New Hampshire’s Famous ‘Live Free Or Die’ Motto Only Came To Be In 1945.
…by Anura Guruge
I moved to New Hampshire in the Fall of 1986 BECAUSE of the motto!
I was living in Maryland (having come over from Britain in February 1985 (for what was my second stint in the U.S.)) and had been offered a job with Wang in Lowell. On one of the trips up to Lowell I saw a NH license plate and knew that I had no choice. I had to live in NH because that motto struck a chord. I was hooked. I could relate to it.
I still love it. I even adopted it to be mine: ‘Think Free Or Die‘, as you can see on my Web site.
I will, however, readily confess that despite my obvious fondness and affinity I had never bothered to check up on its origins or history. I am also sure that it wasn’t a topic covered in depth in my 2-day ‘Granite State Ambassador‘ (GSA) training class in 2001.
So, I was taken aback, when reading in my AARP Monthly Supplement for September (and getting even more convinced that I am ready to shortly keel over) an article about the battle ground states for the November election I saw a claim that the ‘Live Free Or Die‘ had only come to be in 1945. Wow. I had assumed that it went back to the 1860s, post U.S. Civil War. Since I do not take everything I read as Gospel I Googled it. Wow. They were right.
1945 — during the midst of WW II. The State Emblem came to be at the same time. I learned a lot in a very short time.
It comes from the American Revolutionary War, as opposed to the Civil War. It was coined by General John Stark, supposedly NH’s most famous soldier in that war. He wrote it, in July 31, 1809, as a toast to be given at a Battle of Bennington anniversary reunion dinner that he could not attend due to poor health. His toast was: Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.
I kind of remember seeing that there had been protests against the motto — especially its appearance on ALL NH non-commercial license plates. I now found details. As you could guess there are those that find this battle cry too incendiary, especially the part about the dying. Per the U.S. Supreme Court, as of 1977, you can cover up part of the motto on license plates … possibly even the whole motto, though in 27-years of living in NH I don’t recall ever seeing a covered up motto.