Live Free or Die

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This article is about the state motto. For other uses, see Live Free or Die (disambiguation).

"Live Free or Die" is the official motto of the U.S. state of New Hampshire, adopted by the state in 1945.[1] It is possibly the best-known of all state mottos, partly because it speaks to an assertive independence historically found in American political philosophy and partly because of its contrast to the milder sentiments found in other state mottos.

The phrase comes from a toast written by General John Stark, New Hampshire's most famous soldier of the American Revolutionary War, on July 31, 1809. Poor health forced Stark to decline an invitation to an anniversary reunion of the Battle of Bennington. Instead, he sent his toast by letter:

Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.

Stark may not have been the original author of the phrase. Vivre Libre ou Mourir ("Live free or die") was a popular motto of the French Revolution, which the politician Antoine Barnave had engraved on his buttons.[2]

The motto was enacted at the same time as the New Hampshire state emblem, on which it appears.[3]

Legal battle[edit]

In 1971, the New Hampshire state legislature mandated that the phrase appear on all non-commercial license plates, replacing "Scenic."[4]

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, that the State of New Hampshire could not prosecute motorists who chose to hide part or all of the motto. That ruling came about because George Maynard, a Jehovah's Witness, covered up "or die" from his plate. "By religious training and belief, I believe my 'government' – Jehovah's Kingdom – offers everlasting life. It would be contrary to that belief to give up my life for the state, even if it meant living in bondage."[5] Pursuant to these beliefs, the Maynards began early in 1974 to cover up the motto on their license plates.

He was convicted of breaking a state law against altering license plates.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in his favor and likened Maynard's refusal to accept the state motto with the Jehovah's Witness children refusing to salute the American flag in public school in the 1943 decision West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

"We begin with the proposition that the right of freedom of thought protected by the First Amendment against state action includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all," Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote for the majority in Maynard.

"Here, as in Barnette, we are faced with a state measure which forces an individual, as part of his daily life indeed constantly while his automobile is in public view to be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view he finds unacceptable.

"The fact that most individuals agree with the thrust of New Hampshire's motto is not the test; most Americans also find the flag salute acceptable," Burger wrote.

The Supreme Court concluded that the state's interests paled in comparison to individuals' free-expression rights.[6]

Similar mottos[edit]

Live Free or Die, as seen in Edinburgh, Scotland

A possible source of such mottoes is Patrick Henry's famed March 23, 1775, speech to the House of Burgesses (the legislative body of the Virginia colony), which contained the following phrase: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

A medal struck at Matthew Boulton's Soho Mint, as tokens of exchange for the Paris firm of Monneron Freres, 1791–92, has on its obverse the motto Vivre libres ou mourir ("Live free or die" in French). A mention of "vivre libre ou mourir" occurs in 1754 Memoires by Chalopin.

During the Siege of Barcelona (25 August 1713 – 11 September 1714) the Barcelona defenders and the Maulets used black flags with the motto "Live free or die", in Catalan "Viurem lliures o morirem". Now it is used as a symbol of Catalan independentism.

National mottos[edit]

Other uses[edit]

Historical[edit]

On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed Haiti (Ayiti), then a French slave colony, to be free and independent. Dessalines is said to have torn the white section from the French tricolor flag while shouting, "Vivre libre ou mourir!", which means "live free or die."[7][8]

The phrase "Vivre Libre ou Mourir" ("live free or die") was used in the French Revolution.[9] It was the subtitle of the journal by Camille Desmoulins, titled Le Vieux Cordelier, written during the winter of 1793–4.

The first Convention of the Delegates of the Scottish Friends of the People in Edinburgh on 11–13 December 1792 used the phrase "live free or die" and referred to it as a "French oath".[10]

Unix[edit]

Original NH-style DEC UNIX license plate facsimile

"Live Free or Die" is popular among Unix users, a group which also cherishes its independence. The popularity dates to the 1980s, when Armando Stettner of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) had a set of Unix license plates printed up and given away at a USENIX conference. They were modeled on the license plates in New Hampshire, where DEC's Unix Engineering Group was headquartered. Stettner lived in New Hampshire at the time and used the vanity license plate UNIX. When DEC came out with its own Unix version, Ultrix, they printed up Ultrix plates that were distributed at trade shows.[11] More recently, Linux novelty plates have been produced following the same pattern.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

Books[edit]

TV[edit]

Film[edit]

Music[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "CHAPTER 3 STATE EMBLEMS, FLAG, ETC". Gencourt.state.nh.us. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  2. ^ Simon Schama. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. p. 557
  3. ^ "State emblems, flag, etc/". Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  4. ^ State of New Hampshire. "CHAPTER 261 CERTIFICATES OF TITLE AND REGISTRATION OF VEHICLES 261:75 (II) Number Plates". State of New Hampshire. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  5. ^ Doug Linder. "Wooley vs Maynard". Law.umkc.edu. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  6. ^ "George Maynard recalls license-plate ordeal, free-speech victory". freedomforum.org. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  7. ^ Robinson, Randall, An Unbroken Agony, 2007, Basic Civitas Books
  8. ^ Dorestant, Noe, "A Look at Haitian History 1803–2003; 200 Years of Independence", Heritage Konpa Magazine, Special Independence Edition, 2001
  9. ^ Schama, Simon, Citizens, 1989, Vintage Books, pg 557
  10. ^ Bewley, Christina, Muir of Huntershill, Oxford University Press, 1981, p.47
  11. ^ The History of the UNIX License Plate
  12. ^ The Open Group: LINUX License Plate

External links[edit]