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History in the Making: 50 Years of Politics

January 30, 2015

Michelle Adams
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7240

"Every college has a president. But only one college has had every United States president. And those who wanted to be president, for the past 50 years."

Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy with Saint Anselm studentsThe New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library is a vital, active center of Saint Anselm College today and a significant political arena in local, state and national politics. But the rich history of politics at Saint Anselm goes back much further, to a long tradition of presidential primary debates (this year marks the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary), well-known speakers and student interactions with Washington power brokers, right here on campus.

In 1960, then-Senator and presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy made a campaign visit to New Hampshire and was greeted enthusiastically by a motorcade of Saint Anselm students. While at the college, Kennedy said the famous line, "I forgot my Nixon button." He also gave a historic speech here that year, in which for the first time he detailed how American foreign policy should be conducted towards African nations, noting a hint of support for modern African nationalism by saying, "for we, too, founded a new nation on revolt from colonial rule."

The day after declaring his candidacy for the 1968 election, Richard Nixon's first stop was a reception at Saint Anselm College, where he unveiled his campaign strategy regarding the Vietnam War by saying, "let's help them fight the war, and not fight the war for them." This policy, first voiced at the college, had a profound effect on the 1968 presidential campaign and the war in Vietnam.

The college hosted its first presidential primary debate in 1984, featuring Walter Mondale, Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson. It was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and moderated by Barbara Walters. Since then, it has hosted at least one presidential primary debate in each presidential election since 2004. In the Fall 2011 issue of Portraits, David Trumble, coach of the Saint Anselm debate team, explored the history, present and future of presidential debates at the college.

Presidential candidates from John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale, to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Mitt Romney, and President Barack Obama "were here."

In part because of a well-established history as a forum for political speakers and debates, in 1996, the idea of an Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm was first proposed. In 1999, with funding from New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, the NHIOP was established as a nonpartisan forum for discussion and debate on all aspects of the American political process. Its mission was and is today, to educate, engage and empower citizens to participate in the civic and political life of their local, national and global communities.

President George Herbert Walker Bush delivered the commencement address in front of Alumni Hall in the spring of 2000.

On September 7, 2001, the New Hampshire Institute of Politics opened the doors of its twenty thousand square foot facility, which contains four classrooms, twelve offices, a large public auditorium, conference rooms, and an academic resource center with state of the art technology. In 2010, as the Institute was approaching its 10th year, Dr. Gary Bouchard, professor of English, and Executive Vice President during the NHIOP's founding, reflected on the inception in A Vision Statement for Current and Potential Stakeholders in the Mission of The New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

"It is rare that one can actually beat a sword into a plowshare, but from the former Crafts Brothers Army Reserve Facility on the east end of its campus, Saint Anselm College was able to do just that; converting the cold war era training facility into the state of the art facility that is The New Hampshire Institute of Politics. On September 7, 2001, with the late summer sun glistening upon the red, white and blue bunting of Alumni Hall and America the Beautiful resounding in the air, Saint Anselm College formally dedicated the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and honored Senator Judd Gregg for his life of public service, as well as for his significant assistance in the Institute's founding. Emphasizing the importance of this new institute in New Hampshire and at this College, Senator Gregg reminded the gathered convocation of John Adams' caution: 'if good men do not become leaders, wicked men most assuredly will.'

Four days later, on the serene morning of September 11, 2001 people crowded into the café of the newly dedicated NHIOP, staring in disbelief at the televisions. The images unfolding there ultimately contained many lessons for the citizens of this nation and the world. Among them, were two very profound lessons for the founders and supporters of the NHIOP. First, the sobering reminder that there would always be those who would brandish swords. Whether from airplanes turned to missiles, young men turned to mass murderers, or simply common purposes turned to complacency, democratic freedoms would always need defending. The second lesson was one to which the Institute's founders had already fervently committed themselves. Namely, that to insure that democracy will not only survive, but flourish, there would always be a need for shouldering the plough of liberty, and cultivating the democratic heritage and values that are the hope of this country.

Awakened to the profound necessity and good of their enterprise, the Institute's leaders set forth from that morning with a passion and a determination to engage, educate and empower citizens. Today the NHIOP can already look back upon what has been an abundant harvest of political engagement, civic education and citizen empowerment. 'The Institute's primary strength,' observes Senator Gregg 'is that it brings politics to the people. It attempts to re-engage people in politics and government on an intellectual, personal and physical level.'"

The NHIOP remains a most important part of life at the college, and Saint Anselm College continues to be a place where people from across the political spectrum come together to discuss the most important issues of the day. The Institute hosts many speakers, events and programs in addition to the Granite State debates and the New Hampshire presidential primary. In 2008, just three days before the first in the nation New Hampshire primary, a historic debate took place on the Dana Center stage, in which Republican and Democratic contenders for the White House met in two separate events, both seen live across the country on ABC.

In 2010, the New Hampshire Political Library was relocated to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, merging two of New Hampshire's great political organizations. In September 2014, the NHIOP celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador program, with an evening at which former student ambassadors returned to the Institute to discuss their current jobs, the paths they took to achieve these positions, and how their Saint Anselm College experience influenced their opportunities.

Most recently, in 2014, Bloomberg Politics and NHIOP announced a partnership on polls, events and student journalism, as well as a joint commitment to civic activism heading into the state's pivotal presidential primary and 2016 election.

"The New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College is extremely excited about working with a world class news organization," said NHIOP Executive Director Neil Levesque. "The partnership with Bloomberg will provide unparalleled opportunities for our students interested in journalism and politics."

We look forward to a future in which Saint Anselm College students, faculty, staff, parents, and visitors continue to regularly engage with the most compelling political issues of the day. As Dr. Bouchard prophetically wrote in 2010, the NHIOP "will continue to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, evidence and perspectives on an impressively wide range of relevant issues and concerns. It will continue to engage, educate and empower people to become more active, creative and generous citizens. And of course it will continue to be one of the very first places in this nation to welcome through its doors those men and women who aspire to be the next president of the United States."

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