s candidate for governor in 1855. In 1856 he was reelected. Metcalf campaigned both times against the public sale of liquor, and against Roman Catholicism, both immigrant issues. He retired in 1857 and died a year later.”
Against Catholics, against immigrants. And this guy got elected twice. There’s his portrait, up there with all the other elected leaders of the Granite State. I don’t think it should be taken down and consigned to the basement, as embarrassing as it is to acknowledge that the Know-Nothings had any traction in the Granite State. Leave it as a reminder that even elected officials, and the electoral majorities behind them, can be dead wrong about some important things. Leave it as a reminder that some wins are fleeting.