Why is New Hampshire’s State Motto – Live Free or Die?

(Last Updated On: February 22, 2018)

Live Free or Die
Emblazoned in bold letters on the back of a coin, known state-wide by all its residents, and depicted on license plates since 1971, New Hampshire takes great pride in its motto “Live Free or Die.” And while it is sometimes seen in the abbreviated version “Live Free,” it is mostly left at its full length, inclusive of all the meaningful words because of the rich history behind it.

So why is New Hampshire’s State Motto – Live Free or Die?

Mottos Across States

While the use of mottos across the United States is not unusual, they are not always in English, and many of the states still use mottos in their original Latin language. Many of these date back to the 1600s, with a deep-rooted history behind them, and as such, enact a deep sense of patriarchy amongst the states’ residents. In the case of New Hampshire though, the motto didn’t appear until 1945, along with the state emblem on which it appears. Despite its late arrival however, it is of no less valuable to the New Hampshire residents, and the history behind it is just as significant.

Early History

The origins of the state motto date back to 1809, stemming from a letter written by General John Stark, perhaps New Hampshire’s most famous soldier of the American Revolutionary War. His victory, while leading troops in the Battle of Bennington, earned him praise as a true war hero, and he was a well-respected man for his acts of bravery and heroism. As such, he was invited to a veteran’s reunion 32 years after the battle. Poor health however, prohibited Stark from being able to make the journey.

Penning the Motto – Live Free or Die

Despite his failing health and travel limitations, Stark wanted to be present at the reunion and so instead he sent a letter in response to the invitation. In the letter, he explained how proud he was of the men that fought with him, noting that he would never forget his troops from Bennington and singing their praise. These, he said, were men who had not “been trained in the art of war,” but whose “success taught the enemies that undisciplined freemen are superior to veteran slaves.” In the letter, he also included a toast to the veterans: “Live free or die. Death is not the greatest of evils.”

There is a long lineage of statements proposing that freedom is worth dying for, and Stark’s sentiments are in line with these beliefs. And while some may perceive the motto as being harsh, severe, or simply unoriginal, it comes from a heartfelt place, from a man who speaks only from having witnessed the battle between freedom and death himself, and indeed having walked the same line. Permanently impressed into a replica of the Old Man of the Mountain, and forever known as the Granite State, the motto was officially chosen by the state in 1945, and holds strong to this day. Indeed, General Stark said it best for New Hampshire, its history, and its people.

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